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Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1: Aubameyang’s brilliant double downs 10-man Blues in fiery FA Cup final at Wembley

GREAT masterpieces tend to cost a few bob.

A Leonardo Da Vinci daubing of Jesus Christ crossing his fingers fetched a record £350million at auction in 2017.

So the work of art which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang produced to settle this FA Cup Final may prove a bargain by comparison.

Arsenal surely cannot cash in on Aubameyang after this – he won a penalty, scored it, then conjured a peach of a winner to earn a comeback victory over Chelsea which also clinched Europa League football next season.

Now Stan Kroenke – not the most free-spending owner – simply has to make Aubameyang an offer he cannot refuse and persuade him to extend his contract beyond next year.

That current deal is worth £180,000 per week. Aubameyang will want it doubled, so it tops the wages of wilderness man Mesut Ozil.

And who could blame him?

This was the Gabonese forward’s third brace in four matches, taking his season’s goal tally to 29. He is Arsenal’s captain and talisman – absolutely critical to the future of Mikel Arteta’s team.

Chelsea had started so brightly and led through beauty of their own from Christian Pulisic.

Yet they lost their skipper Cesar Azpilicueta, and then Pulisic, to injury before Mateo Kovacic was harshly sent off, shortly after Aubameyang’s winner.

To put the tin lid on the unluckiest of days for Frank Lampard’s team, Pedro was carted off on a stretcher in injury-time – his illustrious Chelsea career finishing in the saddest circumstances.

CAPTAIN AMERICA! 💥#HeadsUpFACupFinal #ARSCHE pic.twitter.com/966RZ6yMaU

Spot on, @Aubameyang7 🎯#HeadsUpFACupFinal #ARSCHE pic.twitter.com/qxgcVgitIY

This first FA Cup Final ‘ghost game’ was spooky enough in the absence of supporters – but the similarities to the 2017 final were plain weird.

Both times, Arsenal defeated a ten-man Chelsea 2-1, with Anthony Taylor dishing out the red card. Both times, the Gunners had upset Manchester City in the semi-final.

These two clubs have dominated the competition in recent years, winning nine of 14 finals since the new Wembley opened in 2007.

Arsenal have now won four of the last seven and this was the most significant – giving credence to the idea that Arteta is building something promising after years of drift at the Emirates.

Whether this is the start of a genuine rise for Arsenal, will depend much on Aubameyang sticking around.

Arteta had said before the match that he hoped a Cup Final triumph would persuade the player to stay.

More accurately it might make Arsenal’s board to pay through the nose and nail down a player who, even at 31, seems irreplaceable.

Both these sides had been in erratic form since restart – sometimes brilliant, often defensively brittle.

And so both managers plumped for three central defenders. As Tony Adams puts it, ‘if you ain’t got two good ‘uns, play three’.

It was Arsenal’s frailties which were quickly apparent – Mason Mount caught Granit Xhaka all of a dither, then advanced to bend a shot which Emiliano Martinez had to push around the post.

Pulisic, perhaps sensing Arsenal’s jitters, then turned and ran at the heart of them, feeding Mount, who squared for a Giroud back-heel for Pulisic to slip past Kieran Tierney and chip over Martinez.

Having become the first American to score in an FA Cup Final, Pulisic set about becoming the first American to score two in the showpiece – a dancing run and a shot pushed out by Martinez.

Then Arsenal decided to turn up – a Dani Ceballos free-kick just over the bar, before Nicolas Pepe lashed a shot into the top corner, only to have his effort disallowed for an earlier offside against Aubameyang.

From Arsenal’s next attack, though, came the equaliser – a long ball from Ainsley Maitland-Niles finding Aubameyang goal-side of Azpilicueta, who hauled him down for a nailed-on penalty.

Aubameyang had a spot-kick saved by Hugo Lloris in a North London Derby here last season, while Willy Caballero had won a penalty shoot-out in a League Cup Final at Wembley for Manchester City.

But Aubameyang calmly sent the Chelsea keeper the wrong way, his 28th goal of the season in the 28th minute.

Azpilicueta’s afternoon got even worse when he was forced off by injury soon after and Chelsea were looking increasingly wonky at the back as Arsenal pressed hard.

Pepe, in irresistible form, went on a twisting run and was fouled by sub Andreas Christensen on the edge of the box – Alex Lacazette narrowly wide with the free-kick.

After the restart, Pulisic left Rob Holding for dead on a scampering but just as he cocked to shoot, the American pulled a hamstring.

The American still managed to shoot just wide, but hobbled off, Pedro replacing him for a Chelsea swansong.

Just as the tempo was fading, Aubameyang brought it back to life with a saucy finish.

Hector Bellerin advanced, and was halted by a heavy Christensen tackle but Pepe was able to feed Aubameyang, who toasted Kurt Zouma and chipped Caballero.

Then the killer blow for Chelsea as Kovacic, who had been booked for a foul on Granit Xhaka in the first half, then went for a 50-50 with the Swiss midfielder and received his second yellow for what did not even look a foul.

Lampard responded with a treble substitution, sending on Tammy Abraham, Ross Barkley and Callum Hudson-Odoi – and they pressed Arsenal hard.

AUBA AT THE DOUBLE! 🤩#HeadsUpFACupFinal #ARSCHE pic.twitter.com/UhHGwMU0rm

Both sides wrestled for momentum until Aubameyang stepped up to grab the headlines with a sublime dink over Caballero in the 67th minute.

Chelsea’s afternoon then took another turn for the worst when Taylor brandished a second yellow card for Matteo Kovacic for a challenge on Granit Xhaka which brought the west London side down to ten men. 

Lampard’s side pushed on in the final minutes of the game despite being a man down but the challenge turned out to be too big for Chelsea as Arsenal rode out the pressure to claim the victory and a place in next season’s Europa League.

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