Stern tests await Chelsea next season with their manager now needing fresh blood and fresh ideas to carry the fight on multiple fronts
The double has proven one step too far for Chelsea. Diego Costa’s late equaliser gave the Premier League champions momentary hope in the season’s finale at Wembley but it was not enough to mask a bad day at the office. You would expect to see Chelsea wrest a contest like this from the grip of a team they were fancied to beat but they couldn’t do it here. That spoke volumes.
Their hopes were extinguished when Alexis Sanchez initially found Olivier Giroud with a quick through ball. Aaron Ramsey slipped the wrong side of Ngolo Kante and from there Arsenal’s record 13th FA Cup title was secure.
At times like this it is not difficult to see the issues Chelsea are going to have next season – both as title holders with other top class sides chasing them down –and fighting on an added front in the Champions League.
No one would accuse an Antonio Conte team of complacency but this was a game in which they were so unlike their usual selves. They should have been three down by half time. They were caught only seconds after levelling.
Arsenal sprung no surprise in matching up to Chelsea’s system. What was unexpected though is that Arsene Wenger’s side outfought and outthought Chelsea pretty much from the first whistle to last. And this was with depleted numbers. Kieran Gibbs was ruled out late yesterday while the rest of the backline was patched up due to the absences of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny.
Chelsea don’t have many days like this – if they did then they wouldn’t have won so many games in the league this season – but their uncharacteristic sloppiness cost them a second trophy in Conte’s debut campaign.
Arsenal were ahead as early as the fourth minute when Alexis Sanchez fired home amid the controversy surrounding Aaron Ramsey’s offside position.
But ignore that. Rewind the tape and look at Diego Costa causing Kante to stumble as Chelsea attempt to clear from the initial chance.
Conte has drilled his players to perfection all season long and their breakouts tend to follow a familiar pattern. There was a malfunction, however, and they paid the price once Alexis finished across Thibaut Courtois.
Costa was probably Chelsea’s worst player in the first half. He was temperamental – clashing early with Rob Holding – and his body language suggested he was going to do something silly.
He improved, however, and kept his head on a day when Victor Moses lost his in getting red carded for diving.
Aaron Ramsey Arsenal Chelsea FA Cup final Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal Chelsea FA Cup final
Whatever happens with Costa – whether he stays or goes – Chelsea need a high-class centre forward capable of challenging for a first-team slot. Likewise, pressure will need to be exerted on Chelsea’s top men lest they grow comfortable.
They are the most-predictable team in the league but that has been generally a strength rather than a weakness given their relentless success in league play.
But Conte’s preferred close-knit group of 13 will simply be insufficient to fight on all fronts next term. Nemanja Matic was exposed at Wembley and comfortably beaten in the midfield battle by Granit Xhaka. The centre sector of the pitch was the Wild West at times but only the Swiss seemed able to tame it.
When opposition teams have opted to man-mark Chelsea around the pitch it has taken a force of will to carry them through.
They didn’t get that here – not from Pedro, not from Eden Hazard – against an inspired Arsenal. These players were fighting for their manager and delivered Arsene Wenger a performance that restored the Frenchman some of the dignity his history merits.
Opposite him Antonio Conte’s challenge was laid bare. He must do more than cross his arms when his team are outmatched next season. New players and new thoughts are going to have to emerge over what is expected to be a full-on summer.
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