football

Who Will Prevail in the FA Cup Final?

May 25, 2017

- Grant Whittington

 

This weekend, Chelsea will take on London rivals Arsenal in the 136th instalment of the FA Cup final.

The champions will start as favourites to complete their first League and FA Cup double since 2010, while the Gunners will be hoping to win the cup for the third time in four years and claim a record 13th triumph. The game could also play a role in determining the future of beleaguered Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who has yet to confirm his plans for the new season.

With all these sub-plots underpinning what is already a showpiece occasion, this years’ final is sure to be an intriguing watch. The question that remains is who will prevail and claim the ultimate glory at the new Wembley?

The Background: A Tale or Triumph and Disappointment

Back in September, the Gunners thrashed Chelsea 3-1 in the sixth game of the season at the Emirates Stadium. This was the Blues’ second consecutive defeat after a chastening 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Liverpool, while it even prompted to some to question Antonio Conte’s future at the hands of the ruthless Roman Abramovich.

It was the decisive nature of this defeat that encouraged Conte to switch to his preferred 3-4-3 formation, which served as a catalyst for a record-equalling run of 13 consecutive league victories for the Blues. This propelled them to the top of the table, while laying the foundations for a title win that saw Chelsea win an unprecedented 30 league games and finish seven points clear of Tottenham Hotspur.

The game in September also provided yet another false dawn for Arsenal, who once again flattered to deceive in the league before embarking on their familiar, post-winter slump. The difference this time, however, was that Wenger’s men left themselves to much to do to qualify for the Champions League, and this means that despite winning their last five games the Gunners will not dine at the top table of European football next season (for the first time in 20 years).

In short, it has been a season of triumph and attainment for Chelsea, who have won their second title in three years and banished the ghosts of last year. Conversely, it has been yet another year of tournament for Arsenal and their fans, with the failure to qualify for the Champions League compounded by the polarising presence of Wenger, his uncertain future and the likelihood that Alexis Sanchez (and potentially Mesut Ozil) will leave in the summer.

The Game: Can Arsenal Upset the Odds?

With these points in mind, there are obvious reasons why Chelsea are 5/6 favourites to complete a league and cup double this time. While the Gunners arguably offer a little more value at an average price of 4/1, they will need to perform at their best and showcase some mental resilience if they are to overcome their bitter rivals.

The Gunners are in good form, however, while their own switch to three-at-the-back has also stabilised them defensively while enabling them to get the best out of players such as Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and, most impressively, Granit Xhaka. Not only this, but it is also important to note that few gave them a chance of upsetting Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the semi-final, only for the Gunners to secure a narrow, 2-1 win after falling behind to a calamitous Sergio Aguero goal.

Arsenal certainly retain a competitive chance, particularly if they defend resolutely and are able to impose their fluid passing game while in possession. This will provide a platform for Sanchez and Ozil to combine higher up the park, while also enabling the wing-backs to force Chelsea’s wider players onto the back foot.

The issue lies with Chelsea’s outstanding shape and defensive discipline, which has underpinned the Blues’ success and built confidence for their attacking players to prosper. It has also allowed playmaker Eden Hazard to operate in central areas, making him difficult to pick up unless someone is detailed to man-mark him.

It is also pertinent to note that the Gunners have won just three of their last 14 games against Chelsea, while even enduring a run of nearly four years without success against the Blues. This suggests that Chelsea will just have enough to prevail this weekend, and complete a truly remarkable year for Antonio Conte’s men.

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