LONDON (AFP) - Arsene Wenger said Arsenal’s “spectacular” 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Chelsea was just reward for an outstanding display from his team at the end of a turbulent season.
Wenger’s side could have been forgiven for arriving at Wembley on Saturday at a low ebb after last weekend’s devastating failure to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.
But the wounded Gunners used that blow to their pride as fuel for a dominant performance that proved too much for Premier League champions Chelsea.
Wenger was full of admiration for the way his players took the fight to Chelsea, saying: “We had an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards.
“This team has suffered, but they’re united and they responded.
“I said last week, this team will be in contention to win the title with one or two good buys.
“They showed strength and unity and played spectacular football today.”
Saving their best for last, Alexis Sanchez put Arsenal ahead with a controversial early opener that was allowed to stand despite an apparent handball.
Diego Costa equalised for Chelsea late in the second half, after Chelsea had lost Victor Moses to a second yellow card for diving, but Wenger’s men had the perfect response as Aaron Ramsey bagged the winner three minutes later.
Battered by criticism from furious Arsenal fans who have called for his resignation throughout a troubled season, Wenger was finally able to celebrate as he won the FA Cup for a record seventh time.
The Frenchman claimed the triumph was one of his proudest moments, alongside the 2003-04 Arsenal team that won the title without losing a single league game.
SANCHEZ GOAL 'VERY STRANGE'
“I’m proud to have won seven of these cups. I’m proud having done this – winning the championship without losing and winning seven FA Cups,” Wenger said.
Wenger, who has been in charge at Arsenal for 21 years, is yet to reveal whether he will sign an extension to the contract that expires at the end of the season.
Reports suggest the 67-year-old is leaning towards staying, but he refused to disclose any information about his future and said the situation would be resolved at a board meeting on Tuesday.
“We have a board meeting on Tuesday,” he said. “And on Wednesday or Thursday it will be clearer.” Beaten manager Antonio Conte felt Sanchez’s fourth-minute opener – which was initially disallowed for offside, then allowed to stand – should have been ruled out.
“I think the first goal was very strange,” said the Italian.
“The first goal, the player had his hands attached to the ball with two hands. Offside or not is not important.
“Arsenal started very well with great determination. They surprised us a bit, but our first 25 minutes weren’t good.”
Despite his disappointment at missing out on the Double, Conte said Chelsea’s feat of winning the Premier League with a record 30 wins meant it was still a season to savour.
“There is disappointment for the final result, but it can happen and there was a lot of pressure,” he said.
“Our season was incredible, to win the league in this way. It was great, but now it’s important to look forward and to restart.”