Post-final thoughts from the skipper after a difficult defeat at Wembley...
It was a painful afternoon in more ways than one for Cesar Azpilicueta as the skipper conceded the penalty from which Arsenal equalised, left the field before half-time with a hamstring injury and then watched on as the Blues were beaten in the FA Cup final.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brace was enough to seal victory for the Gunners, overturning the Chelsea lead established early on by Christian Pulisic, who also suffered a hamstring injury on a desperately disappointing day for Frank Lampard’s side in north London.
After the game, Lampard acknowledged that his side had not performed well enough to win a final and his captain added to the post-match analysis by reflecting on the team’s inability to build on an encouraging start.
‘It’s painful and a tough one to take,’ said Azpilicueta. ‘Obviously when you lose a final, it’s always painful.
‘We started the game well and scored an early goal which normally gives a confidence to build on but we didn’t capitalise on it. We dropped our level a little bit and we were punished.’
Having gone 1-0 up inside five minutes, we enjoyed a brief period of dominance but failed to add what would have been a crucial second goal and Arsenal soon steadied themselves. It was this inability to take control of the game when in a strong position that cost the Blues and frustrated Azpilicueta most.
‘When you score an early goal, you have control of the game,’ he explained. ‘We had a couple of chances after that to make it 2-0.
‘It’s a final and we knew that we were playing against a side that have good attacking players and they can be dangerous. After this, we couldn’t get into our game as we wished.’
Azpilicueta has played in all but 45 minutes of our hectic schedule since the post-lockdown resumption, a run of games that hit 12 in six weeks with the Wembley final. Having rarely suffered an injury during his eight years at the club, the hamstring tear he sustained when chasing back 10 minutes before half-time is clearly a result of that heavy workload in his eyes.
‘It’s my first time that it’s happened and it hurts a lot when that happens in a final like today,’ he continued. ‘Sometimes it’s football and it’s life but it’s hard to take.
‘Now we have to learn from the game, even if you always want to learn when you win and when you lift trophies rather than by losing these kind of games. It’s tough but we have the next challenges that we have to be ready for.’
Whether Azpilicueta will be able to contribute in our final assignment of this drawn-out campaign, next weekend’s trip to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, remains to be seen but would appear incredibly doubtful after he limped off the Wembley field with tears in his eyes.
Pulisic will also likely miss that trip to the German capital after being forced off with a muscle injury, followed by Mateo Kovacic, who was sent off for two pretty soft yellow cards. Azpilicueta felt there were a number of close decisions that went against us in the game but refused to look beyond the performance of himself and his team-mates when assessing the reasons behind our defeat.
‘A lot of times there were 50/50s [that went in Arsenal’s favour] and we had the same in 2017 [when Anthony Taylor also took charge of a Chelsea-Arsenal final and sent off Victor Moses] but we have to look further than this,' added the Spaniard.
‘We have to look at ourselves. We know two weeks ago when we played against Man United, we really controlled it. We played our game, we were on top of them against a very good side but today we couldn’t do it for 90 minutes and, in the end, that makes the difference.’