Result: Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea
Competition: FA Cup
Date: 1 August 2020
Starting lineup: Martinez, Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Macey, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Torreira, Smith, Willock, Nelson, Saka, Nketiah
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a match-winning brace as Arsenal came from behind to beat Chelsea 2-1 and claim the FA Cup.
In an entertaining encounter at an empty Wembley, the Blues took an early lead through Christian Pulisic’s smart finish but the teams went into the break on level terms when Aubameyang tucked home a penalty which he’d won after being pulled down by Cesar Azpilicueta in the box.
Our club captain then sealed his name in the history books with a delightful second on 67 minutes, dinking over Cabellero.
Matteo Kovacic’s sending off helped our cause as we saw out the win to claim a 14th success in the world’s oldest cup competition. It also means we’ll play in the Europa League next season.
At the end of a long and traumatic season, what a way to sign off!
There were no major surprises when the team sheets were released. As predicted, we lined up with a three-man backline utilising Kieran Tierney on the left side in the absence of Shkodran Mustafi. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, as was the case in semi-final versus Manchester City, took the Scot’s usual wing-back slot. Mikel Arteta went with experience over youth across the rest of the team with big-money trio Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang leading the line. Bernd Leno’s attempts to get fit in time for the final proved to be in vain. The German sat out the game meaning Matt Macey provided back up to Emi Martinez. The average age of our bench was under 23.
To say the opening stages were open is an understatement. And some. Both teams were buzzing with energy. Maitland-Niles made the first dart forward, claiming a Tierney ball clipped up the line. He looked up, crossed to Auba who headed wide.
Chelsea came straight back at us. With tricky midfielders like Mount, Pulisic and Kovacic they fancied their chances running at the defence. Mount stole the ball from Xhaka and went for goal. Martinez tipped around the post. We’d not even hit four minutes.
Then disaster for the Gunners. With their next attack Pulisic clipped over Martinez to put the Blues in front. The American had started the move and then collected the ball inside the box from Giroud after good work by Mount. There was nothing our keeper could do. He followed in the footsteps of Jon Harkes, by becoming the second Yank to net in a major final against us. (1-0)
Chelsea took real heart from being ahead and dominated in midfield. Pulisic stung Martinez’s palms again not long after Pepe had tried his luck from long range at the other end. Ceballos, after winning a free-kick on the edge of the area, also went for goal but his free-kick flew over the bar.
The drinks break seemed to come at a good time for us. Arteta barked his orders as he usually does and when the game we resumed we looked more settled. Almost immediately, Pepe curled a beauty into the top corner. The flag was already up though. Not for anything the Ivorian had done, Ainsley Maitland-Niles had received a ball in the build-up in an offside position. A real shame. Pepe allowed himself a wry smile.
He didn’t have to wait long to celebrate. Long balls for Aubameyang to chase were a common theme of the first half and it was from this tactic that our captain escaped Azpilicueta to bound into the box. The Spaniard, fighting a losing battle, tugged him down. Anthony Taylor had no qualms pointing to the spot and flashed a yellow card. VAR checked where the infringement took place. It was in the box. Our captain stepped up and tucked home. (1-1)
Azpilicueta’s afternoon went from bad to worse inside four minutes. He went down clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Christensen. He was probably lucky to still be on the pitch after the penalty, so it was at least a bit funny seeing him walk off in tears.
In the 15 minutes prior to the break, we really looked tight and disciplined. Our closing down was great, our tracking back likewise and we started to pass the ball from the back, dragging Chelsea up the pitch before moving into the space behind. It was encouraging. The only thing missing was a flourish in the box. Pepe found himself in decent positions on a number of occasions but we couldn’t get on the end of his crosses.
The closest we came to a second was a Lacazette free-kick, won by Pepe, that flashed wide. Having gone behind, it was a decent showing from the men in red.
The Blues were again quick out of the traps. Pulisic raced through on goal and curled just wide. In the process, he went down screaming, holding his hamstring. The physios carried him from the field. Given his talent that looked to be a good thing for the Gunners. Pedro replaced him.
Proceedings settled down for 15 minutes. Heavy legs at the end of a long season? The hot weather? Nerves? Whatever the reason, things got scrappy. Both sides traded niggly tackles in the middle of the park and were wasteful on the ball.
We did work one-half chance of note. Pepe breaking free down the right wing and feeding Lacazette. The Frenchman knew Aubameyang was inside him on the edge of the box but his pass was a bit behind his strike partner and his shot was closed down.
Chelsea flirted with taking charge. Mount, in particular, looked dangerous combining with Pedro. We seemed happy sitting back and soaking up the pressure, as we did against Man City in the semi-final. Could we work a chance on the break? The big question. Yes.
Ceballos directed a header to Bellerin in space and the right wing-back raced forward at pace forcing the Blues on the back foot. Christensen decided to take him out. The two players hit the turf but the loose ball fell to Pepe. The Ivorian cut across the box and played in Aubameyang. Would he go with his right foot? No. He turned Zouma, went back onto his left and dinked over Cabellero. What a finish. (2-1)
Into the last 20 minutes and our lives were made a bit easier. Kovacic, booked in the first half, clipped Xhaka’s heals. Referee Anthony Taylor took an absolute age to show a second yellow, in part because he chose to flash one at Ceballos first, but the Croat was shown his marching orders. You’ll remember he also sent off Victor Moses in the 2017 final. Send that man a Christmas card.
In a last throw of the dice, Lampard sent on Barkley, Hudson-Odoi and Abraham for Giroud, Mount and Rudiger. The clock showed 12 minutes remaining.
In the two minutes before Arteta put on Nketiah, Martinez had a Fabianski moment that raised the collective pulses of Gooners the world over. Racing out of his goal to claim a ball, he somehow claimed it on the line despite his body obviously being out of his box. It was close.
How to treat the final five minutes? Push Chelsea back or let them come at us. We initially pushed them back but then caution kicked in. We were happy to slow things down when necessary. David Luiz went down holding his right foot and the lesser spotted Sokratis was given a run out.
Arteta’s nerves on the touchline were palpable. He was screaming at everyone. Seven minutes of stoppage time went up. That didn’t help. Martinez got up to claim a corner and went down hurt. The clocked ticked down some more. And some more. And some more. There was another scare when Pepe tackled Pedro right on the edge of our box. Taylor waved play on when a foul might easily have been given. Another dart by the Spaniard ended with him again on the turf. He rolled back onto the pitch to receive treatment clutching his shoulder. It looked nasty, a possible dislocation and he needed oxygen as he was treated.
The clock was on 101 minutes by the time the game restarted. Still, the game went on. And then it was over. Finally. Wow. An incredible performance from the boys. They really left everything on the field. You couldn’t have asked for more.