In the FA Cup win against Hull there was, however, evidence of why the manager still hasn't committed himself to staying
Oh, Arsenal. This was the most gloriously, maddeningly Arsenal of FA Cup final victories, a match that seemed to contain an entire season of mood shifts and tempo changes, frustrations, more frustrations and – ultimately – moments of stirring triumph. Still, you know what they say. The first one after nine years, having gone 2-0 down to Hull City and played like a team terrified of touching silver polish, is always the hardest. As Lee Probert blew the final whistle at the end of extra time at Wembley, there was an added poignancy to the collective collapse of Arsenal's players in victory, almost a kind of tribute collapse to the grand old days of the Cup where the exhausted shinpad-less career-high collapse was de rigueur among newly crowned winners. There were tears and at least one extended bobbing huddle.
Arsène Wenger strolled about among his players, waving at the fans, before eventually removing his red tie, walking over to the advertising hoardings and throwing it into the Arsenal end, an agreeably formal variation on the more common shirts-boots-socks routine.
And so: what next? In a way, Arsenal's performance here in a gripping FA Cup final was a kind of tribute act to the past eight years of managed stasis, an extended Viking funeral for the era of almost-but-not-quite that the club's supporters hope is now closer to passing. There was, of course, a happy ending too: the age of the Emirates now has its first trophy. Better still, this comeback victory was sealed by Arsenal's outstanding player this season: Aaron Ramsey, who scored the winning goal, never stopped running even when his touch looked off at times and who embodies the best of late Wengerism, a player the manager courted, signed, stuck by and who has now come to glorious maturity. As ever in the current Arsenal age of glass half-full versus glass half-empty, there is more too. Even in triumph there was evidence here of why Wenger still hasn't committed himself to staying beyond the summer. The chances are, of course, that he will stay, albeit that contract – a sheet of paper so frequently referenced in recent weeks it probably has an agent of its own by now – remains unsigned.
And true to form, Arsenal walked backwards towards their first trophy in eight years, creeping to parity from 2-0 down in the second half by being just about not bad enough to lose to a Hull City team for whom Tom Huddlestone was a cruising, mooching, pass-fizzing treat, and who looked for the opening hour like worthy winners of their first Cup final.
Lightweight but still tenacious, cowed by the occasion but still big enough to hit back. Oh yes, even as the match slid into humid, calf-cramping extra time – and Olivier Giroud hit the bar with a fine header – this really was the most agreeably Arsenal-like of cup finals. There had been some talk that Hull might be overawed by the occasion during the week. In the event it was Arsenal, holders-elect, who produced the most abysmally flaccid opening 15 minutes in recent final history. Frankly, they looked terrified. Mesut Özil, a game-changing record signing, celebrated Hull's second, well finished by Curtis Davies, by waving his arms and berating those around him, like a minor member of the royal household infuriated by the absence of the afternoon crumpet tray.
The architect of Arsenal's revival before half-time was Santi Cazorla.
The Spaniard is in many ways a delightful contradiction of an elite level footballer, a waddling little duckling of an inside-forward, a player of supreme technical gifts and also great heart. Playing on the right of Arsenal's attacking midfield trident, Cazorla scored the free-kick that halved the deficit, the ball hit with such power and dip that it beat Allan McGregor in his own corner of the goal (McGregor will still feel he might have saved it).
The second half began slowly, with Hull content to take the air out of the game. With half an hour left, Wenger brought on Yaya Sanogo and it is here the patchiness of this squad shows through. Given Arsenal's resources, the presence of Giroud and Sanogo as the only strikers is a bit like the royal household deciding to keep Balmoral, Windsor and Buckingham Palace, but ferry the Queen around in a people carrier and a 50cc scooter.
And Ramsey it was who scored the winner, stabbing home from Giroud's neat backheel. And so, again: what next? Football loves a sweepingly operatic narrative and the temptation will be to conjure an image of new eras minted, of a grand, theatrical turning point reached. Wenger himself has been keen to remind people this is just a one-off match, and in this he is being commendably consistent.
Albeit with a trophy in hand, the sense of an era in waiting, of a regearing of the sights, will tend to loom over proceedings. But really, what happens from here depends on other factors. Arsenal need Wenger to recommit himself: to leave now would be a disastrous sucker-punch just as the tension lifts. And Wenger needs to keep building, to spend heavily this summer on at least one striker, on a hard-nosed, mobile, muscular central midfielder to ease the burden on Mikel Arteta.
This Cup final victory could well end up being a signpost to happier – or at least more trophy-laden – times. In isolation it represents little more than a gloriously gripping release of tension and a moment in the sun at the end of nine long and increasingly fretful years.