A 14th FA Cup has red and white ribbons on it and resides in the trophy room of the Emirates. It’s Arsenal’s cup isn’t it? After all, it’s spent more time in the hands of the North London club than anywhere else.
Yet, who could have foreseen that Arsenal’s season would turn around so dramatically after a fairly poor restart. The upturn included another memorable league win against Liverpool with shades of ‘89’ and a semi-final win over FA Cup holders Manchester City.
I’m going to look at the factors that led to Arsenal’s 2-1 FA Cup win over Chelsea in detail and rate the players, not just for that particular game but for the season since Arteta took over.
Mikel Arteta’s Contribution:
Mikel Arteta has a fine football brain and is able to dissect a game whilst in play, adjusting his plan accordingly. He can also communicate what he wants to his players and where they need to improve. For a former player, who has gone down the managerial route, he’s becoming a rare commodity with a combination of skills that could potentially turn Arsenal into competitors at the highest level.
One can’t deny Arteta’s own personal contribution to a trophy in his first half season. He has connected with a set of players that failed under Emery and managed to win a final, you need more than tactics and superstar players to do that.
Arteta has instilled confidence collectively and individually. He has managed to create a unity that didn’t exist before and a work ethic which has the personnel playing for each other. It’s not been plain sailing and immediately after the FA Cup final, one suspects the Spaniard’s attention was firmly on the transfer window and the new season ahead. He knows he needs more quality in midfield and more resilience at the back and there’s no doubt that the club will now back their man after his success in less than a full season. Remarkable!
His tactics in big games have been perfect and apart from the loss to a distinctly average Spurs, which was more due to good fortune and a below par performance from Arsenal, Arteta has proved he can mix it with the big boys and upset the form books. Imagine if he can add two or three players, United added one in Bruno Fernandes and look what happened to their season.
The prolonged season ended well for Arteta and his men. It gives them renewed confidence for next season and with a golden ticket to the Europa League, it makes Arsenal more attractive to new players. The coach deserves 10/10
Tactics, hard work, communication and spirit were the determining factors behind Arsenal’s win. Each player had a role to play and on the day, a number excelled to deliver the FA Cup to Arteta in his first 8 months in charge. Aubameyang will get the praise and rightly so, but there have been a number of other solid contributions throughout this term under Arteta.
Bernd Leno: 9/10
Leno has been Arsenal’s star, but an injury ended his season prematurely. However, he has saved Arsenal on numerous occasions with his acrobatics and athleticism.
Emiliano Martinez: 9/10
Who knew we had such a great reserve keeper. Thrust into the limelight after Leno’s injury, but proved himself to be exceptional. His ability to judge when to come out or drop off is sound and when he comes out for a catch, you always feel it’s his. Great positioning and reflexes in the final, he showed composure to fend off a rampant Chelsea in the early stages. For his short season, the mark is high
Hector Bellerin: 6/10
The Spaniard came back after injury and has been in indifferent form, lacking his usual trademark pace going forward but his FA Cup contribution for Aubameyang’s second goal was a thing of beauty and reminded us all of what Arsenal can be when they are on form.
Cedric Soares: 5/10
Not enough to go on to rate him. Needs game time but Bellerin isn’t about to accommodate him.
Shkodran Mustafi: 7.5/10
The big German has certainly progressed under Arteta yet, he still needs to do more. He was one of the pleasant surprises in a patchy season but has shown a willingness to work hard and make adjustments. Mustafi has been fairly solid and looked good in the back three with Luiz as the lynchpin. The injury came at the wrong time for the FA Cup final, but I expect him to extend his stay in the summer because of his performances.
Rob Holding: 6/10
Back in the side after Mustafi’s injury. Spent a longtime recovering for his own injury and has struggled to find consistency. His touch seems slightly short and his confidence has taken a knock. Should come good with a decent pre-season, but now has to fight for his place with Mari, Saliba, Luiz and Mustafi.
Some iffy moments in the final but with Luiz on his shoulder, the threat of Chelsea’s front three was low. Unfair to be too critical, but ended the season well.
David Luiz: 8.5/10
The Brazilian has had highs and lows this campaign. His lows have been ‘stand out’ dreadful and attracted huge amounts of criticism from many including me, but he’s managed to get his game together at a crucial stage of the season.
Amazing resilience under pressure and he has managed to resume his career to a higher level than before whilst showing great leadership qualities. In the FA Cup final, he gave a great account of himself and wrapped up Giroud for the majority of the match. Solid in defence, great touch and leadership.
Pablo Mari: 5/10
We haven’t really seen enough of the player to make any real judgement but he’s looked composed and calm. Shame about the injury.
