Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bridge too far for Chelsea

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger secured his record seventh FA Cup final win against 10 man Chelsea. Arsenal produced a superb display to win the Wembley thriller.

Alexis Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead in a beautiful fashion after just four minutes, when the center referee Anthony Taylor overruled his assistant after he had flagged offside against Aaron Ramsey.

The League champions also claimed Sanchez handled in the build-up of play. Their task became more difficult when Victor Moses was correctly sent off by Taylor in the second half after receiving a second yellow card for simulation.

Chelsea went into this final as firm favourites to claim the league and cup double against an Arsenal side who have been their inferior this season. But in the end it was just one game too far for Antonio Conte's men.

They looked leg-weary and slow and key men such as Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante were unable to exert their usual influence.

The Blues threatened to demonstrate their durability and resilience once more when, even at a numerical disadvantage, Costa put them back in the game.

It was not to be - and the brutal truth is that on the day they were outplayed by a resurgent Arsenal. This has still been an outstanding season for Conte's side.

Chelsea forward Diego Costa revived Chelsea's hopes of a repeat of their league and FA Cup double in 2010 when Arsenal keeper David Ospina failed to keep out his deflected shot with 14 minutes left to play.

Arsenal, outstanding throughout the game, refused to be denied and were back in front inside three minutes when Ramsey rise to a cross from substitute Olivier Giroud.

Wenger pumped his fists in delight at the final whistle, as a season that has brought so much pains and criticism for the 67-year-old, ended in Wembley with glory with a record 13th FA Cup win for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger was right when he said the season has been a tough one for the players and fans, but they turned up today.

They had one mindset, to walk off as winners, and that was clear to see. They played the better football and wanted it more.

The Chelsea players were hanging their heads but they had an unbelievable season. On the day, not enough players turned up, they did not deserve to win.

Arsenal defender Rob Holding had a fantastic semi-final too and he was under the spotlight, as was Per Mertesacker.

Both players put on a huge display. What a performance Mesut Ozil put in too. Man for man, they were much better than Chelsea.

Wenger finally gave full vent to his feelings about the criticism he received this season in the Wembley build-up - describing it as "a disgrace" he will "never forget."

And here at Wembley he answered the critics eloquently as Arsenal delivered an outstanding performance in an enthralling final to secure a win they fully merited.

It was all done in front of Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, a staunch supporter of his manager in the face of mounting criticism, and with a decision still pending on Wenger's future.

Wenger's stock has fallen in the eyes of Arsenal fans as the team have struggled in previous seasons and this season, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.

Here however, Wenger coaxed and cajoled an inspired 90 minutes out of his Arsenal side in a performance that can rank alongside their finest in recent seasons.

Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey both hit the woodwork in a matter of seconds in the first half and Ozil struck it deep in the second half. Chelsea defender Gary Cahill also made two excellent clearances as Arsenal created enough chances to win comfortably.

Wenger, watching throughout in shirtsleeves, looked remarkably calm given the prize on offer and how much was riding on this Wembley final for him and his reputation.

Arsenal were sharper, more aggressive and more creative than Chelsea - their only anxiety coming when they led by just one goal after a first 45 minutes they dominated completely.

And The Gunners even refused to be knocked off course when Chelsea, reduced to 10 men after Moses' sending off, were gifted an equaliser when Ospina pushed feebly at Costa's deflected shot in the 76th minute.

If Wenger needed to produce evidence that he can still win the big prizes and still get his Arsenal side to produce the big performance, then this was it.

Wenger was effectively forced to plunge veteran German defender Per Mertesacker into action after only 37 minutes playing time this season as he wrestled with a defensive crisis - and how the 32-year-old rewarded him.

The Gunners were without suspended Laurent Koscielny, injured Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi, who was suffering from concussion. It meant a call-up for Mertesacker against the most demanding Premier League opponents of all.

He was faultless throughout, giving a masterclass in positioning, timing and making crucial interceptions time after time in a display that made a mockery of his lack of action.

Mertesacker made experience count as he subdued Costa, apart from a moment when he got a slight deflection on his equaliser, but the embrace he received from his manager at the final whistle told the story.

The two sides will meet again in the Community Shield on Sunday, 6 August, before the new season.

Super Sanchez - the stats

  • Arsenal have beaten Chelsea twice in a season [in all competitions] for the first time since 2003-04.
  • Per Mertesacker started his first game for Arsenal since 30 April 2016 [against Norwich], 392 days ago.
  • At three minutes 49 seconds, Alexis Sanchez's opening goal was Arsenal's fastest ever in an FA Cup final.
  • Sanchez has scored in five successive games for Arsenal in all competitions for the first time.
  • The Chilean has been directly involved in 45 goals in 51 appearances for Arsenal this season [30 goals, 15 assists].
  • Victor Moses is the fifth player to be sent off in an FA Cup final after Chris Smalling [Manchester United in 2016], Pablo Zabaleta [Manchester City in 2013], Jose Antonio Reyes [Arsenal in 2005], Kevin Moran [Manchester United in 1985].
  • Diego Costa netted his 22nd goal of the season for Chelsea in all competitions - his best-ever return in a single campaign for the Blues.
  • Olivier Giroud has had a hand in four goals in his past four games for Arsenal in all competitions [three goals, one assist].


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