Arsene Wenger secured his record seventh FA Cup final win as Arsenal produced a magnificent display to win a Wembley thriller against Premier League champions Chelsea.
Alexis Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead in contentious fashion after only four minutes, when referee Antony Taylor overruled his assistant after he had flagged for offside against Aaron Ramsey.
Chelsea also claimed Sanchez handled in the build-up and their task became even harder when Victor Moses was correctly sent off by Taylor in the second half after receiving a second yellow card for diving.
Diego Costa revived Chelsea’s hopes of a repeat of their league and FA Cup double in 2010 when Arsenal keeper David Ospina failed to keep out his deflected shot with 14 minutes left.
Arsenal, outstanding throughout, refused to be denied and were back in front inside three minutes when Ramsey, who scored the FA Cup final winner against Hull City in 2014, did it again with a header from substitute Olivier Giroud’s cross.
Wenger pumped his fists in delight at the final whistle, as a season that has brought so much criticism for the 67-year-old Frenchman, ended in Wembley glory.
‘Best display of the season’
Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas on BBC Radio 5 live:
Arsene Wenger was right when he said the season has been a tough one for the players and fans, but they turned up today.
They had one mindset, to walk off as winners, and that was clear to see. They played the better football and wanted it more. The Chelsea players were hanging their heads but they had an unbelievable season. On the day, not enough players turned up, they did not deserve to win.
Arsenal defender Rob Holding had a fantastic semi-final too and he was under the spotlight, as was Per Mertesacker. Both players put on a huge display. What a performance Mesut Ozil put in too. Man for man, they were much better than Chelsea.
I cannot believe how ordinary Arsenal made Chelsea look. The Premier League champions could not handle Arsenal’s footballing ability in the middle of the pitch. They could not get any rhythm or get on the ball. It was their best display of the season.
Vindication for Wenger?
Wenger finally gave full vent to his feelings about the criticism he received this season in the Wembley build-up – describing it as “a disgrace” he will “never forget.”
And here at Wembley he answered the critics eloquently as Arsenal delivered an outstanding performance in an enthralling final to secure a win they fully merited.
It was all done in front of Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, a staunch supporter of his manager in the face of mounting criticism, and with a decision still pending on Wenger’s future.
Wenger’s stock has fallen in the eyes of Arsenal fans as the team have struggled at times this season, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.
Here however, Wenger coaxed and cajoled an inspired 90 minutes out of his Arsenal side in a performance that can rank alongside their finest in recent seasons.
Wenger, watching throughout in shirtsleeves, looked remarkably calm given the prize on offer and how much was riding on this Wembley final for him and his reputation.
Arsenal were sharper, more aggressive and more creative than Chelsea – their only anxiety coming when they led by just one goal after a first 45 minutes they dominated completely.
And The Gunners even refused to be knocked off course when Chelsea, reduced to 10 men after Moses’ sending off, were gifted an equaliser when Ospina pushed feebly at Costa’s deflected shot in the 76th minute.
If Wenger needed to produce evidence that he can still win the big prizes and still get his Arsenal side to produce the big performance, then this was it.
Magnificent Mertesacker rules Wembley
Wenger was effectively forced to plunge veteran German defender Per Mertesacker into action after only 37 minutes playing time this season as he wrestled with a defensive crisis – and how the 32-year-old rewarded him.
The Gunners were without suspended Laurent Koscielny, injured Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi, who was suffering from concussion. It meant a call-up for Mertesacker against the most demanding Premier League opponents of all.
He was faultless throughout, giving a masterclass in positioning, timing and making crucial interceptions time after time in a display that made a mockery of his lack of action.
Mertesacker made experience count as he subdued Costa, apart from a moment when he got a slight deflection on his equaliser, but the embrace he received from his manager at the final whistle told the story.
Bridge too far for Chelsea
Chelsea went into this final as firm favourites to claim the league and cup double against an Arsenal side who have been their inferior this season. But in the end it was just one game too far for Antonio Conte’s men.
They looked leg-weary and slow and key men such as Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante were unable to exert their usual influence.
The Blues threatened to demonstrate their durability and resilience once more when, even at a numerical disadvantage, Costa put them back in the game.
It was not to be – and the brutal truth is that on the day they were outplayed by a resurgent Arsenal. This has still been an outstanding season for Conte’s side.
Brave Taylor sticks to his guns
The referee was presented with two big FA Cup final decisions – and he was certainly not found to be lacking in conviction.
He overruled his linesman for Sanchez’s opening goal after the offside flag had been raised, although Chelsea were left nursing a serious sense of injustice as they believed the Chilean had handled.
There was no question he got his second decision right, giving a second yellow card to Moses as he clearly dived in a desperate attempt to win a penalty as Chelsea chased an equaliser.
More to follow.