Even since Mikel Arteta took over the reins from Unai Emery Arsenal’s transformation has been nothing short of incredible.
Arsenal recorded a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over rivals Chelsea on Sunday morning to lift the FA Cup for a record 14th time.
Gunners captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was at the double as his side secured European football next season while ending their disastrous campaign with a trophy, something that seemed unthinkable just months ago.
As Arsenal did in their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, they started slowly and while City did not make their early dominance pay, Chelsea certainly did with American Christian Pulisic dinking over keeper Emiliano Martinez to take a 1-0 lead inside five minutes.
It seemed that going behind was the fire starter Arsenal needed as they bossed proceedings after the goal. One player who really impressed me was Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe. He looked as lively as he ever has in an Arsenal shirt, confident on the ball, showing a real willingness to get at Chelsea’s back four. He looked a constant threat from the outset.
Arsenal drew level when Aubameyang was judged to be brought down in the penalty area by Blues skipper Cesar Azpilicueta. The Gunners skipper slotted home the resulting spot kick to bring his side level in the 28th minute, something that was due reward for their efforts.
From there Arsenal bossed the game, putting Chelsea under constant pressure with Aubameyang and Pepe being constant threats in the wide areas. The Blues were already struggling when captain Azpilicueta succumbed to a hamstring injury and was forced off late in the first half to make the task just that little bit more difficult.
The second half started like the first with Chelsea on the front foot however the injury curse struck again with Pulisic injuring his hamstring. He was forced off shortly after the restart.
Both sides’ defences could easily be got at with constant pressure and that pressure paid off for Arsenal in the 67th minute when Aubameyang latched onto a ball in the penalty area after Hector Bellerin’s lung-bursting run turned Kurt Zouma inside out and delivered a cheeky chip over keeper Willy Caballero to give his side a much deserved 2-1 lead.
Chelsea’s day went from bad to worse no more than five minutes later when midfielder Mateo Kovacic was harshly sent off for his second bookable offence in which he tangled with Granit Xhaka. It looked like Xhaka was more the guilty party than Kovacic, however referee Anthony Taylor showed the Chelsea midfielder his second yellow card and his marching orders.
Arsenal were able to see off the rest of the second half to win yet another FA Cup and in doing so booked their place in the Europa League for next season. Aubameyang’s importance to this Arsenal side can not be underestimated. Just look at his contribution in the final.
Mikel Arteta and co. must do everything in their power to keep him at the Emirates for years to come, something that could be easier now that they have European football next season and while it is not the Champions League it is better than being out of Europe altogether.
Aubameyang is the heartbeat of this side and without his goals this season I would hate to think where the Gunners would be. He is a genuine match-winner as shown by his two goals in the final and gives Arsenal a seriously dangerous edge going forward.
After a disappointing campaign, Arsenal have something to hang their hat on: another FA Cup to add to the trophy cabinet and European football for next season but perhaps the most important thing is that prospective players can now see what Arteta is building at the Emirates and see that the north London side is slowly on the way up. But all of this would count for nil if they do not re-sign their captain.
If Mikel Arteta and the board can somehow convince the Gabon international to sign a new deal, that would give the fan-base as well as players evidence that things are finally on the improve and that history is not repeating itself as with ex-captain Robin van Persie.
It is all in Aubameyang’s hands now and speaking on behalf of all Arsenal fans, sign that contract!