Kieran Tierney: 8.5/10
Tierney has been employed on the left of a back trio and since his return, he has really shown his worth. Great defensive awareness and positioning, excellent in attack and provided a superb ball that led to Aubameyang’s penalty. He’s going to be an asset next season, can’t wait to have him for a whole season.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 5/10
An upswing in fortunes for the youngster after his attitude was questioned. All seems well and talk of his transfer may have been premature after solid performances of late. Sublime pace and appetite in the FA Cup final and he could be a major option in a congested fixture list next season. Still not enough to make his score higher.
Dani Ceballos: 8/10
Injury interrupted his progress, but since his return in the rebooted season, he has grown into the side. The Spaniard looks very composed, provides good attacking and defensive options and his work rate is excellent. Bossed the middle against a superior opposition in the final and along with Xhaka, has established a great understanding.
They compliment each other and work the field to supply the forwards or support the defence. Will he extend? Who knows. If not, Arteta needs something similar and fairly quickly. Only gets a lower mark across the season because of his injury.
Granit Xhaka: 8.5/10
Well, well. He was washed up earlier this season, stripped of the captaincy and facing an exit but he has shown incredible fortitude to come back stronger.
Key to Arsenal’s current midfield and has probably been one of the most consistent performers of the Arteta era. I’m struggling to write this, having given him such a rough ride but he has been excellent. For his turn around, he deserves.
Bukayo Saka: 7.5/10
The youngster needs more games but he has shown so much talent and potential this season and now he has signed his extension, it can only get better. Late introduction to the team, but he has been fabulous to watch. Needs to build on confidence and be a consistent performer but all the signs are there for a stunning future.
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Nicolas Pepe: 7.5/10
The Frenchman has been called a waste of money, but many including myself believe that he will be a major tormentor of the top sides next season. He creates and assists but he also has a quite exquisite curling shot. He gives us options in dead ball situations and scored a couple of beauts this season.
Not the finished product at the moment but don’t write the lad off, he’s got talent. Provided a genuine threat against Chelsea and every time he got the ball, the defenders looked worried.
Alexandre Lacazette: 8/10
His work rate goes unnoticed and although he may not score as many as he would like, he is a distraction for the opposition and connects the forward play with intelligent runs.
Has had a difficult and inconsistent season but against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, he worked his socks off in a three prong attack which kept at least two Chelsea players busy as Arsenal advanced. A few more goals and his score would have been higher
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: 10/10
Inevitable that the skipper gets top billing. Without his goals this season, Arsenal would have been in real trouble. Despite the distractions of contract extensions and transfer speculation, he has lived up to his billing and all the hype. He tore Chelsea to shreds with every ball that found him over the top. His second against the Blues in the final showed his quality and composure and presented Arsenal with their 14th FA Cup.
Will he stay? There’s a 70% chance if Arsenal tick all the boxes but there are outside distractions and influences to take into account. His contribution has been spectacular and you can see why Arteta wants to move heaven and earth to keep him.
Gabriel Martinelli: 8/10
The youngster has delivered and won praise for his goals and contribution this season. His injury was a cruel blow at a time when he could have featured even more, but he could creep into the side next term when fully recovered.
Eddie Nketiah: 5/10
He’s fast and ambitious, but he needs time to grow into the striker’s role. His goals have been a bonus this season after coming home from his loan spell at Leeds. However, I’m not entirely convinced that he has the presence of either Lacazette or Aubameyang and that’s probably down to his inexperience. Will it come at this level? Next season could be pivotal.
Joe Willock: 5/10
Sometimes, I rave about Willock and on other occasions, he underwhelms me. He has done a fair bit of the latter when given the opportunity and is in a position that is highly competitive. Azeez, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka are just some of the options available to Arteta and Emile Smith Rowe’s return will make it even more difficult to grab a regular slot. Hasn’t done enough to stand out from the crowd.
Lucas Torriera: 4/10
Hasn’t featured much so he’s hard to give a credible rating, but he is nowhere near the form he showed when he first arrived. Needs to stay and commit or admit defeat and move on.
Reiss Nelson: 5.5/10
Another who has struggled to claim a regular slot in the side but I really like him and think that he could potentially play one side of midfield with Saka on the other. Great energy and looks very dangerous on the front foot.
Matteo Guendouzi: 4/10
Is there anyway back for the Frenchman who seems a stranger to reason. Apparently, there is officially but behind the scenes, some think it’s all over. He has looked good at times, but his temperament is in question.
Mesut Ozil: 2/10
It really is over. No contribution to the second stage of the season and with so many hurdles to overcome, his return to the side is a fantasy. Living off his reputation and destined for the reserves.