FA Cup Final Preview: Arsenal v Chelsea — The Big Questions
How will they line up?
The managers of Chelsea (currently 1.825 to win the FA Cup Final in 90 mins with MustardBet) and Arsenal (currently 4.614) have had wildly differing seasons; Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has been lauded whereas his counterpart Arsene Wenger has been largely derided, including from sections of his own fans.
It is easy to forget that in September the general feeling on the respective managers was very different. Wenger had just led his Arsenal side to an emphatic 3–0 win against a lacklustre Chelsea, leaving the Blues languishing in 8th place, sandwiched between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion.
Ironically, the heavy defeat was the turning point of Chelsea’s season. Conte tinkered with the formation in the second half of that match, changing from a 4–1–4–1 to the 3–4–3 setup which he had successfully adapted at Juventus and with the Italian national side. Marcos Alonso, signed from Fiorentina in the summer amidst scepticism, slotted in at left wing back, while the much-travelled Victor Moses filled in on the opposite flank.
The results of Conte’s tactical changes were astonishing. Chelsea won thirteen Premier League matches in a row after the nadir of the performance at the Emirates and never looked back, winning the Premier League title comfortably.
Alonso and Moses have been a revelation, diligently patrolling their flanks whilst adding attacking impetus and David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta have acclimatised to their new roles in a back three with admirable ease. Nemanja Matic and particularly N’Golo Kante provide a shield for the backline, leaving a rejuvenated front three of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa to wreak havoc.
The contrast with Arsene Wenger couldn’t be more stark. Despite winning their last five Premier League games, Arsenal missed out on the Champions League spots for the first time in 20 years. Where Chelsea have created stability, Arsenal have dealt with uncertainty. They have not found a settled line-up or formation for any sustained period of the season and questions over the manager’s future continue to linger.
It is often said that “imitation is the greatest form of flattery”. Conte’s formation has been adopted by several teams in the Premier League, with varying forms of success. Everton were hammered 5–0 at Stamford Bridge after trying to match the Chelsea formation, suggesting that Conte’s ‘Eureka moment’ was more realistically months in the making. Notably, Arsene Wenger has shown that a leopard can indeed change its spots by implementing the formation himself in recent weeks, and is expected to line-up for this weekend’s FA Cup Final in similar fashion.
Where are the crucial player battles?
Arsenal will be hit by defensive absences; Laurent Koscielny is suspended after a frankly ludicrous challenge on Everton’s Enner Valencia last week and Gabriel is out after picking up an injury in the same game. Chelsea have had the luxury of resting up for this match by letting players like John Terry have a run-out.
Arsenal are expected to line up with a back three of Mustafi, Monreal and the inexperienced Rob Holding. Holding will need to be assisted by Hector Bellerin in front of him otherwise he could be in for a torrid game. Chelsea will have pinpointed the area of the pitch as one to exploit, particularly given Hazard and Alonso’s recent form.
Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey are expected to line up in central midfield, and they will have a monumental task ahead of them if they are to overcome the formidable pairing of Matic and Kante, whilst also dealing with the rapidly interchanging Chelsea front three.
Indeed, wherever you look, the individual match-ups do not look good for Arsenal. There is potential for the midfield to be overrun, the wing-backs to be exploited and the front-line to be rendered toothless.
It is hard to see where Arsenal can hurt their London rivals and Chelsea will be full of confidence going into the match, Chelsea -0.75 is currently 2.096 with MustardBet and certainly appeals.
What sort of game can we expect?
Cup finals tend to be notoriously cagey affairs, and the trend is no different in recent FA Cup finals. Just 7 of the last 22 have had more than 2 goals in 90 mins (under 32%), with only one of those finals having had more than 4 goals (less than 5%).
Arsenal will be wary of committing men forward, particularly given Chelsea’s speed and prowess on the counter attack, so there is a strong possibility we are in for another tight final — Under 2.5 goals is currently 2.269 with MustardBet.
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