It seems like an eternity ago that Chelsea brought the curtain down on their Premier League title-winning campaign with victory against Sunderland, and with lots happening in the world since then – including the horrific events in Manchester – it’s no surprise that football has taken a bit of a backseat.
Perspective alters everything in the aftermath of an atrocity like the Manchester Arena bombing, and we remember that football is just a game played by multi-millionaires kicking a leather bag of wind around for an hour and a half.
But football can be redemptive too, and as Manchester United lifted the Europa League trophy on Wednesday night you hope that somebody, somewhere in the city found some solace amidst the darkness.
The sight of Antonio Conte hoisting another trophy aloft would be a fitting conclusion to a brilliant campaign masterminded by the Italian, and he’ll have the perfect opportunity in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on Saturday. Without the switch to the 3-4-3 system, you do wonder where the Blues would be languishing right now.
It was a formation that proved too hot for Sunderland to handle anyway, despite the Black Cats taking a third minute lead through Javier Manquillo. Willian equalised shortly afterwards, Eden Hazard and Pedro edged us in front and a late brace from Michy Batshuayi added some gloss to the scoreline.
So now the campaign boils down to one final 90 minute stretch against the Gunners. They will be high in confidence after ending the campaign with a flourish, but with injuries to key defenders – Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel are definitely out, Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs likely to follow suit – clearly there is a huge opportunity here for the Blues.
What a treat it would be to see John Terry lift another trophy in his final game in a blue shirt.
Chelsea Team NewsThere can be nothing better for a manager than heading into a cup final with no injury worries. While Arsene Wenger scrabbles around to find defensive personnel – he’s had to call up untested Marcus McGuane to his first team squad – Conte can sit back and relax: his side picks itself.
So it will be his usual favoured eleven that takes to the field, and while we can expect a late cameo from John Terry – particularly if Chelsea hold a comfortable lead – there will surely be no surprises from the gaffer.
Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to HeadThese two teams have met more than 180 times in the past in a rivalry that dates back to the early 1900s, and the proximity between them is confirmed by the slender head-to-head lead that Arsenal hold of 73 wins to 62.
But there has been a general shift in momentum in the Blues’ favour in the past few years. They have gone W6 D2 L2 against Arsenal in their most recent meetings, winning three of their last four.
We have won each of the last three cup ties too, and let’s not forget we’ve gone on to lift the trophy in each of our last four FA Cup finals!
How the Match Will Be WonIt could well be the case that Arsenal line up with Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker in defence. Now, that pairing offers plenty of physical presence but neither is the quickest off the mark. To combat that the Gunners might play with a deep defensive line, but that will offer Chelsea plenty of room to exploit in front of them. It’s a double-edged sword for Arsene Wenger.
Finding the net hasn’t been a problem for this Chelsea outfit anyway, so there’s no doubting our firepower to win this game.
Defensively, clearly the biggest threat will be Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean has had another fine campaign and will lead the line for the Gunners, and cutting off his supply line will be key.
Fortunately, Mesut Ozil has been at this inconsistent best/worst this term so he may not pose any problems, while willing support runner Danny Welbeck is also struggling with injury.
Cup finals are generally even affairs on paper heading into the contest, and yet all of the aces are surely in Antonio Conte’s deck for this one. Yes, Arsenal have a fine record in FA Cup finals, but they have simply been struck with the dreaded injury curse at the worst possible time.
Chelsea, confidence flowing freely, have passed every gut check on their way to the Premier League title, and there’s no reason to suggest they are going to fail this last one of the campaign.