In the blasted landscape of a near-deserted Wembley, in front of the blank gaze of battalions of empty seats at the first FA Cup Final to be played without fans, an Arsenal team that has been withering and dying bloomed again like a red rose in a desert.
This is a cold climate for football and for our society but Arsenal have found love in it.
Most of all, they played like a team that has learned to love itself again. For as long as anyone can remember, certainly through the declining years of Arsene Wenger’s management, they looked like a team ill-at-ease, uncertain and vulnerable.
Finally, in our empty stadiums and sterile atmosphere, they have started to look like a team that is learning to enjoy its football again.
Arsenal have won the FA Cup for the 14th time after defeating London rivals Chelsea at Wembley Stadium
The Gunners have won the world’s oldest football competition trophy more times than any other club
There was an awkward moment before the lift, as captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dropped the famous silverware
Smiles burst out as the Gunners celebrated, while Aubameyang improvised by holding the trophy’s base upside down
Arsenal players huddled together at the final whistle after being confirmed FA Cup winners for a historic 14th time
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was overcome with emotion at the final whistle and burst into tears on the pitch
When they came from behind to beat Chelsea and win the FA Cup for a record 14th time, their victory seemed to mean an awful lot more than qualifying for the Europa League next season. It meant their quarter of a century of participation in European competition will continue but more than that, amid all the gloom of these troubled and strange times, it signalled hope and optimism for their future.
This victory, coupled with the semi-final triumph over Manchester City, has wiped out the disappointment of their eighth place finish in the Premier League and has brought huge credit to their rookie boss Mikel Arteta.
They have momentum going into next season. They look like a team that knows what it is doing again. They look like a team that is ready to stop being a laughing stock.
They look like a team that has finally had enough of being mocked by opponents like Troy Deeney for not having the bottle to stand up for themselves. Perhaps the empty stadiums have given them space to breathe. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they have begun to flourish away from an Emirates Stadium that can quickly turn toxic.
Arteta and his players certainly celebrated like this was a result of huge significance. It may also help that, after falling behind to an early goal from Christian Pulisic, they overhauled Chelsea with two goals from their captain, talisman and prolific striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s deft chipped effort midway through the second half turned out to be the match-winning strike
Aubameyang sent Kurt Zouma the wrong way before delicately flicking the ball up and over Willy Caballero in goal
The striker pulled off his trademark cartwheel celebration after putting his side in the driving seat in the final
The game had been turned on its head after Chelsea midfielder Matteo Kovacic was sent off for a second yellow offence
Referee Anthony Taylor soon became card-happy and showed Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta a shade of yellow on the sidelines
Chelsea brought Pedro on as a late sub, but the Spaniard got injured in his final match for the club and needed a stretcher
Arteta and Arsenal are trying to persuade Aubameyang to sign a new contract. A victory like this could be a strong persuader.
The defeat ruined Frank Lampard’s hopes of ending his debut season at Stamford Bridge on a high but Chelsea’s Champions League place was already secure and he can still look back on what he has achieved with great satisfaction. In Pulisic, the first American to score in an FA Cup Final, he has a player who looks as if he will light up the league next season.
A final that started with pop star Emeli Sande being projected on to the big screens singing Abide With Me from high on the stadium roof ended with Aubameyang picking the famous old trophy up from a plinth and carrying it over to his waiting teammates.
He dropped it before he had had time to hoist it. Arsenal will forgive him. As they celebrated, the tinny strains of Good Old Arsenal bounced around the vast expanse of the home of English football and the Arsenal players began an awkward lap of honour.
Arsenal forged their first chance inside three minutes with a lovely move that started deep in their own half when Kieran Tierney dropped his shoulder to deceive Mason Mount and floated a pass down the left wing for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to chase. Maitland-Niles got to the byline, cut back and curled in a cross which Aubameyang headed wide from six yards out when he should have scored.
Two minutes later, though, Chelsea were ahead. Pulisic has sometimes seemed like an unstoppable, uncontainable force in the matches since the restart and now he played both architect and executioner for the opening goal.
