A wonderful goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was enough to beat a rather under-cooked Chelsea to give Arsene Wenger his first victory over Jose Mourinho in 14 attempts.
The psychological impact of ending that drought is significant - as is four trophies (two FA Cups and two Community Shields) in 26 months for an Arsenal side that had gone so long without silverware.
Add in a highly competent performance from Petr Cech – the experienced Chelsea keeper signed this summer and is already being tipped as the bargain of the season – and you can see why Arsenal fans were in optimistic mood in the sunshine at Wembley. They know the champions will be stronger when the season begins; but nevertheless there was enough in Arsenal’s display, little more than two months after a Rolls Royce performance against Aston Villa here in the FA Cup Final, to suggest they can keep pace with Chelsea, Man City and Man United this time.
Wenger’s side, remember, were the form team of the second half of the last campaign and have the benefit of stability having suffered no major losses to their squad in the transfer market. Nine of Arsenal’s FA Cup winning side began this match, including Theo Walcott who has signed a new contract, and although rusty at times they looked more coherent than a Chelsea team that has rather stuttered in pre-season and a few days short of peak fitness.
A wonderful counter-attack began it all, Ozil spreading a clever pass wide for Walcott after 24 minutes. The striker’s lay-off fell nicely for Chamberlain to cut-inside Azpilicueta (who endured a miserable afternoon) before drilling a left-foot shot into the far corner
Chelsea did have chances to respond – Ramires wasting two of them – but Arsenal’s pragmatic and dogged defending was as much a feature of the game as their attacking impetus. In the past, Chelsea have been able to bully the Gunners in midfield and in attacking areas; but not this time – a significant sign of progress.
As for Chelsea, they dominated second-half possession after bringing on Radamel Falcao for his debut, but found Arsenal’s new-found resilience impossible to break down; not least because Cech – who kept nine sheets in 22 games against Arsenal for Chelsea – superbly kept out an Oscar free-kick to get his new career off to the best possible start.
Arsenal fans, in fact, cheered their goalkeeper’s every touch and perhaps some of the Czech’s winning mentality is already rubbing off on a defence that once looked fragile but now, injuries permitting, looks capable of at least competing against the big four.
Chelsea may well look to the statistics – they had more possession, more shots on target and a big miss from Eden Hazard – to suggest they deserved better.
But in fact there were late chances for Giroud, Cazorla and Gibbs that could have made the result more resounding, and Arsenal’s victory suggests that – despite Roy Keane’s accusation their players are more concerned with taking selfies than winning matches - momentum is heading in the right direction for Wenger’s side.
This one, of course, doesn’t mean as much as the competitions still to play; but if every Arsenal selfie this season comes with a trophy in the background, even Keano may have admit there is something going on in North London.
Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7; Coquelin 7, Cazorla 7; Ramsey 6, Ozil 7 (Gibbs 82), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Arteta 77), Walcott 7 (Giroud 66, 6).
Courtois 7; Ivanovic 7, Cahill 6, Terry 6 (Moses 82), Azpilicueta 4 (Zouma 69; 6); Matic 6, Fabregas 6; Ramires 6 (Oscar 54), Willian 7, Hazard 6; Remy 5 (Falcao 46;6).