Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea
By Chris Bevan
BBC Sport at Wembley
Didier Drogba’s 84th-minute winner put Chelsea in the FA Cup final and kept alive interim manager Guus Hiddink’s hopes of an unlikely treble.
Drogba struck at the end of a poor semi-final when he beat Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to Frank Lampard’s long ball and rolled the ball home.
The Gunners had taken an early lead through Theo Walcott’s deflected shot but had struggled to live with Chelsea from that moment.
Florent Malouda levelled before half-time with a low shot that beat Fabianski at his near post and, although the Gunners dug in after the break, Chelsea probably deserved their victory and a return to Wembley in the final on 30 May.
As a spectacle, this game did not come close to the drama and intensity of the Blues’ last outing – their midweek 4-4 draw with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge that saw them reach the Champions League semi-finals with a 7-5 aggregate win.
But Hiddink, whose side also remain with an outside chance of snatching the Premier League title, will not mind one bit after seeing his side put on a performance of power and patience to progress.
The early moments of Chelsea’s display here was reminiscent of the way they began against Liverpool on Tuesday, as they were clearly second-best to an enterprising Arsenal side that threatened whenever they came forward.
But, even when they were in the ascendancy, Arsene Wenger’s side looked uncertain at the back and Chelsea were twice gifted chances in the opening 15 minutes.
Arsenal’s first error saw Fabianski lose out to Drogba when he came out of his area to clear an innocuous looking long ball and the Polish goalkeeper was grateful that Kieran Gibbs was fast enough to chase Drogba’s header and hack clear.
Another mistake seconds later saw Emmanuel Eboue give the ball to Michael Ballack, who released Drogba – but the Ivorian was forced wide by compatriot Kolo Toure and the chance was gone.
Attack was clearly the best form of defence for Wenger and it was a policy that paid off after 18 minutes.
Emmanuel Adebayor played in Gibbs, who had been tearing forward from left-back all game, and Walcott met his lofted cross at the far post with a first-time shot that clipped Cole’s hand and flew past the stranded Cech.
The goal was a just reward for Arsenal’s attacking endeavour but, given their defensive fragility, it never looked even remotely like being enough to guarantee victory.
Chelsea’s response was almost immediate, with Ashley Cole setting up Malouda to fire in a rasping low shot that beat Fabianski but also the far post.
But Hiddink’s men did not have to wait long for an equaliser, which came in the 33rd minute when Malouda expertly took down Lampard’s hoisted pass before cutting inside Eboue and beating Fabianski at his near post.
Arsenal were unable to use Walcott’s early strike as a platform
By then, the Blues had long since taken a hold on the game in the middle of the park and they should have gone on to take the lead before half-time.
With Arsenal at sixes and sevens, Nicolas Anelka stole the ball from Abou Diaby inside the Gunners’ penalty area and turned to thump a shot against the post.
Wenger’s side did improve after the break but, with Adebayor almost anonymous, they lacked a presence in attack and, in truth they were out-muscled all over the field.
It was only on the break that Arsenal looked dangerous and they did go close when Walcott’s cross just eluded Robin van Persie at the far post.
Chelsea were hardly creating stacks of chances either but they still looked the most likely to snatch victory from what had become a scrappy encounter, particularly because of Drogba’s industry and energy up front.
The Ivorian finally got his reward for an impressive performance six minutes from time when he latched on to another long ball by Lampard, rounded Fabianski and rolled home the winner.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Eboue, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Walcott, Fabregas, Diaby, Denilson (Nasri 86), Van Persie (Arshavin 75), Adebayor (Bendtner 83).
Subs Not Used: Mannone, Vela, Ramsey, Song Billong.
Booked: Denilson, Toure.
Goals: Walcott 18.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Lampard, Essien, Malouda, Anelka (Kalou 82), Drogba.
Subs Not Used: Hilario, Carvalho, Di Santo, Mikel, Belletti, Mancienne.
Booked: Ivanovic, Ballack, Drogba.
Goals: Malouda 33, Drogba 84.
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Arsenal’s Theo Walcott 8.02 (on 90 minutes).
• Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport’s Player Rater after the match has finished.