The last team to win a Premier League and FA Cup double was Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea in 2009-10. Antonio Conte would want us to believe that if his team achieve the double by winning the FA Cup final on Saturday, it would be a different kind of double. He believes that this Chelsea team, that has so dominated the league campaign and won last seven fixtures in all competitions, are a team in transition unlike the finished product that Ancelotti was managing seven years back. It is quite ominous, if what he believes is true. If this is transition, what would the finished team look and perform like? Standing in the way of his team achieving the double is Arsenal, who have won the cup twice in last three years, albeit while facing relegation threatened or relegated teams in both the finals.
Conte’s Chelsea face Arsenal for whom, the FA Cup presents the last glimmer of hope in a disappointing league season, which saw them finish outside the top four for the first time after 20 years. Like always, they had a late rally in the league campaign and won the last five matches but they still could not make it to the top four. Arsene Wenger adopted a three-man defence to overcome his team’s defensive problems and the change paid off but in the final he faces a selection dilemma as he might not have enough fit or eligible central defenders to play on Saturday. The other sword hanging on his head is one wielded by the angry supporters of Gunners who think that making a change of manager might improve their team’s performance in the Premier and Champions Leagues. It is now public knowledge that Wenger’s future will be decided after the final and that means that how his depleted team performs on Saturday will have a say in his future at Emirates. Talk about pressure.
Chelsea face no such pressure. They have won the league at a canter and they easily brushed off all the opposition on their road to Wembley. Even the only team that looked like challenging them – Tottenham were easily dealt with in the semifinal. Conte does not have any major selection conundrums and the only pressure Chelsea are under is that of the favourites tag. That, and the pressure on Conte to match the feat of Ancelotti’s side from seven years back.
Arsenal are in a defensive crisis of sorts. Lauent Koscielny got himself suspended for the final by earning a straight red card against Everton last Sunday. Gabriel Paulista remains sidelined with an injury and Shkodran Mustafi is also a doubt with a suspected concussion. Per Mertesacker should be available but he has too few minutes under his belt this season. The injury worries for Wenger are not limited to the defence as his wingers Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain are both to be assessed at the time of kickoff to decide if they should start or not.
Antonio Conte has been blessed with a squad that has largely remained injury free and this last match of the season is no exception. Only Ruben Loftus-Cheek is ruled out with a back injury. Other than this lone omission, everyone else is available. Blues might not make too many changes in the XI that started against Sunderland on Sunday, other than Cahill replacing Terry. Fabregas will hope to continue to partner Kante in the midfield.
- A run of five consecutive wins at the end of the season wasn’t enough for Arsenal to secure a top-4 finish and they will hope to end a disappointing season on a high note.
- Having reached their third final in the last four years, the Gunners are experienced enough to know of the demands that come with playing at Wembley in this fixture.
- Gunners are fighting for their 13th FA Cup title, while the Blues are fighting for their eighth.
- Chelsea have won their last seven competitive fixtures and the title winners will be brimming with confidence coming into Saturday’s final. They have won three of the last four meetings between these two sides, with the sole defeat coming at the Emirates back in September that prompted Antonio Conte to revert to a back three..
Arsene Wenger’s options are so severely limited in defence that the only hope for Arsenal is to overcome Chelsea’s defence early on and then do it successfully repeatedly. While Wenger has a quite able attack at his disposal, nobody else in that attack poses the level of threat that Alexis Sanchez does. The Chilean can make runs to pull defenders away and create space for his team members. He is also capable of scoring a few goals or providing a handful of assists himself. He has already scored 29 and assisted 19 goals this season in 50 appearances in all competitions. His record against Chelsea is not really great as he only has a goal and an assist in eight appearances against the Blues. But he is the primary threat and possesses the pace to trouble Chelsea’s defence.
Diego Costa may be playing his last game for Chelsea before he goes to more lucrative shores but he would want to make his farewell memorable. He has had a fairly good season himself, scoring 21 goals and assisting 8 in 39 appearances for the Blues across all competitions. This is a good return considering the fact that he kept himself out of disciplinary trouble throughout this season. His and Chelsea’s style of play should allow him to dominate Arsenal’s makeshift central defence on Saturday. He has scored twice against the Gunners in 5 appearances thus far and will be keen to add to his tally.
It was Arsenal that dealt Chelsea their heaviest defeat of the league campaign. That defeat led Conte to change his tactics and the Blues have not looked back since then. It is tempting to think that Arsenal have it in them to come up with a fiery performance in the final and that Wenger will continue at Emirates because of it. But the fact is that Chelsea have too much quality in that team and are playing a tactic that they have perfected throughout the season. They should win the final without too much difficulty.
Arsenal 1 – 2 Chelsea