FA Cup final preview: Arsenal vs Chelsea: Can the Gunners repeat history?

Just over three years ago, Arsenal played in an FA Cup final against the Premier League champions Chelsea. Having finished outside the top four for the first time in 21 years, and with key defenders injured meaning captain Per Mertesacker would be drafted in for his first appearance of the season, the Gunners came into the game as massive underdogs.

However, what followed was an example of belief, togetherness and confidence, something that had been lacking throughout the season. Goals from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey saw Arsenal pull off a victory against all odds, whilst Per Mertesacker played one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt, despite it being his final match before retirement.

Tomorrow, Arsenal face Chelsea again, in another FA Cup final, as the red side of London look to beat the blue and win their 14th FA Cup in their history, with the Gunners already holding the record for the most FA Cup triumphs. A win would also be huge for Arteta’s side, not only putting them in the Europa League group stages, but giving the club some much needed income.

Arsenal finished this season in 8th, making it their worst league finish since 1995, whilst Chelsea grabbed a top four spot on the final day after beating Wolves 2-0. The Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has faced five managers twice during his reign as Arsenal coach, including Pep Guardiola, however Frank Lampard is the only one who he has failed to beat.

Many factors are pointing towards an Arsenal loss at Wembley, yet some fans remain optimistic and believe a win is possible, despite being underdogs. So can the Gunners pull off another inspirational performance like they did in 2017 and give Mikel Arteta his first trophy as manager in professional football? Here’s why I think his side have a chance.

They’ve defied the odds before

Arsenal players celebrating their opening goal against Manchester City in the 2020 FA Cup semi-final . All rights reserved by Yahoo Sport.

During Mikel Arteta’s eight month spell at the club, Arsenal have continued to prove the critics wrong when they’ve been deemed the underdogs, so much so that it almost seems they perform better when they aren’t expected to win.

Victories away to Wolves and Sheffield United and at home against Manchester United and Liverpool showed Arsenal have a new found resilience in defence and that they are able to ‘win ugly’.

However, the best example of this was the Gunners’ 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final, where they restricted the Citizens to just one shot on target. It was a demonstration of a team that knew exactly what they needed to do in both defence and attack, and incredibly, they could’ve easily scored one or two more. If Arsenal replicate this performance, I don’t see any other result apart from a win for Mikel Arteta’s side.

Arsenal’s three-at-the-back formation

Hector Bellerin with fellow defender Kieran Tierney after they played together in the Europa League for Arsenal this season. All rights reserved by the Telegraph.

In my opinion, I think Arteta will, and should, go with a three-at-the-back formation, given how well it has worked for him when he has used it. When Arsenal played with four men in defence, they tended to concede a lot more chances compared to when they had an extra man back supporting, and it is also a very useful formation for counter-attacking football. 

As demonstrated against teams such as Tottenham and Aston Villa, playing three in defence is not good against a team that sits back and attacks on the counter, however Chelsea are the opposite. They’re a team that likes to attack and put the opponent under pressure, so I would be surprised if Arteta chooses to play with a back four, unless Chelsea decide to be a lot more conservative in their approach.

Frank Lampard’s men have been playing with three in defence too which, like Arsenal, becomes a five when defending. Arteta has done well overall when using this formation against teams that do the same, for example, beating Wolves and Sheffield United away and drawing undeservedly to Leicester at home.

Dani Ceballos
Dani Ceballos celebrating Arsenal’s last-gasp winner against Sheffield United in the FA Cup this season. All rights reserved by the Daily Mail.

Overall, I believe Arsenal are in with a very good chance of winning, especially if they perform near to the standard they did in their last FA Cup game. The Gunners have a good history of performing at Wembley, despite being written off as having no chance on numerous occasions, and they will certainly be looking for a similar response again.

However, a win is far from guaranteed, for either team. Arsenal proved just last week how unpredictable they can be. After beating Liverpool and Manchester City, the two best teams in England by some distance, the Gunners then lost to Aston Villa and almost dropped points against Watford, two teams in the relegation battle, with the latter going down.

If Arsenal continue with the performances they showed in their last two games of the season, Chelsea will most likely win with ease. However, if Arsenal can find that performance they showed when they last came to Wembley, then Arsenal are in with an excellent chance of winning the FA Cup for a record 14th time and, doing it once more, as underdogs.

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