Londonist was at Highbury on Monday, listening to the Arsenal Assistant Manager Pat Rice at a question & answer session. tomorrow's game was, naturally enough, a big topic and Pat had plenty to say about Arsenal's relationship with the FA Cup. He told the audience that the Cup will always come third in the club's list of priorities (which is pretty obvious really, but what was interesting is that Arsene always places the league as the top priority, with the Champions League second)and that it was the biggest factor in Arsenal's failure to conquer Europe.
He backed up this assertion by pointing out that in the other major leagues in Europe, cup matches are only ever played on Wednesdays and don't have the same kind of impact on the fixture list that we see here in England. Last season, Arsenal played an FA Cup semi-final and the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final over the course of just four days. Wenger would have loved to have played a second-string side against United the Cup and have a fresh team for the European game, but he know that there was no way the Arsenal support (and the English media) would ever accept it. Arsenal lost both games.
Anyone who has read Roy Keane's autobiography could tell you that the FA Cup inhabits a similar position in Manchester United's annual list of priorities, which would suggest then that the Final is an irrelevence to both clubs, their fans and the rest of the footballing public.
Except it's not is it?
Rightly or wrongly, the FA Cup Final still matters to us. Maybe because of the English love of heritage, or rather, of invented history. Maybe because of the ability of the tournament to always throw up so many slices of epic footballing drama (they don't need to be listed do they? We all have our favourites.). Maybe because the pitch always looked so sunny and green when we watched the Final as young children. Who knows? There might be countless reasons and maybe all that can be said is that the FA Cup matters because we make it matter, and it's up to us as to why we care.
The Final matters to Arsenal and Manchester United. Cynics and Chelsea fans would argue that the two teams are merely fighting over the scraps left by the 'Special One', but Liverpool have shown us that no matter how brilliant Mourinho is(and he is brilliant), he will never have it all his own way. Chelsea will be challenged next season, but who wins the right to pick up that gauntlet? Tomorrow feels like the decider. The game is the culmination of eight years' bitter rivalry , and the loser just might have their heartbroken.
We're still firm in our belief that it will be Sir Alex crying into his claret tomorrow night and not Arsene. Mourinho wants United to win, which perhaps tells us that he sees them as less of a threat than the Gunners. Perhaps with good reason, as Arsenal have been playing some majestic football of late, whilst United have performed in fits and starts, undermined by the constant chop and change team selection of Ferguson. Strachan (whose punditry we are a big fan of) feels that the absence of Henry might swing the balance, but the Gunners have not missed him of late, and as this fan points out, it's been a while since Thierry turned it on against the rags. We're hoping for another little cameo from Van Perise, which would be....nice.
Let's hope that the last FA Cup Final in Cardiff is a classic, with an Arsenal victory, a sunny day and plenty of cold drinks to hand. And let's look forward to next year's return to Wembley . Cheers.
Oh, one other thing about our time with Pat Rice...he could not speak more highly of young Cesc Fabregas and is absolutely convinced that he is going to be something pretty special. So who knows, he might just prove to be the difference tomorrow.