Fourteen is an important Arsenal number. It is the iconic shirt number of Thierry Henry, and of course, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It is also, now, the record-setting number of FA Cups that Arsenal have won, and thus number fourteen takes on even more importance.
It was, of course, number fourteen who delivered the fourteenth FA Cup. While FA Cup triumphs number 11, 12, and 13, in 2014, 2015, and 2017 had immense meaning and value, this season’s victory could have far more consequences, both in the short and long-term. In the short-term, Arsenal will be in the Europa League next season, which will enhance the club’s overall budget.
In the long-term, Arsenal’s fourteenth FA Cup triumph could be part of the overall pitch that entices Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to remain at the club. Yet it also enhances Mikel Arteta’s burgeoning reputation. While Arteta’s results have broadly been good, and performances have generally been better, much of what we’ve been told has been about changing the culture at the club. In general, it is harder to see the effects of a cultural shift at a club, and that is an analysis that often applied afterwards. For example, Unai Emery was applauded for “changing” Arsenal’s mentality in the fall of 2018. One year later, he had apparently let standards lax.
Winning a trophy gives Arteta credit; not only with the fans, but with the players in general. On one hand, it is a mark of how the players rate the head coach that his approach, which has been to demand more effort, making that a non-negotiable, has been accepted by a number of senior players, with Aubameyang at the fore-front of Arteta’s approach even if there was personal detriment. With a rookie coach, that easily could’ve gone a different way, but Arteta has gotten most of the players to buy in, and that has been rewarded by winning the FA Cup. It also speaks of an ability to translate action on the training ground to results in matches. As Emiliano Martinez said, “He’s given us hope and given us a game plan in every single game so when you are on the pitch you see that the game plan that he does in training actually works.”
Arteta’s approach to players who violate the non-negotiables has also been vindicated. This is something that could’ve easily blown up in his face, with the absences of Mesut Özil and Mattéo Guendouzi potential critiques of Arteta’s approach, especially with the side lacking creativity. Yet, unlike Unai Emery, Arteta stuck with his overall approach: players’ attitudes had to improve, or they were out. In that sense, Arteta has also been fair, with Dani Ceballos and Ainsley Maitland-Niles coming back into the fold to play key roles. Even Guendouzi was welcomed back, back in February. But in making sure his non-negotiables have not been crossed without appropriate action, Arteta has set a standard.
The setting of standards saw Arsenal become more competitive; a team that meekly capitulated last spring in the final weeks of the league and collapsed in Baku against Chelsea beat the same opponents this summer, as well as holding off Manchester City in the semi-final. Neither were vintage performances, and in neither did Arsenal play their opponent off the pitch. But in winning the FA Cup, Arteta has instilled belief in his approach. Even more crucially, Arsenal have their first trophy in the post Arsène Wenger era. While there is still work to do, the club can be confident in the direction that they are travelling in, with number fourteen in tow.