Saturday, 27 May 2017

Arsenal v Chelsea: FA Cup Final Preview

With the Premier League season ending in disappointment for Arsenal, despite winning their last five games, they still have a chance of some silverware when they take on Chelsea in the FA Cup Final this evening. It was the first time under Arsene Wenger that they had failed to finish in the top four and they set a Premier League record for the most points of any team finishing fifth. On the surface it looks like things aren't as bad as some would have you believe with that points haul, a cup final today and a blip in their Champions League qualification record.

However that's only scratching the surface of what has happened at Arsenal over the last few years and in this season in particular. The club is being run in a manner which defies belief at times with nobody seemingly responsible for a team which has proven season after season that it just cannot progress under the manager. His influence at the club is so vast that he controls almost every aspect of it and when it all goes wrong the blame has to lay with him.

Of course Stan Kroenke had to take his share of the blame too as his complete lack of ambition as an owner has led to the standards which are so unacceptable. It's no surprise that all of his other sports franchises are in a similar position when it comes to delivering everything except the one thing which seems to matter most to him. If he was to sell his shares in Arsenal he would make an enormous profit, but he seems to have no interest in doing so or in the team actually winning anything either.

The fans of the manager will tell you he has us in our third cup final in four seasons and we have the chance of winning the cup for the third time out of four. They will point to our points haul and tell you how close we came to a top four finish, but that hides so much of the truth. We were told that the club had exited from the tight financial restrictions of the stadium building years, but we have actually become less competitive than we were in those years.

We exited the Champions League at the round of 16 for the seventh season in a row and we suffered an embarrassing record 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich. Once we hit our first bump in our league campaign we crumbled for months and only recovered when it was too late as we have done so often in the past 10 years. We have reached the FA Cup final, but the luck of the draw played a part with home games against non league clubs in the fifth and sixth rounds.

I don't mean to be all doom and gloom on the day of the cup final, but it's hard to see our season any other way. Our squad is in turmoil ahead of the opening of the transfer window with our two best players going into the last year of their contracts and there is nothing we can do to keep them if they choose to go. Even the manager's contract is up this summer and we still don't know if he will be our manager or not next season.

It's time to look at today's game though and the chance to put some cheer into a season which has delivered so little of it. As an added incentive we have the chance to win the cup for the 13th time which is one more than any other club has won it and we can stop Chelsea from doing the double too. They might have strolled to their league victory, but I still think they're a team who can be made to suffer on their day.

It was only after Arsenal beat them 3-0 that they switched to the formation which won them the league and Arsenal have now adopted that approach too. Antonio Conte has a lot more belief in the formation though and our manager is a lot more likely to switch to a flat back four if things aren't going our way. It's the players who will make up the defensive part of that formation which are causing the most concern for Arsenal ahead of the game. 

It seems Petr Cech has picked up a knock and David Ospina will play in goal which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Ospina has been our FA Cup and Champions League keeper this season, but Cech's recent form should have made him the choice for today and I can only hope he is actually injured rather than reverting to the ridiculous tactic of playing Ospina in cup games. There is a trophy to play for today and sentiment cannot play any part in the team selection. I would be very surprised if Ospina was at Arsenal next season and playing or not today would hardly be what he bases any decision to leave on.

We have our injury and suspension worries elsewhere too with Laurent Koscielny out after his rash tackle last week got him a red card and he lost his midweek appeal. Gabriel Paulista went off injured in that win against Everton too and he will play no part today either. There are concerns over both Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs too and it seems they will both have late tests before the game.

Right now it looks like our central defensive trio will be Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal and that has to be a little worrying up against the piece of scum that is Diego Costa. If Mustafi makes it we will probably see Mertesacker drop out as he has hardly kicked a ball this season through injury. If Gibbs isn't up to it then we could either see Mertesacker back in and Monreal go to left wing back or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play on that side.

There's a lot of ifs and buts there, but Chamberlain playing on that side would mean Hector Bellerin would play on the right and it would solve one selection problem for the manager. Outside of the defensive unit there aren't too many worries for the manager, but the wing backs ability to make something happen in the attacking part of the pitch is crucial and he needs to get them right. He also needs to make sure they are up to their defensive duties because Chelsea know how to utilise this formation to it's best.

The rest of the team almost picks itself with the only real headache being who plays as the central striker and I would prefer Danny Welbeck over Olivier Giroud because he offers the pace which can hurt Chelsea. Giroud has proved to be a real asset off the bench so many times this season and he might just be needed in that role today. Despite the perception that we struggle to score goals we have already managed 119 goals this season and that's more than any other season under Wenger.

I don't want Alexis Sanchez to leave this summer, but if he wants out there's little we can do to stop him. If he is to leave surely it would be fitting if he helped us to a trophy in his last game and he's the player most likely to cause Chelsea problems. I have a feeling he will get on the scoresheet today and I just hope it's the goal that makes the difference.

We're going to need the referee to be strong to keep up with the antics we know we will get from Costa and it's about time the officials actually caught up with him during a game. Granit Xhaka has to curb his urge to kick anything that goes past him and both him and Aaron Ramsey have to form a shield for what could be a makeshift defence. If everybody does their job from first minute to last we can win the game, but we will have to do just that. I'm not exactly optimistic about the game, but somehow or other I can't see Chelsea with the trophy and I just hope I'm right.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Good article sunshine. I don't agree with the remarks about AW because of the Kronke factor. Stan has no interest is our club only its assets. He is solely responsible for Usmanov not being on the board which means he cannot hand over £250mill per year to allow us to compete with the TROPHY BUYERS Chelski, City and United. Two weeks ago I believed we would win the cup because Aw had (seven years too late) adopted a George Graham tactic ie; defend properly and you don't lose !! But since then our team (as usual) has been decimated by stupidity and injury. Note ; the only reason a very ordinary Liverpool side finished above us goes back to the first game of the season ( we lost 3-4). Just look at our team that day !!! Injuries galore....says it all. I hate the thought that Chelski will buy another double, when this used to be a great achievement. Now its a purchasers wish list. I will not predict a score but the best we could do is copy AW's brilliant (all defence) against United winning on penalties ???

    1. Thanks, I can see why you might still have faith in AW, but I have lost mine and I know his possible departure could go all wrong for us. That loss against Liverpool was of course influenced by injuries, but also by starring the season unprepared with an incomplete squad. Did we sign Mustafi after that game ? I just don't see things changing until AW goes and hopefully SK too, but I'm not sure Usmanov is saviour we might need. As for today I'm hopefull, but not really optimistic.