German giant stars for Gunners in FA Cup success
PER Mertesacker has produced what has been called "one of the great FA Cup final displays” as Arsenal sealed Arsene Wenger's seventh Cup title with a 2-1 win over Chelsea.
Mertesacker had played 37 minutes of football this season. He hadn't started a game for Arsenal since April 2016.
The day before he walked out as captain in the FA Cup final at Wembley, the German admitted he had never played in a back three in his career.
Yet Arsenal's 'Big Friendly Giant' produced what has been described as the game of his life.
"He was magnificent,”' said BBC pundit Alan Shearer.
Managr Wenger was similarly effusive in his praise, hailing Mertesacker as a "fantastic example” to all young footballers.
"What he did today is just a consequence of an unbelievable attitude every day even if he was not selected until the Everton game,” he said.
"He played his first game tonight and it was just the reward. When he was not selected he worked even harder that's why I pay a special tribute to him.”
Mertesacker himself admitted post-game he didn't expect to play, resulting in him not feeling any pressure to perform.
"Two weeks ago I was on holiday, didn't expect to play,” he said.
"But for whole squad, we have showed great resilience. I was just the next man up, but I didn't feel any pressure because what could I expect from myself.”
The game was only four minutes old when controversy struck.
Alexis Sanchez scored the game's opening goal, despite protests from Chelsea players who complained about a handball and an offside call.
N'Golo Kante's clearance ricocheted off Sanchez's hand, which was above his head, with the Chilean racing through to score.
But teammate Aaron Ramsey, who was standing in an offside position, was close by as Sanchez slotted the ball home, an involvement which saw the assistant referee raise his flag.
Referee Anthony Taylor awarded the goal as Chelsea players protested and boss Antonio Conte wasn't pleased after the game.
The second big talking point came in the second half when Victor Moses received a second yellow card for simulation.
Chelsea did equalise through Diego Costa but Arron Ramsey scored a headed winner shortly after to seal the Gunners' victory.
It was Arsenal's 13th FA Cup win - a record for the competition - and Arsene Wenger's seventh FA Cup success - also a record.
Conte won three consecutive leagues at Juventus before becoming coach of Italy. On his return to club football, he won the English Premier League with Chelsea.
But he still has yet to win a major cup in an impressive coaching career, missing out on doing the double with Chelsea.
Conte said it wasn't easy for his players to lift themselves for the match.
"We won the league. It was right to celebrate, to enjoy this (league) win,” he said.
"My players put all of themselves into the game. Our start wasn't good enough. The impact of the approach wasn't good.”