Wembley return against Wigan has familiar feel for Arsenal fans

07:41 10 April 2014


Arsenal's Jack Wilshere after the final whistle at Wembley in 2011


We’ve been here before. Dramatic self-destruction in the league, growing dissent among the faithful, ex-players chirping about change… but it will all come out in the wash with a nice day out at Wembley followed by a long-awaited trophy.

Three years ago the situation was not too dissimilar to that facing Arsenal – and, more significantly, Arsene Wenger – this Saturday.

In 2011, on their last visit to Brent, Arsenal took on a poor Birmingham City side plummeting towards relegation in the Carling Cup final. English football’s third trophy was offering salvation.

Arsenal choked. A late defensive cock-up – the kind that would have been unthinkable when messrs Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn were playing, but has since become the boring norm – gifted the cup to the Blues.

This was up there with Swindon ’69 and Luton ’88.

Numbed, Arsenal fans’ initial anger turned from disbelief to despondency, but Wenger appeared safe. He rode the storm and Arsenal finished in the top four – again. To Wenger, that represented a trophy. The fans grudgingly swallowed it.

But the Emirates faithful are not so understanding in 2014.

Ugly hostility swept down the stands following Swansea’s late draw recently. There are reports some travelling fans abused Wenger at Lime Street Station following last week’s limp 3-0 loss at Everton.

There is a real sense that push is coming to shove. A recent poll by supporters’ group The Black Scarf Movement found nearly half of those polled would want Wenger to quit if Arsenal fail to lift the FA Cup and achieve a top four place. That, by the way, is a 5/1 shot with some bookies.

So Wigan Athletic of the Championship, 1-0 losers at home to relegation-haunted Millwall on Tuesday, must be beaten, and beaten well. Indeed, they should be beaten comfortably.

But confidence is so low that supporters head to Wembley with genuine trepidation.

Disturbingly, Wenger appears to have little idea as to why his side are performing so poorly of late, particularly in big games.

“We have to go back to basics to get our confidence back,” was all he offered post-Everton.

The club’s outstanding performer of the season, Aaron Ramsey, is expected to make his first start since Boxing Day, but too much may be expected of the Welshman, who will be rusty after such a long, enforced lay-off.

Arsenal have failed to win in their only two previous visits to the new Wembley.

In fact, you have to go back to a 3-1 victory over AIK Solna on 9 September 1999 – 14 and a half years ago – since the Gunners last won at the national stadium.

It really is time to end that long wait.

In more ways than one…

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