The London rivals will meet this evening in the FA Cup final, with Chelsea hoping to win a second league and cup double since 2010 and Arsenal determined to make up for missing out on the Champions League with a season-ending trophy at Wembley.
“It has been a great season,” Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said. “To be a fantastic season we have to win the FA Cup.”
Chelsea are making their seventh FA Cup final appearance since 2000 and are favoured to clinch the trophy for the eighth time. But a win for Arsenal would set a record for the club and manager Arsene Wenger, with the Gunners having lifted the silverware 12 times, the same as Manchester United. Wenger has been at the helm for six of those triumphs and one more would see the Frenchman on his own with seven wins, surpassing the six won by Aston Villa manager George Ramsay between 1887 and 1920.
It could also be Wenger’s farewell. He is expected to announce soon whether he will stay on for next season.
Wenger has faced criticism after a Premier League season in which the team finished outside the top four for the first time in 20 years. But, in keeping with brushing off questions about his future, the 67-year-old said his only focus was this evening’s final.
“What I want is to win the next game,” Wenger said. “I love to win and I want to do well for my club. I want to win the cup for my club and that’s all I care about. It’s not about me, it’s about us winning the trophy and giving absolutely everything to achieve it.”
Arsenal’s defensive crisis has given Wenger a major selection headache. The absence of suspended centre-half Laurent Koscielny is a huge blow. Gabriel is injured and Shkodran Mustafi is a doubt.
Wenger is likely to use 21-year-old Rob Holding, who has made a good impression in his first season since signing from Bolton last year.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable and unpredictable, and we have been hit hard in a position where we will need to be strong on Saturday,” Wenger said. “We’ll have to find solutions and hopefully I will find the good solutions.”
Everything looked rosy for Arsenal when they routed Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates back in September, during a run of nine wins from 11 matches in all competitions.
Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil scored first-half goals. The way Arsenal tormented Chelsea’s backline that day prompted Conte to make a season-defining tactical defensive switch, adjusting to three at the back in a move that proved to be the catalyst for their title challenge. When the sides met again at Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea outplayed Arsenal to win 3-1, with goals from Marcus Alonso, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas before the visitors netted a late consolation.
Even if the game proves not to be Wenger’s last at Arsenal, it will certainly be John Terry’s farewell to Chelsea, with the 36-year-old leaving this summer after 19 years at the club. He enjoyed an emotional swansong in his final home game last weekend, playing 26 minutes before being substituted in a contrived exit – 26 is his shirt number.
Terry experienced his first FA Cup final as an unused substitute in Chelsea’s win over Aston Villa in 2000. He has since won the trophy four times – 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012. “Our target, our aim, is to reach another trophy and to see him lift this trophy,” Conte said. “I have this dream. Also, my players have this dream.”