FA Cup final: Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1
Arsenal: Sanchez (3'), Ramsey (79')
Chelsea: Costa (76')
So now the Frenchman is the nonpareil. Arsene Wenger stands alone. He has won seven FA Cups which, depending on perspective, is one more than the previous record holder, Aston Villa’s George Ramsay, or as many as Chelsea have mustered in their history. Not bad for yesterday’s man.
His own defiance towards his critics, branding his treatment “a disgrace”, was mirrored by his charges. They showed an eloquence with their energy, an articulacy with their excellence.
Chelsea’s double disappeared as Wenger’s unexpected renaissance continued.
His ninth win in 10 games was a golden day of decision-making for Wenger. He showed an alchemy. He preferred David Ospina to Petr Cech in goal and the Colombian made a string of saves, the best denying Diego Costa a second equaliser. He was forced to gamble on Per Mertesacker at the heart of his defence and the captain, who had played just 37 minutes of football this season, lent authority and positional excellence. He brought on Olivier Giroud and the substitute’s first contribution was to set up Aaron Ramsey’s winner.
Wenger matched Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 formation, seemingly with lesser players in many positions, and unlocked it. It was an improbable, endearing triumph that illustrated that it is not just because of the sense of stasis at the Emirates Stadium that he has not been pensioned off yet.
Wenger displays a tenacity that helps account for his longevity.
Whenever Arsenal seem thrust in a downward spiral, they contrive to change course. They have mounted end-of-season revivals before, usually to salvage their top-four status. This one yielded silverware.
Arsenal won it in a way that offered a reminder of what made them great under Wenger. The pace, the ambition, the imagination, the skill, the spirit and the presence of a special talent.
Each evoked memories of happier days. There was a familiar failing, too, in profligacy that could have cost them when Costa levelled.
It is to their credit that they made Chelsea look poor. With exception of one off-day at Old Trafford, Antonio Conte’s title winners had not struggled this much since September’s season-changing 3-0 defeat to Arsenal. Their meetings can come coated in controversy, and this made for a busy day for referee Anthony Taylor. He was correct to dismiss Victor Moses for diving. He may have been wrong to award Arsenal’s opener after initially disallowing it.
Ramsey was offside but not interfering with play as Alexis Sanchez handled and ran on to score. It was nevertheless a moment to symbolise Arsenal’s season: Sanchez can do it all himself providing no one else interferes.
In the process he became the first man to score 30 goals in a season for Arsenal since Robin van Persie, who promptly left as he entered the last year of his contract.
They must ensure history does not repeat itself with Sanchez. The Chilean was rightly given the man-of-the-match award. He showed he is the man for both the big occasion and every occasion.
With Mesut Ozil both incisive and oddly physical — he left Eden Hazard writhing in pain with one stiff challenge — and Danny Welbeck bringing selfless running, they formed an excellent, elusive front trio.
Behind them, Ramsey, scorer of a solitary league goal this season, scored a second FA Cup final winner in four seasons.
It could have been all over earlier. Gary Cahill made two goal-line clearances. The post twice saved Chelsea.
It was supposed to be Arsenal who suffered from set-piece failings. It was Chelsea who almost conceded from a corner.
Supposedly mentally weak, Arsenal exhibited an inner strength when it mattered. They secured Wenger’s place in history.
Now for the contract extension he will surely sign.
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