Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Aubameyang Brace Hands Gunners FA Cup Glory

Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Arsenal players celebrate their second goal of the game | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Arsenal fought back from a goal down to beat Chelsea 2-1 in the 2020 FA Cup final, in a brilliantly entertaining battle at Wembley stadium.

The Blues took the lead inside five minutes, when Olivier Giroud’s neat flick found the feet of Christian Pulisic, who danced beyond a challenge and fired home from close range. Arsenal responded well, with Nicolas Pepe curling home an excellent strike from a lovely team move, only for his effort to be ruled out for an offside infringement.

Mikel Arteta’s men did draw level on 28 minutes however, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was hauled down inside the penalty area by Cesar Azpilicueta, and the Gabon international coolly converted the subsequent spot-kick.

Chelsea dominated the early exchanges of the second half, but the Gunners took the lead with 20 minutes to play, when Aubameyang jinked down the outside of his marker and dinked the ball beyond Willy Caballero.

Mateo Kovacic was then given his marching orders for a controversial second yellow card to deepen the Blues’ woes, and Frank Lampard’s men struggled to get a foothold in the match from then on. Arsenal defended resolutely and held on to claim their 14th FA Cup success, and the first of Mikel Arteta’s reign.

Arsenal supporters must be sick to death of the transfer rumours that surround Aubameyang’s future, but the Gabonese star is showing no signs of itching for a move. In fact, he is beginning to really develop a great relationship with his fellow forwards, Alexandre Lacazette and Pepe. The trio took a while to get going in this match, but once they found their groove, there was no stopping them.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Granit XhakaPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Granit Xhaka
Arsenal are starting to find some fluidity in their forward line | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

The first warning shot came shortly before the equalising goal, when a series of intricate passes, dainty touches and dummies saw the ball arrive to Pepe, who finished wonderfully – but the assistant’s flag ended the celebrations. That didn’t deter the Gunners though, who had smelt blood. The trident combined wonderfully at times, with their Ivorian winger using his trickery and in-swinging crosses to wreak havoc in the Chelsea backline, while Aubameyang’s pace caused Azpilicueta to concede a penalty and pull a hamstring.

In Lacazette, Arsenal also possess an excellent focal point, and the Frenchman caused the Chelsea centre-backs all sorts of problems with his physical presence and hold-up play. The Gunners’ winning goal stemmed from Lacazette’s movement, Pepe’s intelligence to pick out Aubameyang, and the striker’s clinical nature. The best of all worlds.

Starting XI: Martinez (7); Holding (8), Luiz (7), Tierney (8); Bellerin (8), Ceballos (8), Xhaka (7), Maitland-Niles (8); Pepe (8), Aubameyang (9), Lacazette (8)

Substitutes: Nketiah (6), Sokratis (N/A), Kolasinac (N/A)

When you have this man in your team, anything is possible. Plenty of people may have raised their eyebrows when Aubameyang was named Arsenal captain, but he delivered another skipper’s performance against Chelsea. For a predatory striker to be running the channels and putting in the hard yards down the left-flank, it speaks volumes of his character, and how much he believes in this project.

Aubameyang’s performance was all about effort and commitment, and his first half display was rewarded with a goal, after putting his devastating speed to good use to win a spot-kick. He was equally as deadly in the second half too, making up for squandering one fluffed opportunity by producing a moment of genuine class, ghosting beyond his marker and calmly chipping home.

Desire, hunger and quality. But most of all, a big game player.

Chelsea have been one of the main entertainers in this Premier League campaign, but that fun factor has come at a price. Defensively, the Blues have hurtled from one disaster to another, and in an FA Cup final, there can be no rooms for errors. Unfortunately, there were plenty of them.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Cesar AzpilicuetaPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Cesar Azpilicueta
Azpilicueta gifted Arsenal a penalty before suffering an injury | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

After a solid enough opening half an hour, Azpilicueta got the ball rolling by pulling Aubameyang to the ground in the box, after being caught out of position and getting burnt for pace. The Spaniard then went off injured, and the arrival of Andreas Christensen did little to calm the nerves. Arsenal pressed high up the pitch, catching Chelsea in possession and hitting simple balls over the top which the Blues couldn’t live with.

