LONDON, (Reuters) – Arsenal salvaged some silverware from a traumatic season as they denied Chelsea the double with a 2-1 victory in an enthralling FA Cup final thanks to Aaron Ramsey’s late winner on Saturday.
Chelsea had been hot favourites to put the icing on the cake of a remarkable debut season for manager Antonio Conte but were not at their clinical best as Arsenal lifted the Cup for the third time in four seasons.
They have now captured it a record 13 times while boss Arsene Wenger, for whom this could still turn out to be a golden farewell after a 21-year reign in north London, is now the most successful manager in the Cups’ history with seven wins.
Chelsea made a woeful start and were behind after four minutes to Alexis Sanchez’s hugely controversial opener but when Diego Costa levelled in the 76th minute it seemed the fates were with the Blues despite playing with 10 men.
Conte’s side had to play the last 20 minutes a man down after Victor Moses was dismissed following a second yellow card awarded for diving.
They responded to that setback but Ramsey’s 79th minute header knocked the stuffing out of Chelsea and Arsenal could have extended their lead when Mesut Ozil hit the post.
Wenger, who failed to finish in the top four in the Premier League for the first time since taking charge in 1996, celebrated with his players in front of the massed red ranks of Arsenal fans at the end.
“We had an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards,” the out-of-contract 67-year-old, who said his future will become clearer next week, said.
“This team has suffered. They’ve united and responded. I said last week this team will be in the championship with one or two good buys. They showed strength and unity and played spectacular football today.”
Conte said the game swung on Sanchez’s goal being allowed and the Moses red card but admitted his side had started slowly.
“The start was not good enough,” the Italian said. “They started better than us. The goal after four minutes was clear handball by Sanchez. But our start wasn’t good.”
Sanchez’s goal was a confusing affair. First he appeared to block the ball back into the danger area with his hands before running on to shoot past Thibaut Courtois with Chelsea’s defence frozen.
Referee Anthony Taylor initially disallowed it but after consulting with assistant Gary Bewsick, who had raised his flag, he signalled a goal to spark Arsenal celebrations.
As well as handball, there was a suspicion that Ramsey, standing metres offside but deemed not to be interfering, had made a move towards the ball.
The goal rocked Chelsea and Arsenal scented their chance with Ozil having a shot back-heeled off the line by Gary Cahill before Danny Welbeck’s header thumped against the post and Ramsey bundled the ball back against the same upright.
With Eden Hazard struggling to spark Chelsea’s biggest threat was Costa who was denied by a perfectly-timed tackle by Per Mertesacker, making his first start of the season.
Chelsea started the second half with more tempo and Footballer of the Year N’Golo Kante warmed David Ospina’s fingers with a deflected drive from distance before Moses brought a fine save from Ospina after Costa played him in.
When Moses was dismissed for a theatrical dive, Chelsea’s hopes looked shot but a few minutes later they levelled when Costa’s weakly-hit shot brushed off the excellent Mertesacker and past the flat-footed Ospina.
Arsenal did not buckle though and went back in front when Chelsea’s defence went AWOL, allowing Ramsey the freedom of the box to head substitute Olivier Giroud’s cut-back past Courtois.
In a nervy finale Ospina made a superb reaction save to deny Costa as Arsenal held on to a richly-deserved victory.