Arsenal vs. Chelsea
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Kick off: 5:30PM
English football’s longest-ever campaign comes to a conclusion this evening when Arsenal and Chelsea face off at Wembley in the 139th FA Cup final.
The Gunners knocked out holders Manchester City in the semis and are seeking a record-extending 14th triumph in the competition, three years on from their most recent success.
Chelsea, beaten 2-1 by Arsenal in that year’s final, have secured a top-four finish in the Premier League and could make this an exceptional first campaign for Frank Lampard.
No two teams have had more success in the FA Cup since the turn of the century than Arsenal and Chelsea, lifting the famous trophy a combined 11 times since 2001.
The Gunners have so often relied on the oldest domestic cup competition of them all to salvage their campaign in recent times, and that is very much the case this time around.
Improvements have been made since Mikel Arteta succeeded Unai Emery in December, but results have been mixed and the Gunners finished a lowly eighth in the Premier League.
That makes 2019-20 Arsenal’s worst league season in 25 years, having also crashed out of the other two cup competitions they entered relatively early.
It all comes down to one game for the North London outfit, then, with victory on Saturday worth up to £30 million for the club given it means automatic qualification to the Europa League.
That could be the difference between keeping or selling skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the difference between retaining Dani Ceballos or being made to promote from within.
Arsenal are synonymous with the FA Cup, though, and tend to lift the trophy when they make it as far as the final.
Indeed, they have triumphed in eight of their last nine FA Cup finals, including each of the last six – only Tottenham Hotspur (seven between 1901 and 1982) have won more in a row.
The worry for Arsenal, however, is that Chelsea are equally as prolific when it comes to getting the job done – even more so, perhaps.
After seeing off Manchester United in the semis, this will be the Blues’ ninth appearance in the showpiece fixture since 1997 and they have won seven of those.
The only two defeats in that period? Both to Arsenal – in 2002 and the aforementioned meeting three years ago when Aaron Ramsey struck a late winner for the Gunners.
There is less pressure on Chelsea than their capital rivals heading into this latest tussle, it is fair to say, with the Blues enjoying a successful debut campaign under Lampard.
The club legend, in only his second campaign as a boss, has navigated a transfer ban and the exit of Eden Hazard to guide his side into fourth and back into the Champions League.
Assuming there is no upset in next week’s Champions League last-16 second leg with Bayern Munich, which they trail 3-0, this is Lampard’s only chance to win silverware this term.
In many ways, though, finishing fourth in the Premier League is deserving of a trophy in the current climate, ensuring that the Blues can push ahead with ambitious transfer plans.
The arrivals of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner will take Chelsea to another level in 2020-21, but right now it is all about overcoming Arsenal to lift a first trophy in 15 months.
That most recent piece of silverware was the 2019 Europa League, secured with victory over Saturday’s opponents in the Baku final.
Incredibly, this will therefore be the third time in the last four seasons that Arsenal will end their campaign against Chelsea.
The sides have had a mixed time of things in those previous two finals. Now another chapter is set to be written in a battle between two managerial rookies.
Arsenal possible XI: Martinez, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Chelsea possible XI: Caballero, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, Alonso, Jorginho, Kovacic, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic, Giroud.