Gunners going in search of a third FA Cup final triumph against fierce London rivals
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Arsenal and Chelsea meet in an FA Cup final for the third time in the competition’s long history this weekend, as the Gunners look to make it a hat-trick of wins over their London rivals.
It is the 139th final in the oldest and most famous knockout competition in the world and has been renamed the Heads Up FA Cup final in support of mental health awareness.
And although the match is being played behind closed doors at Wembley Stadium on Saturday (5.30pm) due to the coronavirus pandemic, Arsenal supporters will be hoping it is they who are holding their heads highest once again at the final whistle.
The 2002 FA Cup final in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium remained goalless until 20 minutes from time, when Ray Parlour capped a superb display in midfield with a curling 25-yard effort over Carlo Cudicini.
And Arsene Wenger’s men made sure of the silverware – and the first half of the club’s third Double – on 80 minutes when Freddie Ljungberg beat John Terry, who had started the match on the bench, to bend home a decisive second goal.
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Victory made up for their late defeat against Liverpool a year earlier and Wenger admitted: “We were very frustrated last year. We have shown a lot of strength to come back here.
“This team knows how to win. I said three or four months ago that we will win the championship and the FA Cup. They really want to do it. And we will do it.”
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Sylvain Wiltord’s goal at Old Trafford clinched the Premier League title four days later, as Chelsea lost to Aston Villa and fell to sixth place in the final table.
But the tables were turned 15 years later as Chelsea went into the 2017 FA Cup final as Premier League champions under Antonio Conte as Arsenal finished fifth, their lowest placing under Wenger, and missed out on a Champions League place for the first time in 20 years.
The Gunners had beaten Manchester City in the semi-final – an omen? – but Wenger admitted his club were underdogs as they contested a record 20th final.
But they memorably upset the odds to land their 13th FA Cup as Wenger claimed his seventh winners’ medal – both records.
Germany international Per Mertesacker made his first start o the season in the heart of the Arsenal defence alongside Rob Holding and the Gunners grabbed a controversial early lead.
Only four minutes had been played when Alexis Sanchez fired home – despite appearing to handle the ball in the build-up – and an offside decision against Aaron Ramsey was overturned by referee Anthony Taylor, who deemed the Welshman not to have been attempting to play the ball.
Ramsey and Danny Welbeck hit the post before half-time, but Chelsea went down to 10 men midway through the second half when Victor Moses was dismissed for a second booking – for diving in the box.
Diego Costa levelled eight minutes later, but Arsenal won it when Ramsey – their matchwinner in the 2014 final against Hull – headed home from Olivier Giroud’s cross.
Wenger said: “We had an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards. This team has suffered, they’ve united and responded. They showed strength and unity and played spectaculr football.
“I’m proud to have won seven of these cups. I’m proud having done this – winning the championship without losing [in 2003-04] and winning seven FA Cups.”
Current Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta will try to win his first trophy in charge this weekend.