WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) gives us his take on the big one, the FA Cup final at Wembley. Chelsea face Arsenal hoping to claim the first English double since 2010.
Chelsea v Arsenal | Saturday 17:30 | BBC 1
The English football season comes to an end this Bank Holiday weekend and Saturday sees two of London’s giants battle it out for FA Cup glory. Arsenal can go some way towards redeeming their season by winning the oldest domestic cup competition in the world for the third time in four years.
However, they must topple Chelsea to do so. The Blues lifted the Premier League trophy earlier this month and last weekend set a record for most wins in a season (30). They’ve also dominated this fixture in recent years, holding a W8-D3-L2 record over the Gunners in all competitions since 2012.
Chelsea won four of the first six FA Cup finals at Wembley stadium from 2006-2012 but have not been involved in any since then. Antonio Conte will therefore be keen to complete the double and strengthen his grip on England’s silverware.
Weak And Wobbly
Conte’s men suffered loses to Crystal Palace and Manchester United in early April but responded to that wobble with seven wins on the bounce in all competitions; scoring three or more goals in six of those games and against the likes of Southampton, Tottenham and Everton – no mean feat.
As for Arsenal, they had a wobble themselves but it was significantly bigger and consequently, despite a late rally of five consecutive wins, Liverpool’s win over Middlesbrough last weekend confirmed that they wouldn’t qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 21 years.
Arsene Wenger has promised to announce his contract intentions after the game but there’s a feeling of inevitability about an extension. The club has been ridiculed this season and another period of this inferiority threatens to damage all the good work Wenger did in his formative years.
The first Premier League meeting between Wenger and Conte resulted in an emphatic 3-0 win for the Frenchman. It put Arsenal in the driving seat for a successful season and cast doubts over the Italian’s credentials.
Eight months later, Chelsea finish 18 points ahead of their cross-city rivals and have the chance to be the first club to complete the double since 2010.
All told, I think this will be a one-sided affair and agree completely with the 4/5 (Bet365) quotes on a Chelsea victory. The Blues have a winning mentality and, in my opinion, the same cannot be said for a large swathe of the Arsenal squad.
David Ospina will start ahead of Petr Cech, a big call from Wenger. As for the defence, Arsenal will attempt to imitate Conte’s back three with a combination of Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal. The absence of Laurent Koscielny through suspension is a huge blow.
Going forward expect Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks with Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in midfield, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez playing behind Danny Welbeck.
Blues at the Double
I certainly believe there is enough talent there to hurt Chelsea and, going by the Blues recent defensive mishaps, I think it’s likely they’ll find the back of the net.
Unfortunately, for the North Londoners, Conte is undoubtedly a much better coach of the formation they look like employing. That can only work to his favour. Couple this with the fact that Chelsea can name the single strongest starting XI available to them and I think you can’t look beyond the double heading to West London.
The bet for me though is Chelsea to win and Both Teams To Score. Ten of the Blues’ last 15 wins in all competitions have come by that method which includes their 3-1 triumph in this exact fixture in February. At 3/1 with Betfair's enhanced special, it’s paying a pretty penny.
Chelsea v Arsenal – Chelsea to Win and Both Teams To Score (3/1 Betfair)