It was a snapshot of the finishing ability that makes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a world-class performer and, for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, the upshot was glorious.
Héctor Bellerín had driven the move and, when Nicolas Pépé worked a pass left to Aubameyang, the Arsenal captain knew in a heartbeat what he had to do. Using his right foot, he took the ball around Kurt Zouma as though the Chelsea defender was not there and then, with his left, almost in the same fluid movement, he produced a trademark dinked shot over the advancing Willy Caballero.
It was Aubameyang whose penalty had cancelled out Christian Pulisic’s early opener and, after his two goals in the 2-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, this was another rich return.
It had felt as though the stakes were higher for Arsenal. Chelsea had secured Champions League qualification via Premier League position while Arsenal, who finished eighth – their worst top-flight placing in 25 years – would have no European football at all if they lost here, not to mention a significant dent to their revenues. Thanks to Aubameyang’s 28th and 29th goals of the season, they could cherish silverware and an invitation into the Europa League next time out.
As Aubameyang said himself, the talk about his future will have to wait for another day. With his contract set to expire next June, it will continue to be a hot and sensitive topic and it is clear how badly Arteta, the rookie manager for whom this was a first piece of silverware, needs him to re-sign. Arsenal will hope that the thrill of lifting the trophy, even if Aubameyang initially managed to separate cup from base and drop both parts, gives him an incentive to stick around.
For Chelsea, there was only frustration. They surrendered a position of authority after the first-half drinks break and it came to feel as though everything that could have gone wrong for them did so. They had bad luck with injuries, with the captain, César Azpilicueta, the talisman, Pulisic, and the substitute Pedro all forced off. For the latter, who damaged his shoulder and was taken away in an oxygen mask on a stretcher, it was a horrible end to his five years at the club.
Moreover, Chelsea felt that key decisions went against them, starting with the penalty award when Azpilicueta put his hands on Aubameyang. The problem for the defender was that he had allowed Aubameyang to get on the wrong side of him and any contract was always likely to be problematic.
Where the referee, Anthony Taylor, did get it wrong was in the 73rd minute when he showed Mateo Kovacic a second yellow card. The Chelsea midfielder, already booked for a lunge at Granit Xhaka, went in again on the same opponent. It looked as though Xhaka had trodden on him but Taylor saw it the other way. Chelsea felt that Xhaka was guilty of exaggerating the contact.
It had been hard to foresee Chelsea’s woes when they started on the front foot and dominated the opening 23 minutes. Pulisic finished smartly after Olivier Giroud had backheeled Mason Mount’s deflected cross – amid statuesque Arsenal defending – and both Mount and Pulisic worked Emiliano Martínez.
Arteta could not wait to get into his players during the drinks break and they re-emerged with greater purpose. For Chelsea, the pause undoubtedly checked their momentum. The second half of the first period was all Arsenal apart from when Jorginho scooped high after a Mount pull-back. The turnaround was remarkable. Now the fear and looseness at the back belonged to Chelsea.
Pépé threatened with his skill and directness and he thought he had restored parity with a glorious shot from outside the area, which was bent with geometric precision into the far, top corner, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles had been flagged offside earlier in the move.
Arsenal did not have long to wait for the equaliser and it was all about the ability of Aubameyang to sniff out space. He got away from Azpilicueta following Kieran Tierney’s high ball and, when he picked himself up to address the penalty, there was no doubt as to the outcome.
One of the turning points from a Chelsea point of view came at the start of the second half when Pulisic tore away from Rob Holding and shaped to bend a shot for the far corner. His hamstring, though, seized up at the crucial moment and he saw the effort go wide and his involvement in the game end.
Back came Arsenal. Pépé got Aubameyang away on the left and when he cut back inside, it needed a smart block from Azpilicueta’s replacement, Andreas Christensen, to deny him. When Aubameyang took the outside track shortly afterwards, he and Arsenal had the trophy in their sights.
Martínez would dice with disaster and a possible red card when he came out of his area on 80 minutes to handle in front of the Chelsea substitute Tammy Abraham but the replays showed the action took place on the line and Arsenal could close out a record 14th triumph in this competition.
Some of their players changed into shirts bearing the slogan “Always forward” – together with the number 14 – during the wild celebrations in front of Wembley’s empty stands. It had been the strangest of spectacles, an FA Cup final like no other, down to the detail of Aubameyang collecting the trophy from an unattended plinth. For Arteta, it offered a foundation stone for the future.