A taxing season of football in England has finally culminated in two of London’s biggest clubs locking horns in the oldest football tournament on the planet, as Arsenal ready themselves for the 139th FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday at Wembley.
The Blues’ manager Frank Lampard has done a commendable job with the limited resources he has had this season, guiding his squad toward Champions League qualification by finishing fourth in the Premier League while also taking them to the FA Cup final.
His counterpart on the day, Mikel Arteta, brought in as a replacement of Unai Emery in December, has shown glimpses of brilliance at times, but also struggled with consistency. Finishing a lowly eighth in the league means the Gunners will be without European football next season, but winning the FA Cup would give them an opportunity to bring the glorious nights back at the Emirates.
Arsenal’s road to the final
Arsenal had a rather easy run to the final, having defeated the likes of Leeds United, Bournemouth and Portsmouth in the opening rounds. They narrowly got the better of Sheffield United in the quarter-final to set up a clash against Manchester City for a place in the final.
Defying the odds, captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice as Arsenal stunned their opponents to get a shot at winning a record 14th FA Cup title.
Chelsea’s road to the final
The Blues started off their FA Cup campaign with an easy 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the third round, followed by a 2-1 win over Hull City in the subsequent round. They squared off against Liverpool in the fifth round and as Jurgen Klopp decided to field a rather young squad to concentrate more on the league, an easy 2-0 win for Lampard gave them the passage to book a place in the quarter-final.
A goal from Ross Barkley made all the difference against Leicester City as Chelsea progressed in the semi-final where a stern Manchester United awaited. Olivier Giroud, Mason Mount and an own goal from Harry Maguire guided them to a thumping 3-1 win as Chelsea set course for a repeat of the 2017 FA Cup final.
Arsenal Team News
Right-back Hector Bellerin hasn’t featured for Mikel Arteta since their victory over City due to the issues in his calf. The Spaniard, however, is set to return after being named on the bench during his side’s final Premier League game of the season.
While his return provides a boost, the likes of Shkodran, Pablo Mari, Bernd Leno, Gabriel Martinelli and Calum Chambers remain the long-term absentees.
Chelsea Team News
Chelsea will be bolstered by the return of their midfield man-machine N’golo Kante, and in attack, Willian could mark his return after being left out against Wolves with an unspecified injury. The only absentee for Frank Lampard is young midfielder Billy Gilmour.
Arsenal player to watch - David Luiz
Despite being extremely inconsistent throughout the season, defender David Luiz is very much a part of Arteta’s rebuild. In fact, the last time these two sides met, the Brazilian was at the receiving end of a straight red, but a late goal from Hector Bellerin snatched victory right at the death as the game finished 2-2 at Stamford Bridge.
Luiz has had his moment of brilliance and with two senior centre-backs missing, Arteta would want a stern performance from his veteran.
Chelsea player to watch - Olivier Giroud
In the 148 years of history of the FA Cup, only one player has scored for and against the same side in a Cup final. So as Olivier Giroud returns to face his former side, he will aim to become only the second man on the list after Frank Stapleton, who scored against Manchester United in 1979 while playing for Arsenal, and then for United four years later against Brighton.
Giroud’s association with Wembley is outstanding, to say the least, as the Frenchman has won as many as seven medals at the venue, including four FA Cup triumphs and three Community Shield medals. But what he will be most remembered for is his goal against the Gunners in last season’s Europa League final, a game that Chelsea won 4-1.
Having scored seven goals in his last 10 appearances, Giroud is well and truly tipped to have a major impact on the night.
If Arsenal manage to stun Chelsea, Arteta, who won the FA Cup as a player with the Gunners in 2014, will become the first person to win the cup with Arsenal as a captain and a manager.
This will be Chelsea’s 14th appearance in the final - half of which have come in the last 13 years. The Blues have won seven of their last nine finals.
Arsenal vs Chelsea FA Cup Final - When and where to watch live
Arsenal and Chelsea will lock horns in an empty Wembley Stadium on Saturday, August 1 at 10:00 PM IST.
The game will be broadcast exclusively on the Sony Network, and you can watch the game on Sony Ten 3 as well as on the SonyLiv app.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Daniel Leal-Olivas