The capitulation was complete in the second half, when Arsenal’s front three pulled all three centre-backs out of position, allowing Aubameyang to bag the all-important second goal. Work to be done, if Chelsea are to compete for the title next year.

Starting XI: Caballero (6); Azpilicueta (5), Zouma (6), Rudiger (5); James (6), Jorginho (6), Kovacic (5), Alonso (5); Mount (7), Pulisic (8), Giroud (7)

Substitutes: Christensen (5), Pedro (6), Abraham (5), Hudson-Odoi (6), Barkley (6),

He may have only played just over 45 minutes of this game, but Pulisic did more in that time than any other Chelsea player achieved over the entire match. The 21-year-old terrified this Arsenal backline, bursting through with his driving runs and unstoppable strength.

His first half endeavours were rewarded with a superb goal which he started and finished, and he could have had one or two more, if not for some expert goalkeeping by Martinez. How different would this game have been, had Pulisic not injured himself when through on goal, meaning he was forced off the pitch as soon as the second half began.

A cruel end to a fantastic campaign for the starlet.

With their 2-1 victory, Arsenal have earned the right to face Premier League champions Liverpool in the Community Shield at the end of August.

Chelsea will have to bounce back from this disappointment, when they travel to Germany to face Bayern in the Champions League on 8 August.


Individuals Who Have Won the Same Trophy as a Player and Manager

Frank Lampard, Mikel Arteta
Arteta and Lampard have both won the FA Cup as players | Getty Images/Getty Images

Arsenal take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday afternoon – a competition in which both of the two competing clubs and managers have a proud history.

Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard both enjoyed considerable success in the FA Cup as players, with the former tasting victory at Wembley on two occasions, and the latter hoisting the famous trophy aloft four times.

With victory on Saturday, one of Arteta or Lampard will join a select group of individuals who have won the same trophy as both a player and a manager. Let’s take a look at the current members of this elite club.

Alf RamseyAlf Ramsey
Ramsey kickstarted his managerial career at Ipswich | Express/Getty Images

Sir Alf is probably better known for that thing he won with England back in 1966, but he enjoyed a stellar club managerial career before landing the top job in 1963.

Ramsey spent his playing days with Southampton and Tottenham, winning the First Division with the latter in 1950/51.

It’s no secret that the most successful England managers are bred at Ipswich Town, and that’s where Ramsey started his career in the dugout. He led the Tractor Boys from the third tier to a remarkable First Division title in 1961/62 before going on to win the World Cup with England. History looks sure to repeat itself at Portman Road with Paul Lambert in 2020/21.

Bob PaisleyBob Paisley
Paisley spearheaded Liverpool’s dominance in the 70s and 80s | Getty Images/Getty Images

As all-time greats go, they don’t come much bigger than Bob Paisley on Merseyside.

Paisley played over 250 times for Liverpool, and hung up his boots with one First Division title during the 1946/47 season to show for his playing career.

He went five better as a manager. Paisley guided the Reds to six league titles between 1976 and 1983, as Liverpool dominated English football.

As a manager, he also lifted the European Cup three times and bagged a UEFA Cup. Greedy.

Dalglish got his hands on a fair few trophies throughout his careerDalglish got his hands on a fair few trophies throughout his career
Dalglish got his hands on a fair few trophies throughout his career | Getty Images/Getty Images

There are 33 years between Kenny Dalglish’s first domestic triumph in England – the First Division title in 1978/79 – and his last – the League Cup in 2012.

King Kenny won the lot with Liverpool as a player: five First Division titles, four League Cups, three European Cups and the FA Cup.

Dalglish won the first Division a further three times as a manager with the Reds – and once with Blackburn after the top flight had transformed into the Premier League – and he guided Liverpool to FA Cup glory twice. The Anfield icon was parachuted in once more in 2011, beating Cardiff on penalties in the 2012 League Cup final for his final honour with the club.

