FA Cup Final Preview: Arsenal vs Chelsea

FA Cup Final Preview: Arsenal vs Chelsea

Premier League winners Chelsea lock horns with Arsenal in an all-London Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening.

The Blues, having already lifted England’s most-coveted club trophy, will look to make the second most prestigious silverware theirs, thereby becoming only the third club to win a double, after Manchester United and Arsenal.

Antonio Conte overcame the odds to lift the English title in his first season at Stamford Bridge, so even a loss this weekend will not tarnish what he has accomplished. However, having never a cup final as a manager, he will be desperate to claim Arsenal’s scalp.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have endured a season to forget as they finished out of the Champions League places for only the first time in 22 years. As an FA Cup win will recoup some of the lost pride, they will look to a secure shock victory at all costs. Arsene Wenger, who has the chance to become the manager with the most number of FA Cup wins (7), ought to be desperate to engineer one.

Chelsea’s form makes them clear favourites heading into the final game of the English football season, though; they have won 15 of their 17 recent competitive outings. Additionally, the Italian manager has a full-strength thoroughly-rested squad to choose from, with only Ruben Loftus-Cheek only the major doubt. Accordingly, Chelsea will likely look to unsettle the Arsenal defence and fire an early goal or two.

With Diego Costa and Eden Hazard in blistering form, Arsenal need to be at their defensive best. However, the Gunners have a major chunk of their defensive contingent sidelines. Skipper Laurent Koscielny serves a suspension following his red card against Everton. Gabriel Paulista, who sustained an MCL injury in the same game, also sits out while club doctor Gary O'Driscoll will likely not let concussed Shkodran Mustafi play, leave alone start at the national stadium. Additionally, Kieran Gibbs faces a race against time to be available.

Besides a novice Robert Holding, an aging Nacho Monreal and an out-of-form Hector Bellerin, Arsenal have three other defenders who played a combined 136 minutes in the league this season: Per Mertesacker (37), Carl Jenkinson (83) and Mathieu Debuchy (16).

Arsenal will bank heavily on their activity in the opposition half as conceding looks almost inevitable, given the circumstances. They squandered most of the multitude of chances Mesut Ozil created in the last few games; they cannot afford to do that against the Blues.

Player to watch

With Arsenal missing out on Champions League football next season, the weekend’s game may be the last time Arsenal fans see Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil don the red and white strip. In the event of their making their minds to depart Emirates Stadium already, they will look to end their Arsenal careers on a high note, lifting the Emirates FA Cup.

Road to Wembley Stadium

Arsenal have enjoyed an easy buildup to the finals. They were pitted against two non-league sides (Lincoln City and Sutton United) after they had edged past Preston North End and Southampton’s b-team. Their biggest test en route to Wembley saw them play Manchester City in an entertaining affair that ended 2-1. They have scored 20 goals, registering two 5-0 wins; they have conceded a measly two.

Chelsea have had it more difficult in comparision. They faced League One side Peterborough United in the third round before playing Championship sides Brentford and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the subsequent rounds. They even defeated two top-six Premier League sides in Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in the sixth round and semi-finals, respectively.