FA Cup, Final
Aubameyang helped Arsenal to a record 14th FA Cup triumph as a spirited Chelsea performance petered out at Wembley.
This season’s FA Cup final got off to a quick start, as a smart finish from Christian Pulisic put Chelsea in front within 5 minutes. It appeared that Chelsea’s attackers had fumbled their chance, but thanks to an Olivier Giroud pass inside the box Pulisic was able to bring the Blues their reward. Perhaps on a high after his clean finish, shortly afterwards the American forward showed some more quick footwork to fire another shot away.
Chelsea’s early goal appeared to spur the Gunners into action, and in the 25th minute Nicolas Pépé smashed home what looked to be a fantastic goal in reply. But the attempt was – rightly – ruled out for offside. Only minutes later, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang paced into the opposition penalty area and was brought down by César Azpilicueta. The Chelsea defender had reached in vain for the ball, and though Azpilicueta’s foul was not cynical he was punished with a yellow card.
The resulting penalty-kick was coolly taken by Aubameyang, who powered the ball into the bottom-right corner, sending Wilfredo Caballero the wrong way. Going into the second half the score was 1-1, with both sides having had four shots on target. Yet though there was everything to play for, Chelsea suffered some injuries both sides of the break. Azpilicueta was brought off with a pulled hamstring on the 33rd minute, and goalscorer Pulisic was replaced by forward Pedro on the 49th.
The second half began as brightly as the first, but by the 60-minute mark Chelsea were allowing the game to drift away. At times Frank Lampard’s side held a much deeper line, and Arsenal bagged their second goal not long after. A fantastic Hector Bellerin run from the halfway line gave Aubameyang his chance. The Gabon international was able to skip into the danger area and outfox the Chelsea defence before slotting home, well above Caballero’s reach.
Roughly halfway through the second ’45, Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovačić was sent off for a clash with Granit Xhaka. The Croatian midfielder reached for the ball but instead ended up on Xhaka’s foot, a challenge hardly worthy of a second yellow card. Referee Anthony Taylor had been right to award a yellow for Kovačić’s earlier foul, but in this case Xhaka perhaps made enough out of the incident to persuade the sending-off. The dismissal caused tempers to flare on the touchline, with Xhaka looking especially irate. Chelsea’s morale began to waver.
Hoping to reinvigorate his stuttering side, on the 77th minute Lampard sent on three England internationals in Ross Barkley, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham. It proved a controversial decision not to award Chelsea a penalty when – right on his boundary – Arsenal ‘keeper Emiliano Martinez caught a loose ball. But otherwise, by the 85th minute Chelsea were devoid of ideas.
Into what became a lengthy stoppage period, Martinez produced some solid goalkeeping to neutralise Chelsea’s attacks, catching two corner balls in quick succession. However, five minutes into injury time Chelsea came close to equalising. But the Blues dilly-dallied, and though Pedro looked dangerous running into the Arsenal box, Martinez was able to steal the ball away. In the final minute of play, another name was added to Chelsea’s injury list as Pedro was stretchered off.
Though an interesting enough game for the neutral, Frank Lampard will be disappointed that his side were unable to press their one-goal advantage. With the help of his teammates, it was the skill of Arsenal’s Aubameyang that won the day for the Gunners. Manager Mikel Arteta will be delighted to have added another FA Cup win to Arsenal’s already-impressive tally.