He also enjoyed success back in his native Scotland as both a player and manager, despite only being in temporary charge of Celtic for four months. Dalgish won the Scottish League Cup in 1975, and then again as a manager in 2000.

Howard KendallHoward Kendall
Kendall led Everton to the most successful spell in the club’s history | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Those just across Stanley Park have also enjoyed their fair share of success, with Howard Kendall the mastermind behind the most fruitful period in Everton’s history.

The midfielder won the First Division with the Toffees in 1969/70. He took the Goodison Park hot seat in 1981 initially as a player-manager – but only mustered four games as a player before formally hanging up his boots.

Kendall would go on to enjoy greater success in the dugout than he had on the pitch, winning the First Division title twice in the space of three seasons between 1985 and 1987.

George GrahamGeorge Graham
Graham enjoyed huge success in the Arsenal dugout | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

George Graham remains the last person to have won the league title in England as a player and manager.

Graham’s first piece of silverware came as a player with Chelsea, as he lifted the League Cup in 1965, before winning the league and cup double with Arsenal in 1971.

He won every domestic trophy as manager of Arsenal in the 80s and 90s, including the famous league title triumph over Liverpool on the final day of the 1988/89 season.

Johan Cruyff of BarcelonaJohan Cruyff of Barcelona
Cruyff was just as good in the dugout as on the football pitch | Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Imagine being Johan Cruyff. Imagine being one of the most gifted, artistic, graceful footballers of your generation and winning the lot… and then doing it all over again as a manager.

The Dutch icon’s glittering career was bookended with spells in his native Holland – beginning with Ajax, before ending with Ajax again and finally Feyenoord. He was part of the glorious Ajax side that won three consecutive European Cups, and he lifted Holland’s domestic cup – the KNVB Cup – on five occasions with his boyhood club, and once with Feyernoord.

Sandwiched in between his success in his homeland was a five-year spell at Barcelona, where Cruyff won La Liga in 1973/74, and the Copa del Rey in 1978.

He returned to both Ajax and Barcelona as a manager, winning the KNVB Cup twice with the former. Although he never guided Ajax to league success as a manager, he made up for this in Spain, winning four La Liga titles, in addition to the Copa del Rey in 1990 and the European Cup in 1992. Not a bad career’s work.

Neil LennonNeil Lennon
Lennon has guided Celtic to domestic dominance | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

On any list, the natural successor to Johan Cruyff is of course Neil Lennon.

Lennon didn’t play in Scotland until he was 29, but he has gone on to win 20 domestic honours there as a player and manager.

The Northern Irishman won five Scottish Premier League titles, four Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups with Celtic between 2000 and 2007.

Lennon has had two separate spells in the Celtic Park dugout, adding a further five Scottish titles to his trophy cabinet, in addition to three Scottish Cups, and the League Cup in 2019/20.

Roberto Di MatteoRoberto Di Matteo
Di Matteo has a proud history in the FA Cup | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Lampard will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Roberto Di Matteo on Saturday – the last Chelsea man to win the FA Cup as both a player and manager.

Di Matteo scored after just 42 seconds with an absolute belter as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough in the 1997 FA Cup final, and won the same competition three years later with the Blues.

The Italian guided Chelsea to FA Cup glory during his ridiculously successful spell as caretaker manager at Stamford Bridge, with his 2012 FA Cup victory slightly overshadowed by the small matter of their Champions League win.

Antonio ConteAntonio Conte
Conte kickstarted Juventus’ dominance in Serie A | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Conte spent 13 glittering years as a player with Juventus, and after he began his managerial career it was always anticipated that he would return to lead the club.

Conte won five Serie A titles during his time as a player – four of which as a captain. He eventually returned in 2011, six years after departing Juventus.

The Italian guided Juventus to their first Serie A title in nine years during his first season in charge. He won three league titles on the bounce before leaving the club in 2014, and was the catalyst for the unprecedented decade of dominance that Juventus have since enjoyed.

