By Ekene Dike
A massive but crowd-devoid Wembley stadium hosted the 21st FA Cup final of the 21st century between Arsenal and Chelsea.
Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta battled it out to win the oldest club competition. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang was the hero of the day as his brace helped Arsenal triumph over Chelsea 2-1.
It was a lively game right from the kick off as both teams showed their attacking intents. Chelsea’s Mason Mount unleashed a venomous shot at Emiliano Martinez in the opening moments of the game, but the Arsenal shot-stopper was up to the task as he parried it out for a corner kick.
The deadlock was broken early in the first half. Christian Pulisic dazzled the Arsenal defense, combined with Oliver Giroud and showed fine composure in front of goal to give Chelsea the lead in the 5th minute.
He became the first American to score in the FA Cup final.
Arsenal started throwing their full backs forward with Maitland Niles and Hector Bellerin crossing the ball inside the opposition box. Finally, their persistence paid off as a long ball from Arsenal’s backline found Aubameyang in the box. It proved to be a problem for Cesar Azpilicueta whose pull on Aubameyang was ruled as a foul and a penalty.
Arsenal’s skipper converted the penalty and parity was restored in the 28th minute. As the game progressed, Arsenal became the better side. An unfortunate hamstring injury to Cesar Azpilicuteta forced the captain to leave the pitch in the 34th minute.
However, Chelsea which started the game with swagger ended the first half with struggles. In the 43rd minute, Alexandre Lacazette’s close range free kick went agonizingly wide.
Chelsea’s injury problems got worse at the beginning of the second half. Their goalscorer Christian Pulisic picked up an injury in the 48th minute and had to be replaced by Pedro.
The Gunners began to dominate the game with quality football thereafter. In the 67th minute, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang gave Arsenal the lead after receiving the ball from Nicolas Pepe, dribbled past Kurt Zouma and slotted the ball into the back of the net with a sublime finish.
Frank Lampard’s men were reduced to 10 in the 72nd minute when Matteo Kovacic was shown a second yellow card after a foul on Granit Xhaka. Their day went from bad to worse in quick succession.
Down to 10, Arsenal had the numerical advantage and held on to the lead. Astonishingly, Pedro picked up another injury towards the end of the game.
After more than 100 minutes including injury time, the referee did the needful by blowing the final whistle and Arsenal became the winners of the FA Cup for the 14th time. They also secured Europa League qualification for next season as champions of the FA Cup.
Much credit goes to Arsenal’s man from Gabon who was spot on. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang became the first African to captain a side that won the FA Cup and his number 14 jersey number was iconic as he delivered Arsenal’s 14th FA Cup.
Among the first to applaud the victory of the Gunners was Atiku Abubakar, the country’s former vice president who in a tweet just after the match said: