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Arsenal can turn back the clock with a Wembley win over Hull City

THE internet can be a cruel place at times.

Arsene Wenger intends to extend his reign as Arsenal manager regardless of today's FA Cup final result. Picture: Reuters
Arsene Wenger intends to extend his reign as Arsenal manager regardless of today's FA Cup final result. Picture: Reuters

There is a website with the sole function of counting up the seconds, days, weeks, months and years since Arsenal last won a major trophy. Underneath the timer there is a list of some of the world-changing events that have taken place since Arsene Wenger and his players were skipping around the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff nine years ago with the FA Cup under their arms.

Saddam Hussein and Boris Yeltsin were both still alive at the time, the iPhone and Twitter had not been invented and the United States was years away from voting in its first black president. For the record, Arsenal's wait for a trophy now stands at 3282 days.

By this evening the website (arsenaltrophyclock.net) will either be obsolete or more popular than ever. Another chance has presented itself for Arsenal to end this wretched, barren run. They will be strong favourites to defeat Hull City at Wembley to lift the FA Cup for a record-equalling 11th time but history should serve as a warning that there is no such thing as a certainty in football.

Wigan Athletic pulled off one of the great shocks last year when they dumped Manchester City on their backsides to take the trophy, while Arsenal themselves had been nailed on to beat Alex McLeish's Birmingham City in the League Cup final a few years ago only to come a cropper. Street signs plastered all over north London warning residents of a victory parade tomorrow can only add to the unease Arsenal supporters will surely be feeling as they make their way to Wembley this afternoon. This has banana skin written all over it.

That this has become a big game for Arsenal speaks volumes for their current standing in the domestic and European game. They threatened for a while this season to win their first Premier League title in a decade only for their challenge to fizzle out in the run-in. They eventually finished fourth, continuing a trend of recent mediocrity; since 2005 they have never managed to finish higher than third in the table.

That has guaranteed them Champions League football every season but once there they have rarely looked like potential winners, tumbling out at the last-16 stage for the past four seasons. It is why this evening's contest with Hull has become a match of some significance.

"It's absolutely vital Arsenal win the FA Cup," said Frank McLintock, the former Scotland internationalist and one-time Highbury stalwart. "If you look at their record over the last nine years, they haven't done anything. It would be great for the morale of the team. Any team that has gone a long time without winning anything, as soon as they do, it gravitates towards them getting better and better. That's what we're hoping Arsenal do on Saturday.

"The FA Cup final is not the occasion it was before although it could be for the Hull players who haven't won too much between them. I can imagine them being really up for it. Hopefully the Arsenal players are, too. They need to get a substantial result."

A loss could have ramifications beyond the hasty cancellation of that street party in Islington. There has been little but plaudits for Arsene Wenger during his 18-year tenure as Arsenal manager but another cup defeat would serve as a further stain on a cv that is beginning to contain more disappointments than highs. The Emirates fanbase seems more patient than most but with Wenger out of contract and yet to sign an extension, the calls for a change of direction may only grow louder if Hull emerge triumphant.

"There is an element of the fans who are not happy with Wenger," revealed McLintock, player of the year when Arsenal won the double in 1971. "It's only a guessing game at the moment and I think he's going to sign a new deal. But if they get beat then he might have second thoughts."

Wenger, though, poured cold water on that idea. "The result of Saturday's FA Cup final will have no influence on my future at Arsenal," he wrote in a blog for Eurosport. "When I've been part of a club for 18 years, it would be a bit ridiculous to base my decision on one single match. Will I be the manager next season? Yes, normally. It's not finalised yet, but it should happen."

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