Barcelona's Spanish coach Josep GuardiolBarcelona's Spanish coach Josep Guardiol
Guardiola won the Champions League twice with Barcelona | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

As playing and managerial careers go, Pep Guardiola’s done alright for himself.

During his 11 years at Barcelona he won La Liga on six occasions, before returning to his boyhood club as a manager to win it a further three times.

Guardiola also tasted victory in the European Cup with Barcelona in 1997 – a competition he would win twice in the space of three years when in the hot seat at Camp Nou.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zidane won his second La Liga title in 2019/20 | Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Another generational talent, Zidane has actually won more honours at Real Madrid as a manager than he ever did as a player.

The Frenchman spent five years in the Spanish capital as a player, winning the Champions League in 2002 and La Liga in 2002/03.

Zidane has been in the Real Madrid hot seat for a little over three and a half years – over two separate spells – and has already guided the Spanish giants to two La Liga titles and a hat-trick of successive Champions League crowns.

You wouldn’t bet against him eventually completing his double honours list by winning the World Cup as France boss one day either.


All the Players Who Have Played for Both Arsenal & Chelsea This Century – Ranked

David Luiz, Stuart Attwell
David Luiz hasn’t had a happy return against old team Chelsea so far this season | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Arsenal and Chelsea meet this Saturday in the FA Cup final, with the final bit of domestic silverware up for grabs. The Gunners’ 13 titles leads all other clubs in English football history, whilst Chelsea can probably stake a claim to being their closest rivals in terms of recent cup final victories at Wembley.

Plenty of high class players have turned out for both teams in recent years, but how do they rank alongside side each other? Let’s take a look.

Yossi BenayounYossi Benayoun
Yossi Benayoun | Phil Cole/Getty Images

The fact that this guy is bringing up the rear on our list shows the quality of the players ahead of him. By no means a bad player, Benayoun spent just one season at each club, starting with Chelsea in 2010 before joining the Gunners on loan.

The Israeli midfielder was solid without being spectacular and his best days came at Liverpool before his switch to the Blues, but he is still fondly remembered.

Lassana DiarraLassana Diarra
Lassana Diarra | Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Diarra went on to have a fairly good club career, but was used sparingly in his time at both Arsenal and Chelsea. The French defensive midfielder played just a dozen times in three seasons under Jose Mourinho and joined the Gunners in 2007, where he didn’t fair much better.

Ended up at Real Madrid via Portsmouth, leaving him with one of the all-time weirdest ‘career’ sections on Wikipedia. He finished his career at PSG in 2019.

Nicolas AnelkaNicolas Anelka
Anelka had success at both clubs during his long club career | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Anelka was one of Arsene Wenger’s first acquisitions at Arsenal, and he hit the ground running as the side won the Premier League within three months of him joining.

Two years later, the aptly dubbed ‘Le Sulk’ was off around Europe with spells at Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbahce and even Bolton before joining Chelsea in 2008.

His most prolific season in a Blues shirt came in 2009/10, when he scored 11 goals and produced ten assists alongside Didier Drogba to help the side to the league title under Carlo Ancelotti.

David Luiz has always divided opinion | KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

The most recent player to make the switch across London; Luiz left Chelsea for Arsenal last summer after Frank Lampard made it clear that the Brazilian wasn’t in his long-term plans. Despite dividing opinion at almost every stage of his career and having some truly shocking days out, his CV is pretty polished.

Capped 56 times by Brazil, he spent a total of six and a half years at Chelsea spread across two separate spells; winning the Premier League, the Champions League, two Europa League’s and two FA Cups.

On the other hand…he’s been truly, blindingly awful at Arsenal, getting sent off twice in key games against Chelsea and City on his way to setting a new Premier League record for penalties conceded in a single season.

Emmanuel Petit of ChelseaEmmanuel Petit of Chelsea
Emmanuel Petit at Chelsea | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Petit joined Arsenal in 1997, winning the Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season. His excellent form continued into the summer of 1998, scoring the third goal in a 3-0 win against Brazil in the World Cup final. You’d be hard-pressed not to call that ‘pretty handy’.

