It’s the last game of the season for Arsenal, and, for the third time in four seasons it is the FA Cup final. Undoubtedly Arsene Wenger’s men will be looking to salvage something from the otherwise disappointing campaign. Winning a third FA Cup in four years seems fitting.
It can also be the saving grace for our French manager, who can feel aggrieved, to an extent, of having missed out on the top four with 75 points. For the first time in his tenure Arsenal won’t be playing in the Champions League.
The Gunners will be up against Chelsea today, and we could have hardly picked a sterner test. Conte’s men had an impressive season in the league, amassing 93 points and becoming the first PL side to win 30 games. They have thrashed the Gunners at Stamford Bridge in February too, triggering our 3-month long slide. They will no doubt be driven to win the double and heap more misery onto Arsenal in the process.
Interestingly enough, the Gunners have won seven of the last eight FA Cup meetings with Chelsea. The only loss (also the most recent game) was in 2009 semi-final. It doesn’t really have any bearing on what happens today, it was a while back as you can see, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.
The last time these two sides were pinned against one another in the final was in 2002 – Arsenal’s win allowed Wenger’s men to clinch the double. Don’t get any ideas about reverse scenarios!
However overall Arsenal have been pretty poor against Chelsea in the last decade. They’ve won only twice in league and cup games, and lost eight matches. Obviously we have been under a financial strain, plus suffered quite a lot from Mourinho, but our record is still quite dire. United is the only other top team we have equally history against.
On the bright side, Arsenal have a very good record both in the FA Cup and in Wembley matches there. Today’s final is a record 20th and a win will move us one clear of United to 13 titles. In the process Arsene Wenger can become the most successful manager in the competition – he is currently tied on 6 triumphs with Gordon Ramsay, Aston Villa’s former manager.
We have won the last seven games at Wembley too – with one win (against Wigan) being a penalty shoot-out win, admittedly. Overall, we have won 19 of the last 22 FA Cup games, losing only once. Our last away loss in the competition was to Sunderland in 2012.
Team news update
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be back in contention, so that’s a big plus. Also, there have been no word on Alexis and Xhaka, both of whom were subbed off against Everton due to minor niggles – so I’m assuming both are perfectly fine. The duo trained anyway.
However it’s our defensive department which causes me concern. Our defence unravelled in a matter of one week, basically. Koscielny is suspended, Gabriel’s injury will keep the Brazilian out, while Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs are both doubts.
From the look of things neither will be available, as neither have trained. This leaves us with a mish-mash defensive options and most likely the need to revert to a back four, purely because we’ve been backed into a corner.
The major piece of news is that David Ospina is set to start the final. Though this was reported by John Cross, so I’d take it with a huge chunk of salt, one approaching an iceberg.
Still, I won’t be surprised if Wenger indeed goes with the Colombian. He played Fabianski in 2014 despite Szczesny being number 1, and then Wojciech himself a year later, when the Pole was displaced by Ospina. Think of it as a parting gift to David.
Our defence is obviously a huge concern. We simply don’t have many options aside from a back four of Bellerin, Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal. This has me worried, as we clearly lacked a third back against Everton once Kos was sent off. Another possible complication is that both Per and Rob are quite static in their defending. Koscielny, Gabriel and Mustafi have always been more proactive.
I’m wondering whether Wenger will contemplate fielding Monreal as a third centre-back and play Ox on the left. In an ideal scenario we would have Mustafi, or at least Gibbs, back, but we live in an imperfect world. As such, there’s logic behind adding a more mobile centre-back to the mix.
I can’t see any changes in other areas of the pitch. I’m pretty certain we’ll see Ramsey and Xhaka centrally, Ozil and Alexis behind the striker and Welbeck up top. Welbeck is a contentious pick however, due to his erratic finishing. Plus Giroud is definitely a big-game player, who scored our only goal against Chelsea in February, incidentally. I’m tired of shouting “Lucas!”, and Walcott has been next to buried after the Crystal Palace debacle, so it looks to be between Giroud and Welbeck today. Oxlade looks set to start on the wing if we revert to a back four, something I consider likely.
Predicted line-up: Ospina – Bellerin – Holding – Mertesacker – Monreal – Xhaka – Ramsey – Oxlade – Ozil – Alexis – Welbeck
Chelsea is hardly an ideal opponent on any given day. This season they have been close to perfect in the league and Conte seems to have the upper hand over Wenger. It has to be our day, we have to be on our song to beat the Blues.
But I do not consider it impossible. We are on a good run of five consecutive wins, and eight wins in 10, we have become more solid defensively since the switch, albeit this might be negated today, simply because we don’t have enough fit central defenders. Reverting to a back four might have its merits in this particular case regardless, Chelsea seem too strong in their 3-5-2. Matching them like-for-like may be detrimental to our chances of coming out on top. However I most certainly believe we CAN come out on top.
So come on you Gunners.
What did she wear?