A cup of cheer but so weird
IT was a weird experience watching the FA Cup final yesterday.
As I looked back to my big day at Wembley in the 1985 final and tried to compare it to what we saw yesterday, it was like we were watching a different sport on so many levels.
All credit to Arsenal as they fully deserved to win the game and in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that have a magnificent striker who is good enough to take the game away from any team.
I actually thought Kurt Zouma was having a decent game until Aubameyang took him to the cleaners for the winning goal and when Chelsea were reduced to ten men a few minutes later, it was game over. More about that red card later!
As regular readers of my column will know, I have been a Chelsea fan all my life so my colours were very firmly pinned to the blue flag yesterday, but you have to hand it to Arsenal for getting the job done.
Without fans inside Wembley, it was always going to be a strange FA Cup final, but the fact that Arsenal needed the win to qualify for Europe next season may have meant they had that little bit more desire against a Chelsea side that secured their place in the Champions League last weekend.
The action on the pitch yesterday was entertaining enough, but it was hard to get your mind around the reality that we were watching an FA Cup final being played out between the two London clubs.
My first experience of being at Wembley for the biggest day of the season came back in 1983 and even though I didn't play for United against Brighton, just being at this famous stadium on the one day of the year when a ticket was gold dust gave me such a buzz.
To start in the final two years later and pick up a winners' medal was the biggest thrill of my career and you have to appreciate what this game meant back in those days.
Winning the league title has always been the big goal for any player, but the FA Cup was on par with that in England as it has such an incredible history and tradition that made it the most special cup competition in the world.
It has been sad to see the FA Cup lose its significance in recent years as the Premier League and Champions League have become so big, with yesterday's final even more strange as it was played in front of empty stands.
I give the players all the credit in the world for playing with an intensity that has kept us all entertained over the last few weeks because performing without fans must take all the joy out of playing the game.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the players who were in action last night were desperate to win the FA Cup, but this once great occasion has started to feel a little like a tag on at the end of the season in recent years and that's a real shame.
Arsenal's players celebrated as they collected their winners' medals, but the FA Cup no longer has the magic once associated with it and I'm not alone in longing for the days when it meant so much to football fans around the world.
What we saw yesterday was the most graphic example of a competition that has lost its sparkle and it will be better to watch if we have fans in the stadium next season, please God.
Chelsea were so quick out of the blocks and Christian Pulisic's opening goal was a work.
Pulisic is a wonderful talent and it was a real shame to see his hamstring blow up at the start of the second half yesterday. His pace was missed by Chelsea as they played a counter-attacking game.
I'm not sure if that was the tactics Frank Lampard wanted to deploy, but that's how the game developed as Arsenal assumed control of the ball and got in behind Chelsea's full-backs at will as they finished the first half on top.
Their equalising goal came from exposing that weakness in Chelsea's make-up as Cesar Azpilicueta was caught out and Aubameyang won the penalty that drew his side level.
You were looking to Lampard to make some tactical changes at half-time to try and get his side back into the game, but they lacked that attacking threat when Pulisic went off and when Aubameyang got his brilliant second goal, it was game over.
Finally, what can I say about the red card handed out to Mateo Kovacic after he brushed off Granit Xhaka's toe in the 73rd-minute?
You might recall Kevin Moran getting a red card in the 1985 final I played in for a tackle that sent Peter Reid seven foot into the sky and back then, we felt the referee was harsh to send Kevin off that day!
Roll the clock forward 35 years and players are seeing red cards for tackles that barely count as tackles in my mind.
Overall, Arsenal deserved their win yesterday.