The French midfielder moved to Barcelona in 2000, before joining Chelsea the following season. Petit – known for his luscious blonde locks – played over 50 games for the Blues before announcing his retirement in 2004.

William GallasWilliam Gallas
Gallas’ interesting shirt number for Arsenal caught the headlines | Phil Cole/Getty Images

Versatile defender Gallas joined Chelsea in 2001 and was part of the club’s renaissance under Jose Mourinho, helping them to two Premier League titles.

He moved to Arsenal in 2006 a deal which – more famously – saw Ashley Cole go in the opposite direction. It didn’t go to plan for the Frenchman though, and he failed to win a trophy during his four years ​at the club. Arguably his most notable moment came when he sat and stropped on the pitch after their title challenge ended in 2008. He also went on to join Tottenham, making him a fully-fledged London journeyman.

Olivier GiroudOlivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud is one of the most underrated forwards in Europe | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

French World Cup winner Giroud joined Arsenal back in 2012, going on to make 253 appearances for the club and netting 105 goals. He struggled for a starting berth at various points, but always delivered when called upon and has scored some of the greatest Premier League goals in recent memory.

If that wasn’t enough, he went to Chelsea with the expectation of filling the ‘experienced backup’ role in 2018 and has scored 28 goals – at almost the exact same goals/minute ratio he managed at the Emirates. He scored one and laid on two more against his former side in the Europa League final last season too, which…yeah. That had to be nice.

Cesc FabregasCesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas has never really been forgiven by the Gunners faithful | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Spanish sensation Fabregas joined Arsenal as a boy and went on to become a bona fide club legend – throwing pizza, laying on assist after assist, captaining the side – before he headed to Camp Nou in 2011.

After struggling to establish himself in Barcelona’s midfield, he angered Arsenal fans by joining the Blues three years later. Things went swimmingly for him at Stamford Bridge though; as he played key creative roles in two Premier League titles under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.

Ashley Cole just misses out on top spot Ashley Cole just misses out on top spot
Ashley Cole just misses out on top spot | Ian Walton/Getty Images

Ashley Cole became one of the best full-backs in world football at Arsenal, and was part of the famous ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003/04. An England regular at major tournaments for years, ‘Cashley’ did the unthinkable – at the time – and joined bitter rivals Chelsea in 2006 to link up with Mourinho at the Bridge.

He flourished at the Blues, managing to win another Premier League, four FA Cups and the Champions League – scoring a penalty in the shootout that decided the latter.

Still generally unforgiven in north London, Cole had a brief spell in the Championship with Derby last season under current Blues boss Lampard before retiring.

Cech is a legend of the Premier League Cech is a legend of the Premier League
Cech is a legend of the Premier League | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

One of the greatest goalkeepers in Premier League history, Cech spent 11 glorious years as a Blue – and no goalkeeper has kept more Premier League clean sheets in a single season than the 24 that Cech managed in the title winning season of ​2004/05.

Cech was a part of four Premier League titles, five FA Cups – including one at Arsenal – and that famous Champions League victory over Bayern Munich in 2012, where he saved crucial penalties to ensure the Blues’ maiden European crown.

Left for the Emirates in 2015 and remained between the sticks until his retirement last summer. He was a shadow of the version of himself from a decade previous, but the CV he assembled at Chelsea is undeniable.


Arsenal 2019/20 Review: End of Season Report Card for the Gunners

Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Arsenal had a mixed 2019/20 season but ended it on a positive and hopeful note | Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images

It sounds weird to say there’s hope for Arsenal fans after their eighth-placed finish, but…there is? Kinda? A bit?

They looked a much more potent attacking side after the mid-season restart, while being much improved at the back. That’s about all you can ask from a football team.

Here’s an evaluation of the Gunners’ 2019/20 season (so far), with an overall grade for the report card…

Premier League – Eighth

Arsenal started the season under Unai Emery, whose good start ended quickly… | IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

After two wins to start off their league season, the Gunners were in second place and fans started to get excited about their chances of challenging at the top…well, a bit.

