The FA Cup is back in the rightful possession of Arsenal for a record 13th time, as against all odds, the Gunners pulled a virtuoso performance out of the bag and bested favourites and champions Chelsea.
Few would have given Arsenal a chance before kickoff, and the bookies agreed. They couldn’t be blamed though, and Gooners who were looking upon this Final with a bleak realism were merely taking all things into consideration.
First choice goalkeeper Petr Cech ruled out through injury, and backup keeper David Ospina rusty. Our defence was down to its bare bones, with Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs ruled out before the game. Uncertainty hanging over not only star players Alexis and Mesut Ozil, but also our manager.
Not to mention the most disappointing league campaign in the last two decades.
We were going into this game with our backs to the wall. Chelsea had won the Premiership on the back of an incredible run of results. They had seen off all comers and were going into the game looking to complete the Double in Antonio Conte’s first season at the club.
It went from bad to worse when Per Mertesacker was named in Arsenal’s starting XI. The German defender had not started a game in 13 months, and despite his knowledge, defensive nous and leadership qualities – his lack of match sharpness against Costa, Hazard and co would surely cost the Gunners dearly?
Not this time.
Mertesacker and Arsenal emphatically answered doubters and dragged Chelsea from their pedestal with aplomb. From minute one to minute ninety four, Arsenal were superior in every department across the lush Wembley turf. Our ramshackle defence kept Costa stifled. Hazard, Pedro and the other Blues widemen were too busy taking part in defensive duties to go rampaging forward.
When they did wriggle free, Monreal, Bellerin, Oxlade-Chamberlain stuck to them and never allowed these dangerous players that inch of space to turn and create havoc.
Then there was our midfield of Xhaka and Ramsey. It seems it has taken this performance for all to recognise what the Swiss star offers. He was robust in the tackle, astute in his positioning and always available for the ball. Ramsey provided the bridge between defence and attack, and he was absolutely tireless. He was also the goal hero as he was in 2014.
Mesut Ozil never stopped probing and he was as busy as anyone has been this season. The German deserves plaudits for his inspiring performance, and Alexis did what Alexis always does.
It really underlined how important it is to keep them for next season.
The first half of the game was the pattern of the whole game. Chelsea struggled to keep a grip on the movement of Arsenal, and the best opportunities went to the Gunners.
The first real chance resulted in the deadlock being broken, and it was inside five minutes. The ball looped over the Chelsea defence and Ramsey was well offside. He left it for the onrushing Sanchez who put it past Courtois, but it took referee Anthony Taylor having a confab with the linesman before it was awarded.
Then, Sanchez put through Ozil, who saw his effort cleared off the line by Cahill, as Arsenal started to roar up the gears.
Then, Welbeck met an Ozil corner well with a header, but it hit the post, before Ramsey hit the post with the loose ball. Chelsea were on the ropes and Arsenal were throwing flurries to finish the fight.
Then, a neat move saw Welbeck through on goal, but a combo of Courtois and Cahill again saved Chelsea and it meant that for all of Arsenal’s superiority, we were still only a goal up. We had read this script before.
There had been a few sniffs at goal for Costa, but Mertesacker’s positioning was perfection each time the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard threatened.
A crucial moment came early in the second half, when Victor Moses couldn’t cope with Welbeck on the flank and wrestled him to the ground, earning a booking. This would turn out to be more than a mere booking. Minutes later, Bellerin found space and his low effort was well saved by Courtois. The same pattern was emerging, Arsenal were on the throttle, with Chelsea scrabbling for purchase.
Then, Chelsea were on the attack. Moses twisted and teased Oxlade-Chamberlain out on the right before attempting to cut in.
The Ox went with his man but was sensible in his harrying. Moses went down in the box like Piers Morgan’s career, and lo and behold – previously anti-Arsenal referee Anthony Taylor again utilised common sense and booked Moses for diving – thus Chelsea were now a man down.
Arsenal were clearly on top of things, and they now had a man advantage. Things were looking rosy – but all Gooners know that nothing can be taken for granted.
And so it proved.
A ball in the air was chested down by Costa in the box, and it gave him an inch of space to fire in a volley. Ospina had been on top of everything so far in the game, but his weak effort to save it was not enough and it gave Chelsea parity when it seemed the game was walking away from them.
Welbeck came off to a deserved ovation and was replaced by Olivier Giroud – and the Frenchman wasted no time in getting busy.
He found himself in the box and he squeezed in a cross. Ramsey had ghosted in between two defenders and headed it into the net – and Arsenal had regained the lead just two minutes after giving it up.
This Arsenal side had let themselves down so many times in the league, but this performance needed to be finished with a cup win – such was the level of excellence from each and every Arsenal player.
Bellerin nearly capped off the game but put the ball wide, and then Chelsea got a chance to again equalise undeservedly. Diego Costa barged in and volleyed from close range, but Ospina saved well. Ozil then was in acres of space, chopped inside his man and opted for the near post, but the post denied him.
It was enough though.
Arsene Wenger’s men had left it all on the pitch, and it meant this was Arsene Wenger’s seventh FA Cup win – which makes him the most successful manager in Cup history. Arsenal are now also the most successful Cup team in history.
This was perhaps the sweetest win from the last three though. We defeated a powerful opponent, defied all odds and we didn’t just scrape the win – we ensured Chelsea couldn’t handle us.
Let us enjoy this. Let this be a reminder that despite us missing the Champions League next season, despite our shaky league form – we are capable of being the team that we have seen in the past. We are capable of being the great team that our players want us to be.
So, the FA Cup is back home. Arsene Wenger has masterminded another Cup for us and another placard for The Emirates.
Forget the speculation that will engulf us in the summer, just for a moment. Let’s wallow in this.
This win is exactly what we will remember in years to come, and tell our kids and grandkids about.