Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the hero for Arsenal as he clinched a record-extending 14th FA Cup for the Gunners on Saturday, scoring both the goals in a 2-1 victory against Chelsea at an empty Wembley Stadium.
Christian Pulisic made a bit of history as he became the first American man to score in an FA Cup final as he opened the scoring early on against a shell-shocked Arsenal. But Chelsea could not make their early dominance count and Aubameyang levelled from the penalty spot in the 28th minute after he was dragged down by Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta.
Chelsea’s day got worse from there on as skipper Azpilicueta limped off injured in tears before the break. Pulisic only lasted a minute after the break before his hamstring gave out, maybe as a price for over-exerting himself in Chelsea’s bid to make the top four in the league and Champions League football.
Chelsea never regrouped and Arsenal took control. Aubameyang was at his cool best to chip goalkeeper Willy Caballero from close range in the 67th minute for the winning goal. It could have been his last moment in an Arsenal shirt as he looks for a move to a ‘bigger’ club. Manager Mikel Arteta believes an FA Cup win can sway him to stay, but such a performance will only bring more suitors for the striker.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was defiant about Aubameyang’s future. “He knows what I think about him. I want to build the squad around him. I think he wants to stay and it is just about getting the deal done,” Arteta said after the match.
“But I think these moments will help him to realise and believe that we are on the right path and he is a big part of that. He is loved by everybody at the club. Hopefully he can continue with us.”
Frank Lampard, the Chelsea boss, was rueful of their failure to capitalise on a strong start.
“We started well for 10-15 minutes and we can only blame ourselves from that point.” Lampard told the BBC. “We got complacent, we took time on the ball like it was a stroll and we allowed them into the game. It’s hard to get back into the game then. A lot of today is on us.
“All I can do form the sidelines is shout. There are elements in our game that we have worked hard on all year but that is in you as a group. Today we were slow, we played back on ourselves, invited pressure. We didn’t play well enough to win a final.”
The win not only sealed Arsenal’s fourth FA Cup in seven seasons. but a place in the Europa League, having only finished eighth in the Premier League.
WHAT WE LEARNT
In what could be his last game for Arsenal, Aubameyang showed why the Gunners must do everything in their power to keep the Gabon forward.
The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of next season and has been linked with a move amid reports he wants to play for a club in the Champions League.
Coach Mikel Arteta insists Aubameyang wants to stay, but he also conceded winning the FA Cup would be a useful way to show him the club are heading in the right direction.
Arsenal did their part and it was Aubameyang who provided the crucial cutting edge.
The first African player to start an FA Cup final as captain, Aubameyang became the second oldest player to score for Arsenal in the showpiece.
With Arsenal trailing to Christian Pulisic’s early goal, Aubameyang’s blistering break left Cesar Azpilicueta trailing in his wake.
Azpilicueta responded by tugging at Aubameyang’s shoulder and the forward made the most of the contact as he tumbled in the area to win a penalty that he dispatched with a ruthless efficiency.
Aubameyang won the German Cup with Borussia Dortmund in 2017, scoring the winning goal from the penalty spot.
Once again, he would be the star, but this time it was his skill and improvisation that proved decisive as he jinked past Kurt Zouma and clipped a fine finish over Willy Caballero in the 67th minute.
Chelsea hamstrung by Pulisic injury
Pulisic had emerged as a key figure for Chelsea since the coronavirus hiatus, but a day that started on a high for the United States winger ended in agony.
It has been that kind of turbulent season for Pulisic, whose first year with Chelsea started slowly amid injuries and poor form before bursting into life.
He was on the scoresheet after just five minutes, with his 11th goal of the season.
Drifting into central midfield to take possession, Pulisic slipped a precise pass to Mason Mount and carried on his run into the Arsenal penalty area, where he took Olivier Giroud’s flick and slotted past Emiliano Martinez.
Pulisic was the first American to score in the FA Cup final but disaster struck in the 49th minute when he raced away for a shot that was interrupted when he felt his hamstring twang.
Immediately grabbing the injured area, Pulisic was helped off the pitch.
Without the pace of Pulisic to keep Arsenal’s defence on the back foot, Frank Lampard’s side were bereft of a cutting edge in the final third as the trophy slipped from their grasp.
Arteta bolsters growing reputation
Mikel Arteta enhanced his reputation as one of the Premier League’s brightest young managers with another tactical masterclass.
Having out-witted his mentor Pep Guardiola in Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final success against Manchester City, Arteta showed his acumen again to leave Chelsea boss Frank Lampard out of answers.
Arteta’s use of long passes into the channels behind Chelsea’s two attacking full-backs exposed the flaw in Lampard’s defensive system and led directly to Aubameyang’s equaliser.
Leading Arsenal to their 14th FA Cup success — which brings them a place in next season’s Europa League — showed the 38-year-old Spaniard is the man to restore the club’s tattered reputation.
Arsenal may have endured their lowest league finish for a quarter of a century this season as Arteta battled to steady the ship following Unai Emery’s sacking in December.
But he has won over his players with a direct approach to discipline — banishing malcontents Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi — and his astute gameplans.
Winning the FA Cup will buy Arteta time to continue his rebuild and it was fitting his first trophy as Arsenal manager came in the tournament that brought the last major silverware of Gunners legend Arsene Wenger’s reign.