This Arsenal is rarely seen in the wild anymore, a species endangered to the point that its extinction was suspected. The version of the Gunners that’s creative and competent and even resilient is such a strange sight now that Arsenal fans don’t quite know if they’re dreaming, existing in the throes of a fugue state or merely seeing some kind of misery-induced apparition.
But in the final game of the English domestic season, the famed FA Cup final, Arsenal finally gave a spasm of the team it might have been all year in a 2-1 victory over a 10-man Chelsea that could have been more comfortable. Should have been more comfortable, perhaps, save for serial interventions by Chelsea’s goal post and Gary Cahill. Alexis Sanchez’s go-ahead goal and Aaron Ramsey’s winner after Diego Costa’s equalizer might not have stood alone.
But they did. And in winning its third FA Cup in four years, Arsenal – claiming the record for FA Cup wins with 13 to move out of a tie with Manchester United – gave a performance that was confounding inasmuch as you wondered where this sort of performance had been all season long. Where was it when the club sagged to fifth place in the Premier League, its worst finish in more than two decades? Where was it in the 10-2 aggregate round-of-16 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League?
The sharpness and the bite and the movement and the press that so troubled new Premier League champions Chelsea seemed summoned out of nowhere. Indeed, if this was embattled manager Arsene Wenger’s final game in charge of the club, it was a fine way to go out.
The early opening goal was controversial, coming in the fourth minute, courtesy of a handball not called and an offside not given. Or, well, initially given and then reversed, allowing the goal to stand. Alexis Sanchez had both arms raised and one of them collided with the ball when he won it back just outside Chelsea’s box. Aaron Ramsey moved towards the ball, well offside, but then backed off as Sanchez loped after it and sliced it beautifully behind Thibaut Courtois.
Thing is, Ramsey most definitely was active, affecting the decision-making of the defense. The initial call, then, was the correct one. The goal shouldn’t have stood. It did anyway.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 27, 2017
Within the next quarter of an hour, Arsenal might have had two more. Sanchez played Mesut Ozil through beautifully and he chipped Courtois, but Cahill cleared it off the line with a backheel. Danny Welbeck nearly scored but his header went off the far post, and then Ramsey chested it onto that same post. Before halftime, Cahill saved off the line again, further denying Welbeck.
Chelsea made a vigorous start to the second half and finally began producing real chances. But when Victor Moses was expelled with a second yellow card for simulation in the 68th minute, the Blues’ job of winning the double seemed doomed.
Naturally, nine minutes later, Diego Costa brought down a cross in the box, got off a bouncing shot that took a small deflection and beat David Ospina to even up the game.
Have another look at Costa's equalizer for Chelsea in the #FACupFinal.
Blues fans couldn't celebrate for long… https://t.co/kh8z51VEoj
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 27, 2017
But Arsenal struck back almost immediately. A deep cross from Olivier Giroud, who had just come on, sailed to the wide-open Ramsey, who nodded it home.
Ramsey's goal seconds after Costa equalised. pic.twitter.com/C2mAX90Uca
— Goals (@PremHighlightz) May 27, 2017
Chelsea had its chances for a second equalizer. But David Luiz nodded his header from Willian’s free kick wide of the near post. And Ospina made an enormous save as Costa rumbled through the box but put his finish too close to the goalkeeper.
Arsenal might have had a third late on, but Ozil pinged the conclusion of a counterattack off the near post.
It was a high point to end a season of lows for one of Europe’s proudest clubs. For all of Arsenal’s troubles this season, and for the way its league and European campaigns ended in ignominy, this FA Cup final, if anything, promised better for next season. But then Arsenal seems to always be living in the future these days.
And perhaps a new manager will pull them into the present.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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