The craziest domestic campaign we have ever seen finally came to an end at Wembley on Saturday evening as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal won their record-breaking 14th FA Cup with a 2-1 win over Chelsea.
The Blues took the lead early on thanks to fine link up play from Olivier Giroud to find Christian Pulisic in the box who swept the ball past Emi Martinez. Arsenal fought back though and were level before the half-hour mark as Cesar Azpilicueta fouled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the box for a penalty, which the Gunners skipper dispatched himself. Arsenal dominated the start of the second half and managed to get themselves in the lead. An error from Rudiger allowed Nicolas Pepe to find Aubameyang in the box, who squared up Kurt Zouma, scooped the ball past him and then dinked the ball over Willy Caballero’s head. It was a stunning goal worthy of winning any game of football.
Chelsea began to come into the game after that but a red card for Mateo Kovacic essentially ended their chances of a comeback and handed Mikel Arteta the first silverware of his managerial career.
The game wasn’t without controversy though, despite Arteta’s brilliance. Azpilicueta could have arguably been sent off when conceding the penalty since he made no real attempt at the ball before bundling Aubameyang to the floor, while Kovacic’s red card was one of the worst decisions in a long time. Further to that, there was an incident in the closing minutes where Emi Martinez seemed to quite blatantly handle the ball outside the box, but it wasn’t reviewed or mentioned by TV until after the game. Images circulating on social media show that he was clearly outside the box, while images shown on BBC following the game seem to show an image slightly later where he is on the line and therefore in the box.
But despite all those decisions, Arsenal were the better side. They targeted the poor Marcos Alonso, using Nicolas Pepe as much as possible and essentially allowing Aubameyang to come narrow and act as a second striker. Chelsea’s high line was also suicidal, as Kieran Tierney and David Luiz constantly looked for the pass over the top to turn the Chelsea defence around and get higher up the pitch. Dani Ceballos was excellent, covering every blade of grass on the pitch but also being brave in possession and looking to play forwards as much as possible.
Arteta’s instructions were concise and clear. Attack the wings and play the passes in behind early for the attackers to run on to. Possession is good but only in good areas. Chelsea on the other hand looked entirely out of ideas. Giroud was isolated from the very beginning, unable to get the better of Luiz physically and not mobile enough to escape Tierney and Holding either side of him. Mason Mount had a tough game in which he seemingly tried to do too much when he did get the ball due to a lack of service. Jorginho struggled to progress play in his usual way and Kovacic was cut out by units of defensive play to stop him breaking the lines with his dribbling.
A serious looking hamstring injury for Pulisic saw Lampard bring on Pedro in his place, while Callum Hudson-Odoi sat on the sidelines and watched on until the 77th minute. They lost the pace and directness of Pulisic that was their only real outlet and threat in the first half and refused to replace it directly for whatever reason. Arteta held firm in his decisions, made small adjustments in different phases of the game and made the right substitutions at the right time.
As talented as Lampard is, it’s no secret that he is the golden boy of the UK press right now. He’s been allowed to basically have a free hit at management in his first two years, failing with Derby before securing the Chelsea job and barely hitting targets.
Arteta on the other hand has shown why he has the reputation that he does have, as he’s come into a completely demoralised and broken Arsenal and shaped them into somewhat of a team in his 9 months in charge so far. They’re far from perfect or the finished article, but it’s clear what he’s trying to do and the collectiveness of the squad at the end of the game was evident for all to see. Arsenal fans are wondering now what position they would be in if the board had stuck to their guns and hired their former captain the first time around instead of wasting 18 months with Unai Emery.
Lampard showed he has a long way to go and Arteta proved that he belongs at this club at this moment in time. He’s a budding manager looking to grow, at a club that is essentially pressing the restart button and trusting him.