FA Cup final review: a vintage final

Ben Harris gives his verdict on a vintage FA Cup final during Project Restart

Ben Harris
15th August 2020
The FA Cup final this year could have been excused for having a flat atmosphere both on and off the pitch, but it was far from that. I always remember my Dad telling me about FA Cup finals in years gone by being the highlight of the football season. The final would start with the build-up from about 10 o'clock in the morning and would finish late in the evening. It would be an occasion, not just a football match.

The football would be scintillating. The whole day would be memorable. My memories of recent FA Cup finals have not got close to how my Dad described previous finals. However, this final was not only memorable due to the current circumstances, but also because of the football on display.

The weekend before the final, I said on mine and Jack Dunne’s football podcast, not to discount Arsenal from this game because key players like Aubameyang, Tierney and Ceballos have previously delivered on some crucial occasions. The game started as everyone expected, with Chelsea firing on all cylinders, and Christian Pulisic grabbing an early goal. Many people will have expected the floodgates to open at this point, myself included, but Arsenal pulled a performance out of the bag that hasn’t been a regular occurrence for Arsenal for a long time.

For 70 minutes, despite them only having 40% of possession, and a fraction of the game’s passes, Arsenal played very clean, slick and opportunistic football. They capitalised on scraps, counter-attacks and quick chances, eventually claiming the prize of the FA Cup trophy and the promise of European football next season. That man, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, came up trumps for Arsenal yet again, netting a penalty and scoring a late, great goal to seal the win. As for poor performances by an Arsenal player during the game, I’m struggling to pick anyone out.

On the other hand, Chelsea were poor. Watching the game as a neutral, the disappointing part of the match was Chelsea. This is a team that has played some outstanding football all season, despite being limited to the players they could play, due to their transfer embargo. But Chelsea’s failure in the FA Cup final was not for a lack of skill on the pitch. Rather, it was in their discipline and in their fitness.

Many would say that Azpilicueta had no choice when giving away the penalty, but it was a very clumsy challenge that went on for a good ten seconds, just minutes before he went off injured. The same thing happened to Antonio Rudiger as well, showing that the fitness of the team prior to the start of the game was not up to scratch. In terms of discipline, four yellow cards and a red card signify a major problem. I believe Anthony Taylor got the red card decision wrong. However, it does not take away from the fact that Chelsea didn’t start the game at the same level, mentally and physically, as Arsenal.

I don't agree with the argument that Arsenal had “more to play for”. Yes, Chelsea had already qualified for Europe, but it was still Chelsea’s game to lose. Had he lifted the FA Cup, Lampard would have completed a near-perfect first season in charge.

Arsenal have now been offered a major boost to their preparations for next season. As long as Arteta receives financial backing, the attraction of playing in Europe and for a manager like Arteta, will attract many more quality players. Moreover, it will help them keep hold of some of the vital players that they need to build on their squad from this season.

Arsenal played like they wanted to lift the FA Cup and they got their reward.

Featured image: Twitter via @EmiratesFACup
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