Wenger should bow out in glory after Wembley thriller

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Next week's board meeting at Arsenal will be more enjoyable than many of the prospective attendees might have hoped.

Not Arsene Wenger, though. Throughout the faltering title challenges and fan protests, he always believed. That is why he is still here after more than 20 years in charge, with his directors tipped to rubber-stamp a longer stay.

Arsenal's most enjoyable victories this decade have been reserved for the FA Cup and the 67-year-old will rightly bask in denying Chelsea the double courtesy of a 2-1 win that had everything.

There was a fair helping of controversy to go with Alexis Sanchez's early breakthrough.

It is not hard to imagine the kind of post-match vitriol Wenger would reserve for a goal where the attacker closed down a clearance with his arms raised, as Sanchez did, and a colleague in an offside position, like Aaron Ramsey, went perilously close to playing the ball without quite doing so.

But the Gunners could at least claim reward for a high-octane start and, from then until the interval, they were simply irresistible - cutting the most dominant Premier League champions in recent memory to ribbons.

It was hard to recall the last time Arsenal played quite this well, so in tune with Wenger's vision. Indeed, much of their best work before the break fleetingly recalled those simpler, happier times in north London when banners were reserved for parades and not protests.

Sanchez bustled and buzzed with menace as Ozil's silky feet stole into the space and confusion in front of Chelsea's defence.

Blues captain Gary Cahill twice cleared off the line as his colleagues played through the grim fog of panic that the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires inflicted upon opponents in their pomp.

In midfield, Granit Xhaka was doing a passable impression of the type of authoritative central force Wenger has badly required and never found since the days of Patrick Vieira.

Throughout a tough debut campaign in England, Xhaka has looked no more like the answer than a host of other pretenders. But under Wembley's arch he was immense as Footballer of the Year N'Golo Kante experienced the unusual sensation of coming off second best.

In defence, arguably Arsenal's finest performer of all wound the clock back a little further.

A centre-back with laboured movements and negligible pace but those first crucial yards in his head, the nose to scent danger before younger team-mates and the nous to extinguish it.

Until Saturday, Per Mertesacker had started precisely as many competitive matches this season as Tony Adams, Steve Bould or Martin Keown but led the team out at Wembley to block, head, tackle and intercept a defensive crisis into oblivion.

Arsenal's level inevitably dropped after the break but Chelsea were unable to capitalise - a brilliant team seemingly shackled by one game too many. Victor Moses was denied an equaliser by Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina but then served to define a ragged Blues display.

First, he scythed through Danny Welbeck to earn a booking - something that could not persuade him against simulation in the Arsenal box in the 68th minute. Anthony Taylor was right to brandish the fifth red card in FA Cup finals.

However, if Arsenal had taken control by recalling recent heroes, they won the cup final by being - or, more accurately, despite being - Arsenal 2017.

If there was ever going to be a villain in this Gunners' production, it had to be Diego Costa.

Young Arsenal defender Rob Holding added to his growing catalogue of impressive displays but he learnt about gnarled centre-forward play the hard way in the 76th minute. Costa scrapped his way into a yard of room and a deflection off Mertesacker - inevitably flying into harm's way - took his shot past Ospina.

But just as the north Londoners feared more torment, Ramsey fired them into ecstasy.

The Wales star is an apt symbol of the current Arsenal - sublimely talented but frustrated in his efforts to reach his full potential.


There he was, though, to settle a match that often traded in role reversals by heading his second cup-final winner from Olivier Giroud's cross.

Costa went close again, Ozil hit the post, but Wenger had his glory. A third FA Cup in four seasons secured in cinematic fashion.

After the unrest, recriminations and - as he called it this week - a sometimes disgraceful lack of respect, he has the chance to depart as a winner and a hero. He should take it with the aplomb Sanchez and Ramsey took theirs.