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Aubameyang at the double as Arsenal turn tables on Chelsea to win FA Cup Aubameyang at the double as Arsenal turn tables on Chelsea to win FA Cup
(32 minutes later)
It was a snapshot of the finishing ability that makes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a world-class performer and, for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, the upshot was glorious.It was a snapshot of the finishing ability that makes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a world-class performer and, for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, the upshot was glorious.
Héctor Bellerín had driven the move and, when Nicolas Pépé worked a pass left to Aubameyang, the Arsenal captain knew in a heartbeat what he had to do. Using his right foot, he took the ball around Kurt Zouma as though the Chelsea defender was not there and then, with his left, almost in the same fluid movement, he produced a trademark clipped shot over Willy Caballero, the Chelsea goalkeeper. Héctor Bellerín had driven the move and, when Nicolas Pépé worked a pass left to Aubameyang, the Arsenal captain knew in a heartbeat what he had to do. Using his right foot, he took the ball around Kurt Zouma as though the Chelsea defender was not there and then, with his left, almost in the same fluid movement, he produced a trademark dinked shot over the advancing Willy Caballero.
It was Aubameyang who had cancelled out Christian Pulisic’s early opener and, after his two goals in the 2-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, this was another rich return. It was Aubameyang whose penalty had cancelled out Christian Pulisic’s early opener and, after his two goals in the 2-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, this was another rich return.
It had felt as though the stakes in this final were higher for Arsenal. Chelsea had already secured Champions League football via Premier League position while Arsenal would have no European football at all if they lost here together with a significant dent to their revenues. Thanks to Aubameyang’s 28th and 29th goals of the season, they have Europa League qualification and a silver-lined finish to a difficult campaign. It had felt as though the stakes were higher for Arsenal. Chelsea had secured Champions League qualification via Premier League position while Arsenal, who finished eighth their worst top-flight placing in 25 years would have no European football at all if they lost here, not to mention a significant dent to their revenues. Thanks to Aubameyang’s 28th and 29th goals of the season, they could cherish silverware and an invitation into the Europa League next time out.
For Chelsea, there was only frustration. They surrendered a position of authority and, after Aubameyang had equalised from the penalty spot, nothing went right for them. They lost César Apilicueta, Pulisic and the substitute Pedro to injuries and, more damagingly, Mateo Kovacic to a second yellow card as their FA Cup challenge fizzled out. As Aubameyang said himself, the talk about his future will have to wait for another day. With his contract set to expire next June, it will continue to be a hot and sensitive topic and it is clear how badly Arteta, the rookie manager for whom this was a first piece of silverware, needs him to re-sign. Arsenal will hope that the thrill of lifting the trophy, even if Aubameyang initially managed to separate cup from base and drop both parts, gives him an incentive to stick around.
The first half was topsy-turvy, with Chelsea on the front foot at the outset and much more cohesive. Arteta had wanted focus and tightness from the start but he did not get it. Chelsea went ahead with a lovely finish from Pulisic and, from an Arsenal point of view, the way that they got themselves into a dangerous position, with Jorginho finding Pulisic in between the lines and him moving it up to Mason Mount, was too easy. Mount’s low cross deflected, Olivier Giroud backheeled for Pulisic and Arsenal’s defenders seemed to react in slow motion. Kieran Tierney did not want to risk a challenge on Pulisic, who darted on to the ball with far greater purpose, and the dink over Emi Martínez bristled with composure. For Chelsea, there was only frustration. They surrendered a position of authority after the first-half drinks break and it came to feel as though everything that could have gone wrong for them did so. They had bad luck with injuries, with the captain, César Azpilicueta, the talisman, Pulisic, and the substitute Pedro all forced off. For the latter, who damaged his shoulder and was taken away in an oxygen mask on a stretcher, it was a horrible end to his five years at the club.
Aubameyang had headed wide from an Ainsley Maitland-Niles cross in the third minute but it was otherwise all Chelsea up to the first-half drinks break. Arsenal were guilty of errors, including one from Granit Xhaka when he was robbed by Mount at 0-0. Mount advanced and worked Martínez. After the opening goal, Pulisic showed his quick feet and, with Tierney backing off, he shot at Martínez. Moreover, Chelsea felt that key decisions went against them, starting with the penalty award when Azpilicueta put his hands on Aubameyang. The problem for the defender was that he had allowed Aubameyang to get on the wrong side of him and any contract was always likely to be problematic.
