Christian Pulisic scores in FA Cup final, but Chelsea falls to Arsenal

The match was played without fans because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Pulisic, 21, became the third U.S. national team player to start in the final of a competition, dating from 1872, that welcomes teams from all 10 tiers of the sport in England. His predecessors were midfielder John Harkes (with Sheffield Wednesday in 1993) and Tim Howard (with Manchester United in 2004 and Everton in 2009).

Pulisic — the son of former George Mason University soccer players — scored in the fifth minute for Chelsea, which last summer acquired the Hershey, Pa., native from German club Borussia Dortmund for a U.S.-player-record $73 million.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Pulisic’s former Dortmund teammate, tied the match with a 28th-minute penalty kick and scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second half as Arsenal extended its record of FA Cup titles to 14.

“This pays for all the moments that we suffered, so I’m so happy,” said Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta, a former Arsenal player who took charge in December and oversaw a team that finished eighth in the Premier League. By winning the FA Cup, the Gunners qualified for the 2020-21 UEFA Europa League.

Pulisic’s goal will not soon be forgotten in U.S. circles. He led the charge with a central run, then pushed the ball through a channel to Mason Mount in stride, penetrating the left side of the penalty area.

Mount one-timed a cross to Olivier Giroud, who used his left foot to flick to Pulisic. In tight space, Pulisic’s first touch evaded defender Kieran Tierney and chipped it past goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

The goal continued an outstanding stretch for the American attacker, who, after English soccer returned from the pandemic shutdown six weeks ago, scored five goals, added two assists and created several other scoring opportunities.

Sidelined for the second leg of the UEFA Champions League’s round of 16 at Bayern Munich next weekend, Pulisic will finish the 2019-20 campaign with 11 goals: nine in 25 Premier League appearances (19 starts), one in five FA Cup and League Cup matches and one in four Champions League games.

After the early goal, Pulisic and Chelsea faded as Arsenal began to find its way. Both teams were defensively brittle, particularly Chelsea.

Nicolas Pepe’s terrific equalizer in the 25th minute was nullified by an offside violation in the buildup. But a minute later, Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta took down Aubameyang as the Arsenal forward beat him into the box.

Aubameyang converted the penalty kick.

Pulisic’s historic day ended just after intermission. Accelerating out of midfield and looking increasingly dangerous as he bore down on the penalty area, Pulisic injured himself. Though he maintained his run, his grimace signaled trouble. He launched an angled shot wide of the far post, then collapsed.

Trainers helped him off the field. His day was over. Spanish veteran Pedro entered.

“If Christian goes through and scores as opposed to missing and doing his hamstring,” Chelsea Manager Frank Lampard said, “well, the circumstances in the game conspired against us.”

Chelsea’s problems would deepen.

In the 67th minute, Hector Bellerin made an assertive central run and Chelsea lost its shape. From the right side, Pepe squared the ball to Aubameyang, who toyed with defender Kurt Zouma and cleverly chipped a six-yard effort over goalkeeper Willy Caballero for his 29th goal in all 2019-20 competitions.

Arsenal’s lead gained strength in the 73rd minute when Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic was red-carded after a second yellow card.

Injuries and other delays led to an astounding 14 minutes of stoppage time, but Arsenal did not break. As Pulisic watched the final moments from the players’ tunnel, the Gunners won the trophy for the fourth time in seven years.

“We didn’t play well enough to win a final,” Lampard said. “A lot of today is on us.”

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