It’s, of course, easy to get ahead of times like these and forget that trophies are an end in themselves. Arsenal now have a 14th FA Cup to cheer on. Arteta has tangible success in sharpening the impression of a manager of true transformative energies. And when the final whistle sounded, it was unexpected to hear the screams and screams of the players echoing through the empty stadium. Rob Holding, in particular, seemed defeated by winning the big old founding trophy. For Aubameyang, this is a national trophy on a par with all those in his rich career.
However, this being football, it is always necessary to watch the following thing; extrapolate and speculate, and measure the ultimate ceiling of this peak of progress. With that in mind, it’s those periods of sweltering and fluid team play that will occupy Arteta’s thoughts this summer. Saturday’s victory rounds off a 13-game winning streak in 19 games, including an FA Cup victory and a pass to Europe next year. Over the past two and a half weeks, this cut and closed side have beaten Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. There is a feeling of relaxation, of smooth knots. Something’s going on here. But what?
It was also another header victory. Chelsea arrived at Wembley as the most stable team. But Arsenal have come with their own strengths. If Arteta has shown exceptional quality, it is the ability to organize his team for one-off matches against top-level opponents, to instill an intensity and attention to detail that for many years have been a defining absence. of Arsenal.
There will be some unease over the nature of that progress, if only because the victory at Wembley owes a lot to two players the club must work to keep this summer. Aubameyang was a constant and slippery source of threat. He now has 70 goals for Arsenal in 109 appearances and seems, at least, to be improving. The wobbly chain of logic that led to Mesut Özil’s death contract – the idea that this is a player you just can’t afford to lose – actually applies now. Make Aubameyang stick around and he can blaze a trail ahead of this evolving team.
Behind him, Dani Ceballos had an intriguing match: a semi-interested spectator for the first 20 minutes; an assertive and discreetly dominant presence for the rest. Arsenal have to hope that Ceballos will consider extending his loan spell from Real Madrid. There is the heart and edge of an evolving team here. Ceballos and Aubameyang are vital to the project, if not quite the end of the project themselves.
Wembley felt like a place of unresolved questions to kick off, in an FA Cup final that will surely be the most strangely zombified of all these ghost ship events. From some sort of undulating raft somewhere high up on the vast roof of Wembley, a place with no obvious support or means of access, Emeli Sandé’s pre-recorded voice was heard singing Abide With Me. ‘she took with her a supply of oatmeal cakes and a bottle of whiskey.
The players started off in polite silence. And in the fifth minute, Arsenal’s defense decided to fend off Chelsea’s first attack with all the resilience of a collapsed meringue. There was a nice pass from Mason Mount and a lovely super fast change of foot from Christian Pulisic. But it was a case of dribbling around the roller bins.
Chelsea dominated those 21 minutes, pressing high, stealing the ball and zipping their wetsuits at full speed. Considering what happened next, the only reasonable conclusion is that Ceballos must have been extremely thirsty, because after the break he was transformed. He’s a fascinating player, a midfielder who hangs out rather than runs, moving with all the playful ease of an escaped crook in ankle cuffs who manages to escape through a swamp of turnips. But Ceballos is also a high-class midfielder, and at Wembley he maneuvered the ball with determination, blocking Chelsea angles and organizing the wave of pressure on either side of the equalizer.
In reality, the change came from Arteta, who appears to have used the break to trick his players into targeting the gaps left by Reece James pushing high; and by the lack of pace of the aging Spanish contingent in Chelsea defense. Nicholas Pépé was once again dynamic and determined. Maitland-Niles worried about James, allowing Aubameyang to float to that side.
Pepe smashed a superb shot in the upper corner, only for the offside to intervene. And moments later, Aubameyang was shot by César Azpilicueta, who doesn’t have the gas in his legs for this run, so instead resorts to the power of the arms. Aubameyang put the kick in the corner, a contraction of the hips sending Willy Caballero the wrong way.
The winning goal stems from Ceballos doing something brilliantly ugly-smart, turning his back on Pedro to block him and allowing the ball to run in the path of Héctor Bellerín. He had a good race ahead. Grandpa feeds Aubameyang. What happened next was a beautiful miniature. Aubameyang dragged the ball to the left, leaving Kurt Zouma in a different timeline, before pushing it into a nice parabola above Caballero and into the far corner, the kind of finish you can find when you have a strong foot and another even stronger
The referee helped Arsenal’s cause. Chelsea lost three important players that day. But it was an afternoon of meaningful moments gained, and a glimpse into a more cohesive future that Arteta will eagerly capture. At the final whistle, he ran to kiss Bellerin, then turned to whisper something seductive in Aubameyang’s ear. The task of leading this team starts right there.