The UK will bask in searing temperatures this weekend and it looks like we’ve got a proper FA Cup final on our hands. With proper f**king weather. Some of the greatest Wembley showpieces down the years have been played in brilliant sunshine. Who could forget Coventry v Tottenham in 1987? The pulsating Merseyside derby two years later was played out against a backdrop of sunshine, as was that cracker between Liverpool and West Ham a decade or so ago. Yes folks, Cup finals and blazing sunshine make happy bedfellows and this weekend’s offering between Arsenal and Chelsea has the potential to sizzle.
The mood in the respective camps could not be more contrasting either. For while Arsenal lick their wounds after failing to nail down a Champions League place for the first time in over two decades, Chelsea are eyeing a historic double.
It was a meeting between these teams back in September that essentially shaped Chelsea’s season. They were blitzed 3-0 that fateful afternoon at the Emirates, prompting Antonio Conte to move to a 3-4-3 formation and the subsequent consequences for their rivals were quite devastating: 38 games played; 30 wins recorded; 93 points garnered. They’ve been head and shoulders above everyone else domestically this season and quotes of 5/6 to win here look tastier than Conte’s brilliantly coiffured barnet.
The Blues have won eight of their last 11 matches against the Gunners, and it’s worth remembering they’ve not lost any of their last four FA Cup finals (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012). When the teams met in February, Chelsea looked imperious as they won 3-1 at the Bridge. Even the team news this weekend reeks of Chelsea win. The Blues are at full strength while Arsenal will be without influential skipper Laurent Koscielny through suspension. Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi might not feature either so Wenger’s men could be seriously exposed at the back.
It’s not that Arsenal don’t have the pedigree when it comes to the world’s oldest knockout competition. This will be their twentieth FA Cup final appearance (a record), and Wenger is looking to land what would be his third FA Cup in four seasons on Saturday.
Conte claimed the LMA Manager of the Year award this week and winning the coveted double in his first season in English football really would be the cherry on the cake. It has been quite incredible how he has managed to get such a tune out of players such as Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, while also reigniting the fire inside the belly of men like Diego Costa. Perhaps the biggest compliment paid by anyone to Conte this season was from Wenger when he moved to three at the back in the dying embers of the season as he tried, in vain, to pull a top-four finish out of the fire.
The only criticism of Conte is the fact he’s on record claiming Arsenal are favourites this weekend. That would be the same Arsenal who finished a full 18 points behind the Blues this season. The ‘Arsenal are favourites’ spiel is pure crazy talk of course. I fancy Chelsea to win this and win well so would not put anyone off backing them to win by more than a goal at better than 2/1. A stat that cannot be ignored is that during the last 20 FA Cup finals played, the team that finished higher in the league has lifted the trophy on 17 occasions.
One man who could be worth backing to shine on the lush Wembley pastures is Eden Hazard. The Belgian pocket rocket has been a player reborn under Conte, bagging 17 goals and numerous assists as Chelsea’s premier tormentor-in-chief this term. This looks just the stage for Hazard – a 9/2 chance to be Man of the Match – to shine. And given that Arsenal look like being down to the bare bones defensively, that looks a fair shout.
Degsy’s top tips
Chelsea (-1) to win at 11/5 (Paddy Power)
Chelsea/Chelsea Half-Time/Full-Time at 2/1 (Paddy Power)
Hazard to be Man of the Match at 9/2 (Ladbrokes)
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