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STEVE BATES: Wenger puts a season of turmoil behind him with record-breaking showing to prove he has plenty left to give

Date Posted,May 28, 2017

By some distance it had been a season to forget for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal .

Until yesterday, at 5.34pm to be precise. That was the moment when Wenger perhaps realised that he and his Gunners team have more left in the tank after all.

Crisis? What crisis?

For the controversial Alexis Sanchez goal that kick-started this dramatic

FA Cup Final was the catalyst for a day of joy and vindication for the ­beleaguered Emirates boss.

If this was to be Wenger’s farewell, it was some way to go out – victory against powerful Premier League champions Chelsea in front of a full house at ­Wembley.

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It was Antonio Conte who was going for the Double in his first season in English football. But it was Wenger who beat him to it with his own ­perfectly timed double whammy – a trip up the famous Wembley steps as a winner and an entry in the record books as the manager with the most FA Cup Final victories in history. This was ­No.7 by the way.

After the campaign he has endured, Wenger dared not dream his day would end in such glory.

Nor did he miss the irony that after all the banners, insults and taunts, he ended up with more silverware than rival managers Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

Off the pace in the Premier League, abused by his own fans, humiliated 10-2 by Bayern Munich in Europe and ­missing out on Champions League football next season for the first time in over two decades, this really has been the ride from hell for the Frenchman.

Wenger’s men out-performed the champions (Photo: AFP)

Enough, in fact, to make any ­manager rethink the wisdom of going to work every day – especially when you have already had your bus pass for seven years and can claim a winter fuel allowance. But at least the 67-year-old had the warm glow of knowing that ­whatever happens from now on, his team was with him right until the end.

For this was no Arsenal team looking to get their manager the sack.

No shades of Leicester hanging Claudio Ranieri out to dry here. Nor the acrid whiff of Chelsea dropping their standards so low Jose Mourinho got whacked. No, whatever happened before yesterday took a back seat. This was the Arsenal players and manager standing firmly together. Side by side.

Whether it is for the last time we will know soon enough.

But if it was, then Wenger’s players were a credit to him.

So often they have been the ­whipping boys – caving in too easily on the big occasion. But not this time.

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The Gunners’ electric opening 20 ­minutes at Wembley might have been a puzzle given some of their lows this season, but the fans from the Emirates lapped it up with delight and bewilderment in equal measure. How they did not reach half-time two or possibly three goals ahead was baffling.

With Chelsea looking like they had been on the town every night since winning the title at West Brom two weeks ago, the chances flowed as freely as Arsenal’s confident football.

Blues defender Gary Cahill saved a certain goal with an instinctive ­backheeled clearance to prevent silky Mesut Ozil grabbing the goal his

first-half performance deserved. Minutes later, after Danny Welbeck’s header had hit the base of a Chelsea post and spun up, Aaron Ramsey ­somehow chested the rebound against a post again, albeit from a tight angle.

Arsenal’s injury crisis in central ­defence meant Per Mertesacker made his first start in 15 months.

And although Diego Costa’s 76th-minute equaliser nicked off the unlucky German’s foot, Mertesacker was ­everything Wenger needed in a time of crisis.

Sanchez turned in another performance to remember (Photo: REUTERS)

So, too, was Chile star Sanchez, who in the final reckoning is far more vital to Arsenal than Wenger.

The brilliant frontman terrorised Chelsea, while Ozil picked them apart with skill and intelligence. The Blues bounced out following the ­interval with more fire and venom.

And they showed character to fight back after Victor Moses was sent off for a blatant dive in the Arsenal box on 68 minutes.

But after Costa levelled, Chelsea switched off and within two minutes were 2-1 behind as Arsenal substitute Olivier Giroud superbly picked out Ramsey to head the Gunners to a ­record 13th FA Cup Final win.

The scoring should not have stopped there with chances at both ends.

But this was Wenger’s day.

And just, for once, for all of the right ­reasons.

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