Traditionally, the FA Cup final has provided an exciting denouement to the English football season. This year, the mood is more somber with England still coming to grips with the tragic Manchester terror attack.
FA Cup finalists Chelsea FC, who have been crowned champions of England, have cancelled their Premier League title celebrations in light of this devastating event. Manchester United who won the Europa League this week dedicated their trophy to the victims of their club’s city. Arsenal, who meet Chelsea in the FA Cup final, have decided that regardless of which team wins in the final there will be no victory parade. Likewise, many clubs in England and around world have expressed their solidarity and support.
The entire football fraternity in England, Europe and the world stands united in its fight against such acts. In the light of these events, we at Eventraveler offer are deepest condolences to the families of the victims who lost their lives in Manchester. It is important to emphasize the significance of football as a global event, a universal cultural enterprise and a binding force in such circumstances. History suggests that people have always found ways of lifting themselves up in the face of grave and heart wrenching events through football. Football, in the lives of its fans, has always remained a symbol of hope, courage and unity; three things that are quintessential in the modern times, as many would have it.
This year’s finalists and London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea will approach the FA Cup final on May 27th with a lot more responsibility. The two teams will know that it is on their shoulders now to lift the spirits of the English people. Arsenal go into this game after a tragic yet expected finish outside of the top 4; this has not happened in the 21 years Arsene Wenger has been in charge at the club. In fact Arsenal are the only team in the Premier League top-6 who will not be participating in the next Champions League.
Many interpret this as an end of the Wenger years, irrespective of whether Arsenal wins this game. Antonio Conte has termed Arsenal favorites for this year’s FA cup, without really elaborating his claim. Arsene Wenger, on the other hand has said that the Blues are the frontrunners. Whether winning the FA cup compensates missing out on Champions League is debatable; however losing the FA Cup final would certainly not end the year well for the Gunners.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has the luxury to choose a starting 11 from a fully fit squad. However, this could prove to be mind-boggling for the Italian considering these decisions could influence the future of the players. Ex-Arsenal hero Cesc Fabregas who has been in tremendous form is likely to start alongside N’golo Kante. However, Pedro and Willian might have to compete for a place on the wings. Belgian striker Mitchy Batshuyai, who has not made much of an impression at Stamford Bridge since his arrival, is also likely to play in this game. Finally we could also see some action from Chelsea wonder kid Nathaniel Chalobah.
Things aren’t as bright on the squad front for Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal team has been hit heavily by injuries to a number of defenders. Gabriel is out with an injury, while this season’s acting captain Laurent Koscielny is serving a suspension after receiving a red card against Everton. Skhodran Mustafi is also likely to miss this match with Kieran Gibbs not yet match fit with a thigh problem. If Mustafi is unable to play then Wenger will have no option but to call club captain Per Mertesacker, who made his first appearance this term only in the last game. It has been a while since he has played a full 90 minutes in one game. This also means that all eyes will be on Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal, the two defenders who are certain to feature for this game in Arsenal’s back three.
Up front, things are a little brighter. Aaron Ramsey has recently found some form while Alexis Sanchez has been declared match fit. There is still no news of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain who has consistently been a fan favorite and a definite starter in Arsenal’s new formation. Finally, as per news on the Internet, Petr Cech is expected to retain his place ahead of David Ospina.
If the two teams are to be compared on form it is Chelsea who are favorites to win. Arsenal would have to show real grit and strength if they are to lift the FA Cup trophy for the third time in four years.
What to expect:
A physical and fast first half:
While the two teams are expected to stick with three defenders at the back, both sides have pacey wingers and strikers. Both teams will be looking to score an early goal so as to exhaust their opponents for a majority of the game. At least in the Arsenal scheme of things, this might be the best way to go about it. For if Chelsea score first, it would be impossible for Arsenal to come back from behind (for reasons that are technical and Conte will play to his team’s strengths, but more so because Arsenal’s spirits are not very high at the moment, and the slightest damage could affect the team’s confidence).
Lots of fouls:
Granit Xhaka has had more red cards in his one year at Arsenal than many premier league players have had in six or seven. While the Swiss international is a likely starter in this game, the fans would be hoping that he keeps calm and doesn’t go overboard with his challenges. Nevertheless, provided that we can expect a fast game there are bound to be several enforced errors from both sides, which typically result in referees pulling out their reds and yellows.
Man to man marking:
Another thing that could happen (based on how the two teams have played in the league this season), is that they would mark their opponents man to man off the ball. This means that the two wing backs would play high up, and the three midfielders in the middle of the park would have to stick to their targets; especially Arsenal for N’golo Kante, is pretty much like a mouse cursor; who moves from space to space like it’s nobody’s business.
Expect an FA Cup final about to commence in very unusual circumstances. If Chelsea win, Antonio Conte would have earned the status of England’s elite managers; one of the only few to lift the double. If Arsenal wins, the two teams would meet again in the Community Shield next season! How exciting is that?