I’m not sure where to start today, I’m so filled with emotion. Ramsey wheeling away in celebration, Mertesacker and Koscielny lifting the cup together, the sight of a victorious Arsene Wenger…
I have truly enjoyed the occasion, and I’m happy more than I can put into words. It is a boundless elation, a pure and untainted kind, the one which I can’t compare to the wins in 2014 and 2015. In 2014 it was more a sense of overwhelming relief at ending the trophy drought, in 2015 it came with an asterisk of playing Villa and failing to kick on from last season in the league. Yesterday I knew the league was screwed, I’ve come to terms with that, and so nothing tarnished my happiness at winning the cup.
We were the complete underdogs to a seemingly ruthless Chelsea side, we fielded a makeshift defence and a second-choice keeper, and yet we still won. Won by a margin which doesn’t truly reflect what happened on the pitch. There’s only one place to start my report with then.
It was a complete, impeccable performance. I can’t find fault with any of our players. We have dominated the proceedings from the first minute onwards and scored an early goal to set the tone.
Indeed, Alexis Sanchez’ strike, clocked at 3 minutes 49 seconds, was the fastest goal Arsenal have ever scored in a cup final. It showcased the Chilean’s resilience, who, having seen his initial shot blocked, picked up the rebound and powered into the penalty box.
We created a barrage of chances after that, and a 3-0 scoreline would have been much more fitting at the break. Welbeck hit the post from a corner, before Ramsey scuffled the rebound onto the same post; Ozil and Welbeck (I think) saw their goal-bound efforts cleared from the line by Cahill; and, finally, Xhaka forced Courtois into a fine save.
We picked up where we left off in the second period, with Ozil hitting the post and Ramsey’s low drive saved by Cortois. The Gunners looked menacing on the counter, and in the end one of these fast breaks paid off when Ramsey headed in Giroud’s cross. The Welshman has yet again scored a winning goal in the cup final. Glorious.
Stoic defending from the back three
I did not expect Arsene Wenger to keep the system that worked so well simply because the Frenchman’s options were seriously limited. However Arsene went all in, starting Ox as a left wing-back and a trio of Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal at the back.
It was a decision which well and truly paid off. All three were faultless, turning in brave performances to quiet and infuriate Costa, Pedro and Hazard. We all know how capable Monreal is: the Spaniard has played as part of a back three this season, and also in a duo with Mertesacker some time ago. The experience stood him in good stead. I do not remember a single foul being called against Nacho, despite a tricky task of containing Pedro and Moses, on occasions.
But the other two centre-backs were equally grand, and I’m genuinely torn between who was better: Per, with only 37 minutes of football under his belt, or Rob, basically a kid 21 years of age. The German and his younger counterpart marshalled Costa with efficiency and flair, dare I say, reducing the striker to angry outbursts much more than to dangerous moments. It was not quite the Mustafi-Koscielny masterclass from September 24, however it was mightily impressive for other reasons.
Holding is obviously a diamond in the rough, but he handled Costa like a seasoned professional, and didn’t allow either the Spaniard or the occasion to get to him. Mertesacker, out from the cold, never before deployed as a part of a three, in the dusk of his career, was everywhere. Intercepting passes, winning headers, blocking shots, tackling the onrushing players, all the while staying on his feet. In the right place at the right time, and that’s the biggest compliment that can be made to a defender.
A swan song for Alexis Sanchez?
I do not know whether Alexis Sanchez will stay beyond this season. My gut feeling is, his chances are lower than these of Mesut Ozil. The German needs careful coaching, he needs an arm around his shoulder, he needs a certain system to thrive – he gets all of that under the guidance of Arsene Wenger. Mind you, I’m not saying the Frenchman himself will continue at Arsenal, but if we presume the current status quo is preserved, even for the sake of this piece, Mesut Ozil is leaning towards staying.
Sanchez? I’m not so sure. If the Chilean does go though, he will be remembered fondly. This has arguably been his best season at Arsenal. His Wembley goal was strike №30 this season, and Alexis also notched 15 assists. He directly contributed to 45 Arsenal goals in 51 appearances – 37% of all the goals Arsenal have scored.
Sanchez has also been a presence at Wembley – scoring five times and assisting another goal since 2015. He has been immense for Arsenal, his goal scoring record, desire to win and overall contribution make him an invaluable player. Yesterday he demonstrated all of the above once again.
I sincerely hope the Chilean stays. He’ll be next to impossible to replace in terms of output and I am sure he can be a part of something great if he chooses to stick with the Gunners. He most definitely has a chance to go down in Arsenal’s rich history books as one of the best players to grace the N5.
The last word
By winning yesterday Arsenal certainly ended the season on a high, putting some gloss on the campaign and another trophy in the cabinet. It is the 13th time the Gunners have won the FA Cup, becoming the most decorated side in England. It is also trophy №7 for Arsene Wenger, making the Frenchman the most successful manager in the competition. No mean feat, and I’m genuinely very happy for the Frenchman.
It is not clear whether he will be at Arsenal next season. Arsene was coy on his plans, saying a decision will be announced on Wednesday or Thursday, after the board meeting. I sensed some farewell notes in his voice though. The way he praised Holding, the way he said he’ll keep the medal this time – for me it hints to a goodbye. If it really was, then I can only thank the Frenchman for his immense contribution, a self-sacrificing one at times. He made Arsenal a big club, he made the world of football more prosperous and rich, and he made me personally a better man. He has my eternal gratitude for that, and I find it fitting for Arsene to win a trophy as his last deed in charge. But I will most certainly elaborate on Arsene Wenger as a man and a manager in my season review, if the Frenchman does indeed announce he’ll leave.
For now, though, I’ll just enjoy this glorious occasion. Thank you so much, Arsenal, for such a lovely end to the season.
P.S. And a special thank you to David Ospina. Hope we haven’t seen the last of you, Big Dave.