LONDON (AP) — Removing the record seventh FA Cup winner’s medal from his pocket, Arsene Wenger was gratified and yet apprehensive.
“For once I have kept my medal,” said the Arsenal manager, who usually gives them away to staff members. “So that means it’s a special night for me.”
And maybe his last night managing an Arsenal team?
Even after beating Chelsea 2-1 in the final on Saturday, Wenger indicated he has to stew until Tuesday to discover whether his 21-year reign will be extended by the record 13-time FA Cup winners.
Unsurprisingly, Wenger is anxious to publicly discuss whether the board, headed by American owner Stan Kroenke, will offer a new contract.
“I don’t think I can answer that question,” Wenger said, “at the moment.”
Aaron Ramsey, who scored the winning goal at Wembley Stadium, certainly hopes there isn’t change in the dugout.
“I’m happy for the manager,” Ramsey said on the pitch. “Hopefully he will be here next season.”
The fan base certainly seems more divided, with Wenger bemoaning the “very hostile environment” created by some fans demanding his removal.
“It’s down to the board members if I am the right man to lead this club further,” the 67-year-old Frenchman said. “It’s not about popularity, it’s about competence.”
Perhaps more competent leadership would have cleared up far sooner whether Wenger was staying. Delivering the FA Cup three times in four seasons has papered over some of the cracks as Arsenal has repeatedly come up short in the English Premier League and Europe.
The Gunners were eliminated from the Champions League for the seventh consecutive season in the last 16. And they won’t even be back among Europe’s elite in September after finishing fifth in the Premier League; the lowest finish since Wenger took charge in 1996.
“I am convinced we were hurt by the uncertainty about my future with the players,” Wenger said.
And yet Arsenal still ended the campaign with a cup victory that Wenger puts on a par with his last Premier League success in the unbeaten 2003-04 season.
In doing so, Wenger denied the newly crowned league champion, Chelsea, a double. Just as the season reached its climax, Arsenal turned in the type of tenacious display lacking so often, and against a side so commanding in the Premier League in Antonio Conte’s first season in charge.
For once, this was a day when so much went right for Wenger, even with a patched-up injury-depleted defense featuring captain Per Mertesacker making his first start in more than a year.
“We had outstanding performances,” Wenger said. “We know this team has suffered.”
But the season has ended with a run of six victories in May after Wenger adopted the three-man defense that has served Conte so well, until now.
“They showed strength and unity,” Wenger said, “and we played spectacular football again.”
There was better luck, too.
When Alexis Sanchez put the ball in the net after four minutes, it appeared to be initially disallowed because Ramsey was adjudged to be interfering with play while offside. But the decision by Anthony Taylor’s assistant was overturned by the referee.
“Maybe our start wasn’t good and the impact and approach wasn’t good,” Conte said. “Arsenal pushed a lot. We paid for this start.”
Arsenal even had the luxury of a man advantage from the 68th when Victor Moses received a second yellow card for diving. Somehow, though, Diego Costa managed to equalize in the 76th, bringing down Willian’s lofted ball on his chest and striking past David Ospina.
Within three minutes, though, Arsenal was back in front.
On an afternoon when so much bucked the story of the season, double player of the year N’Golo Kante failed to track Ramsey, who was left unmarked to meet Olivier Giroud’s dinked pass back.
“It’s been an up and down season,” Ramsey said, “but to finish it with an FA Cup has to be a successful season.”
But it is the losers who still head in the offseason the most buoyant. Revitalized after the 10th-place league finish in 2016, Chelsea lifted the biggest prize in English football last week after winning 30 of the 38 games. Perhaps the Blues just overdid the celebrations, and it showed with a complacent and lax cup final performance.
Copa del Rey
MADRID (AP) — The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona came to an end with the coach lifting one last trophy.
The coach raised the Copa del Rey after Barcelona defeated Alaves 3-1 in the final on Saturday.
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Paco Alcacer scored in the first half as Barcelona won its third straight copa and 29th all-time.
Luis Enrique capped his three-year stint with the club with his ninth title out of a possible 13.
He celebrated by waving his winner’s trophy and singing the club’s anthem in front of the Barcelona fans who traveled to the final in Madrid.
“We finished the season how we wanted to finish it,” Luis Enrique said. “I leave with the feeling of mission accomplished.”
It was the final competitive match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium, which will be demolished to give way to a housing complex. Atletico moves into a new venue next season.
Alaves, the minnow Basque Country club promoted to Spain’s top flight this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, was playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.
Barcelona dominated and opened the scoring in the 30th minute with a well-placed shot by Messi from just outside the box after a pass by Neymar.
Alaves, which beat Barcelona in the Liga, equalized three minutes later with a superb free kick shot by Theo Hernandez.
But Barcelona regained control with a couple of goals just before halftime. Neymar scored after a pass by Andre Gomes in the 45th and Alcacer added to the lead from inside the area after a great slalom run by Messi three minutes into stoppage time.
Alaves almost opened the scoring when Ibai Gomez struck the post after a blunder by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique just before Messi’s goal.
“There are mixed feelings,” Alaves coach Mauricio Pellegrino said. “We are disappointed with the result, we had high hopes, but we are happy for what we did the entire season.”
It was only the second title for Barcelona in a relatively disappointing season. It was eliminated by Juventus in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and lost the Spanish league title to Real Madrid in the final round last weekend. Its other title was the Spanish Super Cup.
Luis Enrique, who made the surprising announcement in March that he was leaving Barcelona so he could get some rest, never lost a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over the club, a run of 12 straight triumphs ahead of the final.
Defender Javier Mascherano had to be substituted less than 10 minutes into the game with a head cut after colliding with an Alaves defender. He also injured his right knee on the play, and was on crutches during the title celebrations.
Barcelona played without striker Luis Suarez because of a suspension.
Before the game, five members of a radical group of Barcelona supporters were arrested after they allegedly robbed and trashed a small store in the Spanish capital.
Barcelona’s victory meant Athletic Bilbao will earn the final spot from Spain in the Europa League. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, outside of the automatic qualification spots, but it earned a berth because Barcelona will play in the Champions League. Alaves needed to win the Copa del Rey title to qualify.
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain ended a mediocre season on a high note by winning the French Cup final beating Angers 1-0 on Saturday.
PSG dominated but needed an own goal from Angers right back Issa Cissokho in added time to prevail at the Stade de France.
PSG claimed its 11th French Cup, its third in a row, to surpass Marseille as the club with the most cups.
As the 100th final entered added time, Cissokho looked hampered by Blaise Matuidi’s pressing at the near post and headed the ball into his own net with the back of his head from a corner hit by Angel Di Maria.
BERLIN (AP) — American midfielder Christian Pulisic was pulled down by goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky midway through the second half, leading to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s tiebreaking penalty kick that lifted Borussia Dortmund over Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 on Saturday for its first German Cup title since 2012.
An 18-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic became the youngest American to win a major domestic club trophy in Europe.
Raphael Guerreiro chipped the ball into the penalty area, and Pulisic burst ahead of Frankfurt defender Timmy Chandler — a teammate on the U.S. national team. Hradecky knocked over Pulisic with his right leg at the edge of the 6-year box.
Aubameyang, playing perhaps his last game for Dortmund, chipped the ball down the middle for the goal in the 67th minute as Hradecky dived left.
Ousmane Dembele put Dortmund ahead in the eighth minute, and Ante Rebic tied the score in the 29th.