It all went pretty pear-shaped after that. Two wins from their next eleven games resulted in Unai Emery’s dismissal, with potential wins against Watford, Wolves, and Crystal Palace all becoming draws due to some poor late-game management.

Caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg failed to impress with just one win in five matches, before Mikel Arteta’s appointment drastically improved the team’s form. Nine of their 14 victories came under his tenure, including an unbeaten run from January to March.

Wins over Manchester United and league champions Liverpool will be of huge encouragement for the Spaniard as he strives to elevate Arsenal towards the top of English football once again.

To moderate that – of course – defeats against Brighton and Aston Villa underline the huge scale of the task ahead of the former City assistant. Something about nothing worth having coming easy?

Carabao Cup – Fourth Round

Daniel CeballosDaniel Ceballos
Arsenal suffered heartbreak at the hands of Liverpool in a penalty shootout defeat | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

After ruthlessly thumping Nottingham Forest 5-0 at home, the Gunners made the daunting trip to Anfield to take on a potent Liverpool side.

Hang on, no, that’s wrong. They went to Anfield to take on a Liverpool reserve team, with only one member of their standard starting XI – Joe Gomez – starting. They nearly pulled off the win in 90 minutes, if not for Divock Origi’s late equaliser to tie the game at 5-5 and send the game to penalties.

Dani Ceballos’ spot-kick miss was the decisive moment in the shootout, and the Londoners were knocked out. Fun though.

FA Cup – Finalist

Pierre-Emerick AubameyangPierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Arsenal have the chance to win the FA Cup for a record 14th time | Pool/Getty Images

Victories against Leeds, Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Sheffield United in the early rounds were all workmanlike, but they were made to sweat by competent opponents all the way up to the semi-finals.

They saved their best performance for that semi-final, defeating Manchester City 2-0 thanks to a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. What comes next? We’ll know on Saturday.

Europa League – Round of 32

Pierre Emerick AubameyangPierre Emerick Aubameyang
Arsenal were surprisingly knocked out by Olympiacos at the round of 32 stage | Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

After starting the group stage off with three straight wins, Arsenal looked set for an extended tournament run, topping the group despite faltering towards the end with two draws and a loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.

It certainly looked as though they would progress into the round of 16 after a 1-0 first-leg win over Olympiacos…until they let their lead slip, crashing out of the tournament on away goals after a 2-1 defeat at the Emirates.

It’s a scary thought but, if not for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals, the north London side’s season would have been a lot worse.

The skipper has been nothing short of incredible for the club, with his 22 Premier League goals being the difference in many of their games. He’s played well starting centrally and out on the left wing, allowing the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette to come into the game.

David LuizDavid Luiz
David Luiz. Gives away penalties like they’re party favours | Pool/Getty Images

Could’ve been any one of a handful of defenders, but…well, no defender has ever given away as many penalties in a Premier League season as David Luiz did in 2019/20. None. Ever.

Managing to get sent off within half an hour of crunch Premier League games against Chelsea and Manchester City was a nice touch too.

Mikel Arteta inspires much hope and promise with his early work at the club so far | PAUL CHILDS/Getty Images

In need of a new direction, Arsenal appointed Arteta in the hope that his (presumed) style of play and fresh ideas could steer the club towards some kind of stable base from which to build.

The Gunners’ attack looks better – albeit lagging way behind most of the league in chances created – while his switch to playing three at the back (and the emergence of a finally-fit Kieran Tierney) has seen the defence cope admirably with a number of relatively potent attacking threats.

That being said, this is still a side who conceded twice against Brighton, once in a defeat to Aston Villa and twice when theoretically in control against Watford on the final day – and there were only nine more fragile defences in the league post-restart.

Green shoots are popping up through the dirt, but the situation remains precarious.

Securing European football with victory in the FA Cup final will help matters, but it’s hard to hang too many shiny medals on a team who recorded their lowest top-flight finish and points total in 25 years. Take some positives, sure, but this season is a low point.

