Hull hurdle awaits Arsenal in FA Cup final
Arsenal players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout during their English FA Cup semi-final match against Wigan Athletic, at Wembley Stadium in London, on April 12, 2014 - by Ian Kington
Not since 2005, and an FA Cup final success on penalties against Manchester United in Cardiff, have Arsenal won a piece of silverware, and the frustration has become more pronounced with each passing season.
Portsmouth, Birmingham City, Swansea City and Wigan Athletic are among the teams to have tasted cup glory since Arsenal last won something, while United and Chelsea have amassed 25 trophies between them in that period.
Consistent qualification for the Champions League has kept Arsenal among the European elite, but the achievements of manager Arsene Wenger's 17-year tenure risk being undermined if the rot does not stop soon.
Another disappointment against Hull would also leave the 64-year-old Frenchman in a delicate position ahead of negotiations to extend his contract, which is due to expire at the end of the season.
Hull, who have never previously reached an FA Cup final and finished 16th in the Premier League, appear ideal cannon fodder, but Arsenal have learnt from bitter experience not to underestimate supposedly weaker opponents.
They lost to Birmingham in the 2011 League Cup final, after an 89th-minute mix-up between goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny gifted their adversaries victory, and needed penalties to see off Wigan in this season's FA Cup semi-finals.
Wenger admitted that his players succumbed to "nerves" against second-tier Wigan, who were the defending champions, but believes that they should take heart from the manner of their victory.
"We played against a good team," said the Arsenal manager, whose side have not played outside London once during the competition.
"Let's not forget Wigan went to Man City and beat Man City at Man City (in the quarter-finals). So we knew we were super favourites, not at our best and that we played against a team who has made some great results.
"I don't believe we need any warning. We know that a final is a final, that Hull is a Premier League team. They can pass the ball, they can create chances.
"It's just down to us to perform well on the day of the game. We just want to focus on that."
- Brink of obscurity -
While victory would see Arsenal equal United's overall record of 11 FA Cup wins, Hull's trophy cabinet is completely devoid of major honours.
Based in Kingston-upon-Hull on England's northeast coast, which is more commonly associated with the sport of rugby league, the 110-year-old club are looking to cap a remarkable recovery from the brink of obscurity.
Having played in the English fourth tier as recently as 2004, Hull went close to bankruptcy after being relegated from the Premier League in 2010, only to be saved by Egypt-born local businessman Assem Allam.
His backing enabled Hull to return to the Premier League, but he sparked anger this season by attempting to change the club's name to 'Hull City Tigers' in an attempt to make them more marketable.
An ill-tempered stand-off with supporters ensued, but his plans were rejected by the Football Association and it is therefore as plain old Hull City that the club will approach the biggest game in their history.
"It's a new experience for me as a manager and it's a wonderful achievement for the club and the city," said manager Steve Bruce, a two-time FA Cup-winner as a player with Manchester United.
"It's a working-class city and if we can bring the cup back and give it something to shout about, it would be terrific."
Hull, who are already assured of a place in the Europa League, will be without cup-tied strikers Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, while centre-back James Chester seems certain to miss out with a hamstring problem.
Winger Robbie Brady (groin) could feature though, and goalkeeper Allan McGregor is also in contention despite sustaining broken ribs, kidney damage and internal bleeding during a game at West Ham United seven weeks ago.
Arsenal will hand late fitness tests to midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) and club captain Thomas Vermaelen (knee).
Jack Wilshere is in line to play after two months out with a fractured foot, while Wenger is expected to persevere with second-choice goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who has stood in for Szczesny in the cups this season.