Both Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard have an opportunity of earning silverware in their debut seasons with their beloved clubs.
Photo Copyright – Steve Haag Sports
Arsenal vs Chelsea | Saturday 1 August | Wembley Stadium | 18:30
Football purists and neutrals will be licking their lips and anxiously awaiting a high-quality football match between two London clubs that have been sleeping giants in recent seasons.
Since taking over the reins from Unai Emery last December, Arteta has proven that he is a worthy heir to Arsene Wenger and this was highlighted by his impressive masterclass against his former employers Manchester City, knocking them out in the semi-finals to reach Wembley full of belief and carrying a positive attitude that the current season could end with silverware and a Europa League berth after stabilizing the Gunners to eighth position in the league.
Chelsea have overachieved under Lampard against all odds, having been hit with a transfer ban, losing two number nines in Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain, as well as one of the most gifted players the league has ever seen in Eden Hazard. But the young English manager has been superb in consistently staying in the top four for majority of the season.
Wolves fans will be waving a blue flag on Saturday. They need Chelsea to win in order to compete in next season’s Europa League. However, Arsenal want the same thing and they are known as the kings of this competition.
Chelsea have beaten Liverpool, Leicester City and Manchester United to reach the final, but Arsenal kicked out current holders Manchester City.
To Win (90 min)
Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has thoroughly impressed in 10 consecutive games after finally getting his opportunity due to the unfortunate injury suffered by Bernd Leno. The last-minute save to keep out Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick in the Gunners’ 2-1 league win over Liverpool was nothing short of spectacular and he certainly looks like the real deal, giving Arteta a headache of whether Leno or Martinez should be his number one in the future.
Arteta has found a way to keep it solid at the back with his defence, playing as a unit despite their difficulties under previous manager Emery. William Saliba is an exciting French centre-back that models his game around Raphael Varane and has been coached by Kylian Mbappe’s father from the age of six. Saliba will only be available for selection from next season that could probably see Arteta going with a flat back-four.
The current central defenders at the club leave much to be desired and are simply not trusted. A back-three of David Luiz, Sead Kolasinac and Shkodran Mustafi have been deployed in Arsenal’s resurgence, but with German world cup winner Mustafi ruled out with a hamstring injury which he suffered against Manchester City, Rob Holding will come into the manager’s thoughts, although Kieran Tierney could start as the left-sided centre-back.
The Scottish international was excellent in that role in the semi-final as he pushed up and provided an attacking threat down the flank when called upon. Bukayo Saka and Hector Bellerin are dangerous players that could help unlock the Chelsea defence with their dribbling abilities and great crossing from the wider wing-back areas.
There’s no need to tinker with the formidable midfield partnership where Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos seem to have found the perfect foils in each other. Xhaka is strong, agile and comfortable in possession and does most of the gritty work, while Ceballos provides that something special that Spanish midfielders usually bring to the Premier League. Ceballos’ vision and ability to pick out attackers with pin-point accuracy, not to mention his incredible through balls make him the team’s biggest threat apart from hitman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Lucas Torreira and Reiss Nelson could possibly come off the bench to hopefully manage the game and get the Gunners over the finish line. Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and record-signing Nicolas Pepe are the most potent trio that could start the match, but highly-rated youngster Eddie Nketiah, from Chelsea’s academy, will also be raring to go.
After narrowly missing out on the golden boot to Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, Aubameyang will be desperate to lift the FA Cup – his first piece of silverware with the club since joining in January 2018.
Lampard will be looking to become the first English manager to guide his team to FA Cup glory since Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth in the 2007/08 competition. In 2009 as a player, Chelsea’s record-goal scorer belted a left-footed screamer from 30 yards out to clinch this cup in style against Everton.
The Blues boss made a massive decision last weekend against Wolves by replacing young Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga with veteran goalkeeper Willy Caballero. The Argentine shot-stopper started four of the Blues’ eight FA Cup games this campaign and is expected to make the starting line-up.
A back-three has been chosen for the last three matches against Manchester United, Liverpool and Wolves. Obvious improvements are needed in defence with Chelsea conceding the most league goals (54) since their 1996/97 season. Captain Cesar Azpilicueta has marshalled Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma well in central defence.
Azpilicueta is the perfect example for young right-back James to follow and learn from daily. Marcos Alonso has played as a left-wing back but also provides height at the back post when crosses are fizzed in from the right-wing and he has a powerful shot capable of beating any goalkeeper when he truly strikes the ball.
The Blues will be sweating on the fitness of N’Golo Kante who has missed the last six matches. If the World Cup winning Frenchman isn’t ready by Saturday, Jorginho could once again play the deeper-lying midfielder role alongside Mateo Kovacic, who makes the beautiful game look so simple with his quality on the ball and hardworking character. Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are likely to sit on the bench.
Lampard heaped praise on Mason Mount following the win over Wolves that secured Champions League football, saying: “He will definitely get better, because he is so young and I think sometimes when a player comes in and plays in their breakthrough year and is consistently in the team people sometimes treat them like they’re older than they are.
“He is still young. You saw his technique from the free-kick. He has a special technique; only top players can strike balls in that way.
“His all-round game for the season has been brilliant. His work ethic and training daily is brilliant. So, he will get a lot better, and he has contributed a great amount and it is just the start for Mason at Chelsea.”
Willian is a major doubt after missing out on the final day of the Premier League, but rumours have been circulating that the Brazilian winger is set to snub the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham by signing a new deal with the Blues.
Olivier Giroud has been in superb form, scoring in six of his last seven matches and will provide a huge threat in the opposition’s half, especially in aerial duels. However, Christian Pulisic will be the player to watch. The American winger’s ability to take on defenders at high pace and force them to commit fouls has been a joy to watch. Pulisic has arguably been the best Blues player since the restart of the season and the stage is set for a huge performance.
Prediction: Arsenal To Lift the Cup (12/10)
Arsenal have won the last two meetings between these sides in FA Cup finals and although Chelsea have had the upper hand in the league, Arsenal always bring out their best in this competition. I’m backing the Gunners ‘To Lift the Cup’ at 12/10 odds and claim their ticket in the Europa League next season.