Arsenal vs Chelsea – FA Cup Final Preview

An all-London duel awaits in the FA Cup final on Saturday as Chelsea go in search of the double against an Arsenal side that is aiming to win the competition for a record 13th time.

Indeed, these are the two clubs to have dominated the FA Cup since the turn of the century, with five successes each since 2000. They last met in the final in 2002, when terrific second half goals from Ray Parlour and Fredrik Ljungberg sealed victory for Arsenal.

That was the second of six triumphs for Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, who, if his side wins here, will overtake legendary Aston Villa manager George Ramsey as the man to have won the FA Cup the most times as a coach. And on this particular occasion where current circumstances are taken into account, he badly needs it.

For Wenger is a man under serious pressure. His future continues to lie inexplicably in the air following his failure to guide the club to another top four finish in the Premier League, despite winning the final five games and accumulating 75 points over the course of the season. Some feel that he should go regardless of the result here, but the outcome could prove decisive in whether he chooses to remain or not.

As for their run to the final, Arsenal began by squeezing past Preston North End before destroying Southampton with the help of a Theo Walcott hat-trick. Then followed two successive wins over non-league opposition, but the real test came in the semi-finals against Manchester City.

After an alarming slump in form, they went into that match in a beleaguered state, but found some resolve to win after extra time. Although current form is good, it would take a top-drawer performance to overcome the clinical Chelsea machine in a game where they appear to be considerable underdogs.

It is now 10 years since a Didier Drogba goal decided the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley in Chelsea’s favour, and seven years since the Ivorian was again the man for the big occasion as the Stamford Bridge side won the double for the first time in their history under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti.

Current manager Antonio Conte is attempting to emulate the achievement of his fellow countryman, after leading the Blues to the Premier League title in sensational style, winning 30 of their 38 fixtures including a 3-1 success over Arsenal back in February. Such a shrewd tactician, Conte’s 3-4-3 formation has catapulted them to incredible heights, in what has been a remarkable team effort.

Chelsea will not be fazed by the favourites’ tag, after leading the way in the league for the vast majority of the season, while they have also come through some very tough assignments to get here, seeing off Manchester United and Tottenham in the last two rounds.

That semi-final clash with Spurs was a classic, and they had to soak up long spells of pressure after being pegged back twice. But the second half introduction of Eden Hazard and some sharp finishing all round swung the match in their favour, so a depleted Arsenal defence must find a way of cancelling their opponents out.

Laurent Koscielny’s careless sending off last weekend against Everton has severely hampered his team, with Arsenal also without the injured Gabriel Paulista, and doubtful over the fitness of Shkodran Mustafi. That could mean a first start in over a year for Per Mertesacker, meanwhile Chelsea have the luxury of a fully-fit squad.

It has the look of a game which could be decided by how both teams go about nullifying the threat of key individuals. Hazard will be a threat for Chelsea, who will look to keep tabs on Alexis Sanchez and the enigmatic Mesut Ozil, but one thing that is for sure is that it certainly will not be uneventful.

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