Chelsea vs. Arsenal Preview (FA Cup)
Wembley Stadium/May 27, 2017
This is the last remaining fixture of the English football season and it couldn’t carry bigger ramifications for the two teams involved. There’s nothing bigger than a London derby at Wembley as the semi-final between Chelsea and Tottenham proved. This is the biggest football match of Arsenal’s season because it will be the difference between a woeful season, after they missed out on Champions’ League qualification for the first time in 20 years, and one that’s considered an acceptable one. For Chelsea however victory could add more gloss to an already successful season after being crowned Premier League champions last Sunday. Antonio Conte and his players will be under no illusion that this is going to be another tough match to navigate despite all the reported problems Arsenal are having with their defensive covers. The gaffer said at his media conference following the Sunderland game that Chelsea are the underdogs going into the FA Cup final and it’s hard to argue with his assessment even given the season we’re having. Arsenal had lost just one of the seven FA Cup finals Arsene Wenger had led them into winning the remaining six (with Chelsea one of his casualties in the 2002 FA Cup final) but we can take solace in the fact that we came out tops in our only encounter with the Gunners in the new Wembley Stadium (considered by Blues as our second home because of our long success there since it was reopened in 2007) defeating them in the semi-final en route to winning the trophy in 2009 under Guus Hiddink. A friend of mine, who’s also a staunch Blue fan, was saying after it was confirmed that Arsenal will be our opponent in the final that he wished Didier Drogba’s new club, Phoenix Rising, could loan him to us just to play against the Gunners and increase his incredible tally against them.
Antonio Conte has some balancing to do ahead of selecting his team to start this game because some of our less used players for the league campaigned have taken solace in playing regularly in the FA Cup run. Both Willian and Fabregas have both started all five of our matches in the competition so far, same with Cesar Azpilicueta. Kante, Pedro, Kurt Zouma and Batshuayi have each made four appearances. Whoever makes it into Antonio Conte’s team for the final; they will know that they have a battle in their hands because the Arsenal players will be up for this one. Willian and Pedro will be looking to add to their four goals in the competition so far if they get the coach’s nod to play. There’s also the possibility that we might see JT take to the field for the final time in Chelsea colours following his 26-minute cameo against Sunderland on Sunday but whether or not he gets to play a part it’s going to be fitting that his last official assignment as Chelsea captain is holding aloft the FA Cup trophy in the hallowed ground of Wembley, the world-acclaimed home of football even if the fanfare will not be compared to what we saw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Last 5 Matches: WWWWW
Arsene Wenger is facing a potential selection crisis ahead of what is the most important fixture of their season, especially in defense where he’ll be without two of his key men, Gabriel Paulista and Laurent Koscielny due to injury and suspension respectively. And they could also be without Mustafi, who missed their last game through an unspecified illness. Wenger may be forced to ditch his new found love for playing three at the back except if he intends to deploy Nacho Monreal at centre back along with Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding. Or if he chooses to go with a four-man defense then he’s likely to go with the centre defensive pairing of the inexperienced Holding and Per Mertesacker, whose first appearance of the season came against Everton on Sunday. Wenger is also going to have to choose between Giroud and Welbeck depending on how he wants to set his team up. Apart from in defense, Wenger is still sweating about the availability of Oxlade-Chamberlain but if he’s unable to be fit to start they have adequate cover for him with Walcott in a wide area or Ramsey in midfield. Chelsea players are most likely going to come up against Blues legend Petr Cech unless Wenger keeps with FA Cup tradition and goes with David Ospina in goal.
Injuries: Santi Cazorla (Ankle) – Out; Gabriel Paulista (MCL) – Out; Shokdran Mustafi (Illness)–Slight Doubt; Kieran Gibbs (Thigh Strain) – Slight Doubt; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Knee) – Slight doubt; Lucas Perez (Muscle Strain) – Slight Doubt.
Suspensions: Laurent Koscielny-Out
Last 5 Matches: WWWWW
3 Matchups to Watch
- Fabregas vs. Granit Xhaka: Fabregas has gradually built up the minutes in recent matches after being left out of the team more often than not at the start of the season but he’s been involved in the FA Cup from the beginning, and that’s likely going to continue on Saturday. Against Xhaka though he’s going to be up against one of the toughest tacking midfielders in England but the downside to the Swiss’ game is he’s just one bad tackle away from a sending off. Fabregas should prove too much to handle for the Swiss on the day though.
- Moses vs. Alexis Sanchez: Victor Moses will certainly have the most difficult task of the Chelsea players on Saturday which is keeping up with the Chilean maestro. Sanchez is the most likely outlet to a goal for the Gunners as he’s their top scorer by a considerable distance this season. While playing on the wing, which is where he’s likely going to be deployed at Wembley, he likes to cut inside on to his favoured right foot to unleash a shot at goal. Moses will have to stay focused for the entire 90 minutes on Saturday because the Chilean only needs a lapse in concentration to punish a team. Just ask City all about it.
- Alonso vs. Theo Walcott/Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: No matter the speedster that Wenger choose to start the match, the outcome is likely to be the same as they both rely on the explosive pace to conquer their markers. One of the weaknesses of the Spaniard Alonso is his lack of pace. Walcott likes to cut inside the full back and make a run for the box more often so Gary Cahill would have to be alert as well. For Oxlade-Chamberlain however, he has a dangerous cross in him as we witnessed for their consolation goal in the league meeting at Stamford Bridge in February.
This is only the second time these two London neighbours have locked horns in the showpiece match of the FA Cup. The first coming in the summer of 2002 with the Gunners running out 2-0 winners on a disappointing day for the Blues. Chelsea came out top the last time these two met in the FA Cup at the semi-final stage of the 2009 edition of the competition on the way to lifting the cup under the interim regime of Dutchman Guus Hiddink. Victory for Chelsea will turn a great season into “a fantastic one” according to our manager. The Gunners will be hoping to end their season on a high by winning thetrophy after they endured another disappointing season that saw them missed out on Champions’ League qualification but I trust the Blues will be up for the challenge and hopefully at the end of the match we’ll be celebrating our second double-winning season and give our soon-to- depart captain the perfect parting gift. Until next season, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High Blues!