Arsenal vs Chelsea Preview: Two London sides battle for FA Cup crown

Arsenal vs Chelsea Preview: Two London sides battle for FA Cup crown

The English domestic season comes to an end this weekend as Arsenal and Chelsea face off in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Matt Dawson

The curtain will be drawn on the 2016/17 domestic season this weekend with Arsenal and Chelsea contesting the final of the FA Cup, after what has been two very different campaign's for both teams. 

For the Gunners they are aiming to salvage something from a year which has been difficult both on and off the pitch, whilst Chelsea are hoping for a league and cup double after their impressive Premier League title win. 

Tough season to end with Wenger record?

Arsene Wenger's season has possibly been his toughest yet in his long spell at Arsenal. The amount of fan unrest has been toxic, and that alongside his indecision over his future, has proved hugely damaging to the club. However whilst they fell away in the league as they so often have, they have reached another FA Cup final, one where a record could be achieved for Wenger. 

The Arsenal boss has won six FA Cup trophies, the joint most of any manager, a total he shares with George Ramsey. If he were to win this weekend then he'd be the outright best manager in the history of the competition. This match could well be his last at Arsenal, and if there was ever a time for Wenger to bow out it would be with that record. It is becoming increasing likely that he will stay beyond this season though.

Arsenal's Premier League campaign culminated with a 3-1 win over Everton, but that wasn't enough to secure them Champions League football as they had to settle for the Europa League. The Gunners improved on their points tally from last season but it was an extremely poor league season, one which could have lasting consequences for the club.

A seventh FA Cup triumph for Wenger though would perhaps offer a salvage point, as the team look to move forward from a year which for the most part, they will be keen to forget. 

Chelsea aiming for more silverware

For Antonio Conte's title winning side, lifting the FA Cup would just be the icing on top of the cake as they aim to do the double. It was a game with Arsenal all the way back in September when the Gunners won 3-0 that prompted a change of formation for Chelsea, and ultimately a change in fortunes as well.

Since that defeat at the Emirates the Blues have been absolutely formidable, and go into this FA Cup final as large favourites. 

Conte's decision to play with three centre-backs and two wing-backs has worked tremendously well and ultimately paved the way for their league success. Arsenal have since also reverted to the same system and experienced much better results too. 

If Chelsea were to lift the cup this weekend then it would be their eighth FA Cup final victory and their first since 2012 when they beat Liverpool. It would be the perfect end to the season if they were to do so, and would outline just how well Conte has done in his first season in English football. Chelsea had a torrid 2015/16 season but they are well and truly back in business now. 

The story so far

Arsenal's road to the FA Cup final has been more straight forward than Chelsea's, with the Gunners having two memorable games against non-league opposition on their route through the competition. Although the Blues also faced lower league teams, they weren't against sides as low down as Sutton United and Lincoln City. 

The Gunners started their FA Cup journey with a 2-1 win over Preston, as they came from behind thanks to a goal from Aaron Ramsey and a very late strike from Olivier Giroud to prevent it from going to a replay. A few weeks later they brushed aside Southampton 5-0, as Theo Walcott grabbed a hat-trick, before they faced the two non-league sides in round five and six. 

Lucas Perez and Walcott ensured they beat Sutton 2-0 on a plastic pitch at Gander Green Lane, before another 5-0 win was achieved over Lincoln at the Emirates. The semi-final however presented Arsenal with much tougher opposition as they faced Manchester City at Wembley. The Gunners eventually ran out 2-1 winners with Alexis Sanchez scoring in extra time. 

As for Chelsea they started their FA Cup run with a 4-1 victory over Peterborough, as Pedro scored twice with Michy Batshuayi and Willian also on hand. They then put another four past Brentford in the fourth round beating Wolves 2-0 in round five.

A goal from N'Golo Kante was then enough to secure a 1-0 win over Manchester United in the quarter-finals as they marched on Wembley for a semi-final encounter against Spurs. That game arguably saw the best of this year's competition as Chelsea overcame their London rivals 4-2. 

Team news

Arsenal come into this game with a huge defensive problem. Laurent Koscielny is suspended following his red card tackle on Enner Valencia last weekend, whilst Gabriel is out injured after being stretchered off in the same game. There are meanwhile doubts over Shkodran Mustafi's fitness too.

If Mustafi is to miss the game then it is likely that Per Mertesacker will come in for his first start of the entire campaign. He came off the bench against Everton in what was his first minutes of the season.

With their defensive issues in mind, the question will be whether Arsenal play with three centre-backs. If that were the case then Mertesacker would probably start alongside Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal

The good news for Arsenal is that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is fit again, whilst Sanchez should be able to start despite going off early last weekend. 

Chelsea have a fully fit squad with Ruben Loftus-Cheek the only real doubt having missed the last two weeks with a back problem.

Their team will therefore have a familiar look to it, but there could be a selection dilemma in midfield. Cesc Fabregas has been excellent at the back end of the campaign and will be raring to go against his former side, but Nemanja Matic, who scored in the semi-final may be preferred.