My guys from Arsenal saved their sorry assed season with a huge 2-1 FA Cup win over ten man Chelsea.
The Guardians Paul Wilson wrote: “Amid all the euphoria for Arsenal, there are bound to be people who wonder if these might also have been the ideal circumstances for Arsène Wenger to announce he was stepping aside and assure himself of a happy ending. His team had won, thrillingly, against the champions of England, making Wenger the most successful manager in the history of this competition. It was his seventh victory and, whatever his faults, a man with that record of achievement surely warrants the opportunity to go out on a high.
Equally, these are the moments when Wenger must be reminded what it is about football that makes it so addictive. It is not easy kicking the habit, particularly on the days when everything falls into place and this for Arsenal was undoubtedly one of them. They picked a good time to put in their best performance of the season, denying Chelsea the double on a day when Victor Moses joined the list of players to suffer the indignity of being shown a red card in an FA Cup final. Moses had collected two second-half bookings and the fact the second one came from a choreographed attempt to win a penalty probably summed up the state to which Arsenal reduced their opponents.
The only question for Wenger’s men is this: why can they not reach these heights more often? Arsenal were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and, defensively, they played as though utterly determined not to let the fact they were missing key personnel influence the outcome.
More than anything, they were free of the self-doubt that has often infiltrated their performances against Chelsea. Mesut Özil, for instance, seemed absolutely determined to leave his imprint on the final. Alexis Sánchez, possibly making his last appearance in Arsenal’s colours, shimmered with menace and now has 30 goals for the season. Danny Welbeck brought a mix of speed and directness and when Olivier Giroud came on as a substitute, just after Diego Costa’s equaliser, it was his first touch that set up Aaron Ramsey for the game’s decisive moment. The cross was delivered so expertly it would have been almost impolite for Ramsey, with a stooping header, not to accept the chance.
By the end, it was starting to feel like a trick of the mind that the winning team had actually finished 18 points behind Chelsea in the league. Costa’s bouncing shot did briefly conjure up the possibility of an improbable comeback for the team with 10 men. But this was a poor day for Chelsea and it was rare to see N’Golo Kanté, for instance, finding it so difficult to keep up. Ramsey’s winner arrived within two minutes of Costa’s equaliser and when it comes to the first half it began with possibly the most torrid 30-minute spell Chelsea have endured all season.
All of which was some achievement for Arsenal, bearing in mind the issues Wenger had approaching this final and the list of absentees that meant this was Per Mertesacker’s first start for more than a year (and his first appearance in a three-man defence). Wenger experimented with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with lingering questions about his fitness, on the left. And then there was the perplexing choice of David Ospina, with Wenger deciding his loyalty should go towards a second-choice goalkeeper who will leave this summer while leaving out the one, Petr Cech, who will stay. Unfortunately for Ospina, it was a weak attempt to keep out Costa’s goal, though he did make amends later on with a splendid save to prevent the same player taking the game into extra time.
A goal at that stage would have been a reminder of Chelsea’s power of endurance but it would also have been largely unwarranted and Wenger was not exaggerating when he said his team should really have won by more. As it was, their first-half superiority brought only one goal and Chelsea are entitled to question whether it ought to have stood, not because of the argument about whether it was offside but more for the handball from Sánchez before he was in a position to shoot. There was no doubt Ramsey was in an offside position as Sánchez charged the ball down. Yet the Welshman had the presence of mind to step aside as the Chilean ran on to the loose ball, firing past Thibaut Courtois with the outside of his boot, and if the argument was purely about offside the referee, Anthony Taylor, and his assistant, Gary Beswick, did eventually get it right. The handball had not been noticed, however, and scoring so early, with only five minutes played, undoubtedly helped Arsenal settle more quickly than their opponents.
Chelsea’s struggles in the first half were epitomised by their carelessness in the buildup to the goal, when Costa managed to get in the way of Kanté and the ball was lost. Arsenal, in contrast, used the ball effectively and it needed a brilliant clearance from Gary Cahill to prevent Özil from doubling the lead after Sánchez led one of their quick, incisive counterattacks. Four minutes later, Welbeck’s header from an Özil corner came back off a post, struck Ramsey in the chest and ricocheted back against the woodwork before going out for a goalkick. Later, Özil hit a post himself. Arsenal could conceivably have made it a far more resounding win.
helsea did not lack adventure but it was not until the start of the second half that they seemed to remember they were supposed to be the best team in the country and, to be fair to Ospina, he made a fine one-handed save in that period to keep out Moses. Costa was a challenging opponent for Rob Holding, eluding him for the equaliser, but Moses deserved to go for his deception and Chelsea’s defence was strangely dishevelled as Giroud crossed from the left, Ramsey headed in and the most difficult, acrimonious season of Wenger’s managerial career ended happily.”