27 May 2017

Injuries mount. Anthony Taylor to preside. What could go wrong?

Cazorla's still out. That's nothing new. Gabriel joins him, also injured. Koscielny's banned. Also sidelined? Maybe Mustafi and Gibbs. At this rate, we'll have no one left to play in the defense regardless of whether we play a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-3. Pity that Chambers is cup-tied. At Chelsea's end, of course, they're hale and healthy and have all but coasted across the finish line the Prem. Sure, there have been some hiccups here and there, but does anyone seriously doubt that they'll do the double, adding the FA Cup to that Prem title?

For as much as it's been kisses and cups at Chelsea, it feels like it's been nothing but brick-bats and handbags at Arsenal. We've suffered our worst finish in a generation, finishing below Tottenham and outside th top four for the first time in living memory, and we'll now have to grit our teeth and compete in the Europa League. In the short term, then, the FA Cup final is our last chance at resurrecting some semblance of salvation from an otherwise sullen season.

Mounting injury-woes hardly help. As was already mentioned, we risk going into the final without not only Koscielny, courtesy of our having our appeal of his red-card against Everton rejected, but also without Gabriel and perhaps Mustafi and Gibbs. Would a backline of Holding, Monreal, and Bellerín be enough to stave off a Chelsea attack that has scored nine goals in its previous two matches (albeit against Sunderland and Watford)? Let's hope.

Chelsea have not suffered any malaise of late despite having won the Prem title some weeks ago. Even if they have been a bit careless of late—they've conceded more than one goal just thirteen times all season but thrice in the last month—they have been able to ease their way through the end of the Prem season and the last few rounds of the FA Cup. Whether this suggests that they've lost their competitive fire is an open question, and one well-worth asking.

Part of the answer to that question lies, of course, in our own motivations. We've not looked half-bad since losing at White Hart Lane a few weeks ago. Even if one rightly attaches an asterisk to our win over Man U, we've comfortably taken care of business elsewhere and have even managed to look vey good on two separate occasions against Man City—even as Guardiola desperately sought to stave off his first-ever season without silverware.

In other words, we have shown that we can rise to the occasion. In recent seasons, we have staked our claim on the FA Cup, having won it in 2014 and 2015. There may be little else to claim in this campagain, but, dammit, we can still claim this. Conte deserves credit for having steered Chelsea to the top of the Prem, but I don't think he fully gets what this cup is all about. Sure, Serie A has its Coppa Italia, to be sure, but not even that can compete with the magic of the FA Cup. Without making too much of it, Arsène has won this competition more times than any other manager in the modern era (and the only one to match him was Aston Villa's George Ramsay, who won his last in 1920).

This isn't about managers, though. It's about pride, tradition, pageantry. I'm not sure that those at Chelsea's end get that. It remains to be seen whether they at their end can summon the same passion, the same urgency, that is necessary to win this one.


LAST 3
Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal (04.02.2017)
Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea (24.09.2016)
Arsenal 0-1 Chelseae (24.01.2016)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have faced Chelsea 19 times in the FA Cup, winning eight times.
John Terry has scored two own-goals for Arsenal in the FA Cup. Just sayin'.
Saturday marks Arsenal's 20th FA Cup final appearance—a competition record.

INJURIES
Koscielny is banned; Cazorla and Gabriel are ruled out, and Mustafi, Gibbs, and Oxlade-Chamberlain face late fitness tests.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Holding, Monreal, Bellerín; Gibbs, Ramsey, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Alexis, Özil, Giroud.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea,