The minutes until kickoff continue to count down as I write this. Just under 2 hours until kickoff, an hour until the lineups are released, and oddly my nerves about the day aren’t bouncing the way they often do on the day of a final. Maybe it is the effects this season has had on me and unlike past seasons that have ended with an FA Cup final, this feels like an extension of the Premier League, which went quite poorly for Arsenal.
That’s not to say I have a negative mindset about the match. I have high hopes and a bit of confidence that Arsenal will claim victory on the day to hoist the cup. But seeing them do that would be a surprise bonus given the context of a season that has been one to forget. It’s simply how I feel, despite knowing a poor season in the league doesn’t disqualify a team from winning a cup and Arsenal have played well when it comes to this event.
Arsenal’s campaign in the FA Cup has seen them beat Leeds United who were just promoted to the Premier League for next year after a great year, Bournemouth who were relegated but capable of competing with PL teams, Portsmouth, Sheffield United who had a splendid first campaign in the first division and who Arsenal hadn’t beaten before the FA Cup, and Manchester City, a win that is one of the few jewels in Arsenal’s season. All that to say, it has hardly been a socially distant, stroll through the park.
With all that said, today is a big day with a lot on the line. It offers the Gunners a lifeline to some form of salvation before the short, month-and-a-half off break before next season begins. Win today and qualify for Europe, gain some leniency to spend, and give Mikel Arteta a major step in his young managerial career with a trophy to end his first half-season. He has done a very decent job turning around Arsenal’s season, correcting the wayward path, and earned the ability to compete today.
It won’t come easy with a Chelsea side standing in their way that finished fourth, 10 points above Arsenal, and have a manager in Frank Lampard that also would love to pick up an FA Cup trophy. Both matches between these teams this season were a struggle for Arsenal. They played well in the first match, they conceded two late goals to lose 2-1. In the second, Arsenal pulled off a spectacular draw but saw David Luiz receive a red card in the 26th minute in an attempt to make up for a massive error from Mustafi.
Neither early red cards nor late concessions are possible with Arteta and co. want to win and make up for Arsenal’s falter in Baku just one season ago.
Keys to the match and predicted lineup
After switching a few things up in the final match of the league season versus Watford, Arsenal are expected to return to the 3-4-3 formation they adopted late in the year. It sees them play with three at the back, two wingbacks to help the defense while funneling the attack down the wings, and three up top to hustle things down and finish efficiently with the chances created.
With that in mind, I would imagine the lineup is pretty straight forward, but there are a few variations we could see.
Arsenal XI: Martinez, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Pepe, Laca, Aubameyang
One spot to keep an eye on is that left wingback role occupied by Saka in my lineup. There is a chance that Ainsley Maitland-Niles is given that role in an effort to pair with Tierney and harass Chelsea’s wings. Maitland-Niles could also get the call to the right wingback role to work with Rob Holding to shut down Christian Pulisic.
My defensive keys to the game for Arsenal:
- Deny space to the wingers and show them inside
- Harry and harass the wing’s service to help in the battle against Giroud
- Clamp down on Jorginho and maybe Kovacic’s access to the ball in the MF
- Limit Set Pieces (Arsenal rule of thumb)
A few attacking keys to the game for Arsenal
- Work shots early and often that force the GK to make saves
- Get after Azpilicuta if Chelsea are in a 4-3-3 or Alonso in a 3-4-3 with Pepe
- Having success in the right should mean Chelsea can’t sit defending our prolific left side of Kieran Tiereney, Aubameyang, and Saka or Maitland-Niles
- Dani Ceballos has to take risks and offer Arsenal creative, well-timed, vertical passing
I expect it to be a cagey game early on with neither manager willing to offer the other an easy ability to find open space and then open up a bit as the game goes one. The more Arsenal can do to prevent this from becoming an open track meet, the more their defensive rigidity in this formation will work to their favor.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-0
Today is the day! Bring home number 14, give Arsenal fans something to hold onto from this terrible season, and allow it all to not have been for nought. Make up for Baku, give Arteta a trophy, and give him a fighting chance at being backed by the board in the transfer window. A win could see us resign Aubameyang, as well as, leverage it as a bargaining chip in other negotiations.
It’s a huge day with a lot of side implications that all demand a win. For the last time in this dreadful season – Come. On. You. Gunners!