Grade: C-


What Philippe Coutinho’s Next Club Can Learn From His Time at Liverpool

Philippe Coutinho
Coutinho has been linked with a loan move to Arsenal | Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Philippe Coutinho: love him or loathe him, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him.

He had plans to leave Liverpool in his dust, but soon found himself overtaken by the Reds on their way to the top of the European football ladder; a sequence of events which has him already dreaming of a return to the club he once felt he had outgrown.

The series of decisions he has made in the meantime have resembled something from an elaborate Monty Python sketch. Despite winning league titles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, his reputation, value and standing within the game have tumbled down the stairs, culminating at a career-low point where a loan to Arsenal – who just finished eighth in the Premier League – looks like his best and most realistic option.

The game isn’t quite a bogey for poor little Phil just yet. At 28 years old, if he can make his next move count, then he may still be able to salvage a career we can look upon as memorable for the right reasons, rather than the wrong ones.

After all, there is a very, very good player in there somewhere. You can say what you like about Barcelona’s catastrophic, haphazard transfer policy, but there was some vague reasoning in their decision to outlay well north of £100m for his services – that sort of thick, choking smoke just doesn’t come without fire.

Much has been said about his final six months at Anfield, how he struggled to find a regular place for himself at a time when Jurgen Klopp’s high-pressing system was just beginning to truly flourish. In the first half of the 2017/18 season, however, he managed seven goals and six assists in 14 league appearances; that’s getting into Kevin de Bruyne territory.

Those stats, however, fail to tell the whole story. Here’s the other half of the coin: in all competitions in 2017/18, Liverpool won eight of the 19 games they played with him; they won 24 of the 30 in which he didn’t feature.

To break that down into even simpler terms, that’s a 42% win rate with him, and an 80% win rate without him. Even factoring in that he never played with the game-changing Virgil van Dijk, those are concerning numbers.

How is it, then, that such a creatively potent player can have such a seemingly negative influence on their team’s fortunes?

It all comes down to his work-rate, or lack thereof. He simply isn’t suited to playing on the left of a high-pressing front three, or as part of a tightly-knit midfield line, or even as a No.10 with strict tactical requirements. That’s not because it stifles his creativity; he has the vision and spacial awareness to dig an assist out of virtually any position; it’s because the work he doesn’t do essentially hangs his team out to dry.

This is why, despite posting up decent goal and assist numbers at both Barça (56 apps, 21 goals, 11 assists) and Bayern (34 apps, nine goals, right assists), he has failed to win over four different permanent managers since leaving Anfield. Bayern in particular had Thomas Muller, a player who can do Coutinho’s job creatively while also putting a shift in and ensuring his team aren’t a man light in defence.

It’s part of the reason Liverpool were happy to let him go without directly replacing him. Instead, they used the funds to offset the acquisitions of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Fabinho – three players who, through indirect means, have won them more points than Coutinho ever would have had he hung around.

None of this is to say Coutinho is a lost cause to be avoided at all costs. While Liverpool had no room for one designated creator, Bayern had Muller and Barcelona had the immovable Lionel Messi, the Brazilian could still improve a team who are prepared to build around him.

Arsenal can take encouragement from this; so desperate are they for consistent creativity from deep that they could feasibly gear their system towards getting the best out of Coutinho without suffering from the shortfall.

We saw Brendan Rodgers do this to devastating effect in the 2013/14 season. Statistically, he had a fairly average individual season – five goals and eight assists on paper doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping – but with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson regularly taking up deeper positions to compensate, the Brazilian really found his rhythm roaming the space behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

Now 28, it’s abundantly clear that Coutinho will never be anything other than a high-maintenance player, one who requires massive tactical allowances to justify his inclusion. His spell at Bayern proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt, and this – coupled with the insane finances involved in any potential deal – acts as a scarecrow for potential suitors.

Whoever does sign him will be taking a chance – but if they are prepared to take lessons from his career so far, and sacrifice the creativity and freedom of other players to deploy him as the man, then it may just be a chance worth taking.

If not, then there’s always a move to China. Oscar’s done alright out there, after all.