Arteta could not wait to get into his players during the drinks break and they re-emerged with greater intensity. For Chelsea, the pause undoubtedly checked their momentum. The second half of the first period was all Arsenal apart from when Jorginho scooped high after a Mount pull-back. The turnaround was remarkable. Now the fear and looseness at the back belonged to Chelsea. Where the referee, Anthony Taylor, did get it wrong was in the 73rd minute when he showed Mateo Kovacic a second yellow card. The Chelsea midfielder, already booked for a lunge at Granit Xhaka, went in again on the same opponent. It looked as though Xhaka had trodden on him but Taylor saw it the other way. Chelsea felt that Xhaka was guilty of exaggerating the contact.
Pépé threatened with his skill and directness and he thought he had restored parity with a glorious shot from outside the area, which was bent with geometric precision into the far, top corner, but Maitland-Niles had been flagged offside earlier in the move. It had been hard to foresee Chelsea’s woes when they started on the front foot and dominated the opening 23 minutes. Pulisic finished smartly after Olivier Giroud had backheeled Mason Mount’s deflected cross amid statuesque Arsenal defending and both Mount and Pulisic worked Emiliano Martínez.
Arsenal did not have long to wait for the equaliser and it was all about the ability of Aubameyang to sniff out space. When Tierney dropped a ball in over the top, Aubameyang got himself on the wrong side of Azpilicueta and the Chelsea captain was in trouble. Struggling to get back, he put his hands on Aubameyang, who felt the contact and went down. When Aubameyang addressed the penalty, there was never any doubt as to the outcome. Arteta could not wait to get into his players during the drinks break and they re-emerged with greater purpose. For Chelsea, the pause undoubtedly checked their momentum. The second half of the first period was all Arsenal apart from when Jorginho scooped high after a Mount pull-back. The turnaround was remarkable. Now the fear and looseness at the back belonged to Chelsea.
Azpilicueta would be forced off with an injury and his replacement, Andreas Christensen, blocked well from Pépé after a slip by Marcos Alonso. There was also the moment when Christensen was outfoxed by Pépé and brought him down on the edge of the area. Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick was off target. Pépé threatened with his skill and directness and he thought he had restored parity with a glorious shot from outside the area, which was bent with geometric precision into the far, top corner, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles had been flagged offside earlier in the move.
These clubs are no strangers to showpiece occasions for Arsenal, it was a record 21st FA Cup final appearance but they have never experienced one like this. Football behind closed doors is discombobulating; this was a whole new level of weirdness. No fans, no colour, no feeling around the spectacle. The team buses had been greeted by a dozen or so supporters and the little round of applause after the pre-game national anthem was one of the many strange details. They would dot the evening. Arsenal did not have long to wait for the equaliser and it was all about the ability of Aubameyang to sniff out space. He got away from Azpilicueta following Kieran Tierney’s high ball and, when he picked himself up to address the penalty, there was no doubt as to the outcome.
It was nonetheless open and entertaining fare on the pitch, with the attack-minded players on both sides feeling that the opportunity was there for them to be the hero. Pulisic stood to make the difference when he tore away from Rob Holding on 46 minutes and, with space opening up a theme of the game he shaped to bend a shot for the far corner. His hamstring, though, seized up at the crucial moment, seeing the effort go wide and his involvement end. It was a cruel blow for Chelsea. One of the turning points from a Chelsea point of view came at the start of the second half when Pulisic tore away from Rob Holding and shaped to bend a shot for the far corner. His hamstring, though, seized up at the crucial moment and he saw the effort go wide and his involvement in the game end.
Back came Arsenal. Pépé got Aubameyang away on the left and when he cut back inside, it needed a smart block from Christensen to deny him. When Aubameyang took the outside track shortly afterwards, drifting away from Zouma to finish, he and Arsenal had glory in their sights. Back came Arsenal. Pépé got Aubameyang away on the left and when he cut back inside, it needed a smart block from Azpilicueta’s replacement, Andreas Christensen, to deny him. When Aubameyang took the outside track shortly afterwards, he and Arsenal had the trophy in their sights.
Chelsea were reduced to 10 men in controversial fashion when Kovacic, already on a yellow card for a lunge on Xhaka, went in again on his midfield opponent in the 73rd minute. It looked as though Xhaka had trodden on Kovacic but the referee, Anthony Taylor, saw it the other way and reached for a second yellow card. Martínez would dice with disaster and a possible red card when he came out of his area on 80 minutes to handle in front of the Chelsea substitute Tammy Abraham but the replays showed the action took place on the line and Arsenal could close out a record 14th triumph in this competition.
Martínez diced with disaster when he appeared to handle outside his area in front of Tammy Abraham but this was Arsenal’s day. Some of their players changed into shirts bearing the slogan “Always forward” - together with the number 14 during the wild celebrations in front of Wembley’s empty stands. It had been the strangest of spectacles, an FA Cup final like no other, down to the detail of Aubameyang collecting the trophy from an unattended plinth. For Arteta, it offered a foundation stone for the future.