Arsene Wenger secured his record seventh FA Cup final win as Arsenal produced a magnificent display to win a Wembley thriller against 10-man Chelsea.
Alexis Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead in contentious fashion after only four minutes, when referee Antony Taylor overruled his assistant after he had flagged for offside against Aaron Ramsey.
The Premier League champions also claimed Sanchez handled in the build-up. And their task became even harder when Victor Moses was correctly sent off by Taylor in the second half after receiving a second yellow card for diving.
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.
Arsenal, outstanding throughout, refused to be denied and were back in front inside three minutes when Ramsey, who scored the FA Cup final winner against Hull City in 2014, did it again with a header from substitute Olivier Giroud’s cross.
Wenger pumped his fists in delight at the final whistle, as a season that has brought so much criticism for the 67-year-old Frenchman, ended in Wembley glory with a record 13th FA Cup win for the Gunners.
‘Best display of the season’
Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas on BBC Radio 5 live:
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.
I cannot believe how ordinary Arsenal made Chelsea look. The Premier League champions could not handle Arsenal’s footballing ability in the middle of the pitch. They could not get any rhythm or get on the ball. It was their best display of the season.
Vindication for Wenger?
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 at times 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.
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.
Magnificent Mertesacker rules Wembley
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.
Bridge too far for Chelsea
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.
Brave Taylor sticks to his guns
The referee was presented with two big FA Cup final decisions – and he was certainly not found to be lacking in conviction.
He overruled his linesman for Sanchez’s opening goal after the offside flag had been raised, although Chelsea were left nursing a serious sense of injustice as they believed the Chilean had handled.
There was no question he got his second decision right, giving a second yellow card to Moses as he clearly dived in a desperate attempt to win a penalty as Chelsea chased an equaliser.
‘An incredible season’
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “We had an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards. This team has suffered. They’ve united and responded. They showed strength and unity and played spectacular football today.
“I’m proud to have won seven of these cups. I’m proud having done this – winning the championship without losing and winning seven FA Cups.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte: “I think the first goal was very strange. The first half we didn’t start well, we didn’t have the right approach and we suffered in first 25 minutes. We started to play better in the second half and the red card was decisive.
“There is disappointment for the final result but it can happen and there was a lot of pressure. Victor Moses has been good and played an important season.
“Our season was incredible to win the league in this way, it was great but now it’s important to look forward and to restart”.
The two sides 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].
- 16HoldingBooked at 53mins
- 8RamseyBooked at 9mins
- 29XhakaBooked at 81mins
- 15Oxlade-ChamberlainSubstituted forCoquelinat 82′minutesBooked at 83mins
- 7SánchezSubstituted forElnenyat 90+3′minutes
- 23WelbeckSubstituted forGiroudat 78′minutes
- 30David Luiz
- 15MosesBooked at 68mins
- 7KantéBooked at 59mins
- 21MaticSubstituted forFàbregasat 61′minutes
- 11PedroSubstituted forWillianat 72′minutes
- 19Diego CostaSubstituted forBatshuayiat 88′minutes
- Anthony Taylor
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Arsenal 2, Chelsea 1.
Second Half ends, Arsenal 2, Chelsea 1.
Substitution, Arsenal. Mohamed Elneny replaces Alexis Sánchez.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea).
Attempt blocked. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Olivier Giroud.
Foul by Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal).
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Chelsea. Michy Batshuayi replaces Diego Costa.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Thibaut Courtois.
Mesut Özil (Arsenal) hits the right post with a left footed shot from the centre of the box. Assisted by Olivier Giroud following a fast break.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Nacho Monreal.
Attempt saved. Diego Costa (Chelsea) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Foul by Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal).
Willian (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Mesut Özil.
Francis Coquelin (Arsenal) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Francis Coquelin (Arsenal).
Willian (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Arsenal. Francis Coquelin replaces Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Attempt missed. David Luiz (Chelsea) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Willian with a cross following a set piece situation.
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Granit Xhaka (Arsenal).
Willian (Chelsea) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Goal! Arsenal 2, Chelsea 1. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Olivier Giroud.
Substitution, Arsenal. Olivier Giroud replaces Danny Welbeck.
Goal! Arsenal 1, Chelsea 1. Diego Costa (Chelsea) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Willian.
Attempt missed. Gary Cahill (Chelsea) header from the centre of the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Cesc Fàbregas with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Foul by Mesut Özil (Arsenal).
Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Chelsea. Willian replaces Pedro.
Attempt missed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Granit Xhaka.
Attempt blocked. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.
Foul by Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).
Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Second yellow card to Victor Moses (Chelsea).
Victor Moses (Chelsea) has gone down, but that’s a dive.
Attempt missed. Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.
Attempt blocked. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Pedro.