He took the ball in midfield on the half-turn, sprinted forwards and laid the ball out to Mount. Mount played it inside to Olivier Giroud who helped it on and Pulisic skipped past Tierney’s tentative challenge and clipped a clever finish over Emiliano Martinez.
Earlier, Aubameyang had got Arsenal back into the tie after sending Willy Caballero the round way from the penalty spot
The Gabon international kept his cool and stepped up to side-foot the ball into the bottom right corner of the Chelsea goal
Arsenal fans roared in the nearby Wembley Boxpark, where the match was screened for a select amount of spectators
Christian Pulisic has set the match alight with a well-worked opening goal after just five minutes of play
Pulisic finished off a sublime move which he helped create by driving up through the middle of the field
The American finished the effort by slotting the ball past helpless Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez
Pulisic slid to his knees in the corner of the Wembley pitch and let out a roar of delight after getting on the score-sheet
Pulisic was joined by team-mates and Olivier Giroud (far right), who put on the assist with a delicate back-heeled flick
Kovacic was lucky to escape with a yellow card for a lunging tackle on Granit Xhaka and even though Pulisic was still causing Arsenal problems, Arteta’s team began to claw their way back into the game after the drinks break when they started to hit more long balls to exploit the space behind the Chelsea defence.
Nicolas Pepe thought he had scored one of the great goals in FA Cup Final history when his curling left foot shot from the edge of the area bulged the net but it was ruled out for offside against Maitland-Niles earlier in the move.
Arsenal were not discouraged, though. Maitland-Niles was causing problems down the Chelsea right and just before half an hour, they targeted the same flank and forced an equaliser. This time, it was Aubameyang who ran on to a long ball from Tierney.
He got the wrong side of Cesar Azpilicueta and even though Azpilicueta appeared to drag him back outside the box, there was enough contact inside the box for the referee to award a penalty and for VAR to confirm it. Aubameyang dispatched it past Willy Caballero with aplomb.
Azpilicueta, who was shown a yellow card for his foul on Aubameyang, was substituted with an injury ten minutes before half time and his replacement, Andreas Christensen, nearly gave away a penalty when he was bamboozled by Pepe and tripped him on the edge of the area in injury time. Alexandre Lacazette drove the free kick inches wide.
But later in the match Pulisic had to withdraw, after pulling up painfully and appeared to have damaged his hamstring
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard began to toil on the touchline as his side lost their footing in the showpiece fixture
An eerie backdrop void of supporters greeted the two teams as they headed out onto the pitch to warm up
The iconic Wembley way stood uncharacteristically silent on final day, as fans were not permitted due to the pandemic
Prior to kick-off singer Emeli Sande performed a rendition of ‘Abide with me’ from the roof of the national stadium
A minute after the interval, Pulisic began the second half as he had the first, bursting through the Arsenal defence and bearing down on goal. Thirty yards out, the American forward began to grimace in pain. He kept going long enough to slice a shot wide but then he collapsed to the ground in agony with what looked like a hamstring injury. He was taken off and will surely be a doubt for Chelsea’s Champions League second round second leg tie against Bayern Munich on Friday.
Arsenal were still playing with poise, though. They looked like they were relishing the game. Their attitude was personified when Pepe took the ball midway on the half way line with his back to goal and flicked it through Antonio Rudiger’s legs with a backheel. It was champagne football mixed with pragmatism. Altogether most unlike the Arsenal we have come to know in recent years.
Just before the second drinks break, Arsenal took the lead. The ball broke to Hector Bellerin inside his own half and he drove forward, bursting past Rudiger towards the edge of the Chelsea box. Christensen brought a sudden end to his run with a perfectly timed tackle but the ball broke to Pepe on the Arsenal right.
Pepe saw Aubameyang in space on the left and played the ball across the area to him. Aubameyang squared up Kurt Zouma, jinked past him and lifted an expert finish past Caballero.
Chelsea’s chances suffered another blow five minutes later when Kovacic fouled Xhaka again and was sent off for a second bookable offence by Anthony Taylor. Arsenal suffered one alarm when Martinez appeared to have gathered the ball outside his box but Mr Taylor waved play on and the comeback was soon complete.
Here’s how the FA Cup final action unfolded with Sportsmail’s DAN DAVIS.