No walk down Wembley Way this time but all eyes will still be on the action in the stadium as a London derby decides the destination of the final domestic trophy of the season. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton look in detail at the final…
A week after securing our future among Europe’s elite clubs, Chelsea have the chance to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous FA Cup success in 1970. By Saturday night the west Londoners will have engraved another honour on the board or feel the clinging neuralgia of defeat.
Chelsea versus Arsenal, the longest-running top-flight feud in London, is about to become this ancient final’s joint most common match-up, along with Arsenal-Liverpool, Arsenal-Newcastle, Aston Villa-West Brom and Chelsea-Man Utd. And as the 139th FA Cup final heralds Chelsea’s 14th appearance, the Blues will soon have contested more than one in 10 of all those staged since 1872. Victory would bring the trophy to Stamford Bridge for the ninth time.
West London has had the upper hand in recent meetings in all competitions, winning three and drawing five of the past 10 encounters with our northern neighbours. Late goals have snatched a point or two in both our league encounters and it may be that the team with superior fire-power will carry the day. Attack has often proved the best form of defence for both teams this season.
Hunger will not be an issue for the 2018 trophy-winners Chelsea, according to former Gunner Olivier Giroud: ‘Even though it’s true that we fought hard [to finish in the top four] and it was psychologically taxing,’ he said, ‘we still have a lot of young players who have never felt the happiness of winning a trophy, and older players like me who are never satisfied.’
Amongst other milestones, Lampard himself is aiming to become the first homegrown coach to scoop a major honour in England since Harry Redknapp with Portsmouth in 2008.
FA Cup wins since 1997
Chelsea 7Arsenal 7Manchester Utd 3Manchester City 2Liverpool 2Wigan 1Portsmouth 1
To three or not to three
Both sides could use a similar formation on Saturday evening. Manchester United switched to match Chelsea’s current 3-4-3 in a semi-final that showed Frank Lampard’s tactical nous and ended the Red Devils’ 19-match unbeaten run.
As so often in this competition, the opposition found Blues’ regular pot-shots too hot to handle and regularly lost possession after energetic pressing from Mason Mount, Willian and Mateo Kovacic.
The 2-1 comeback win at Arsenal in the league was achieved with a switch from a back three to a four at 0-1, but at home Chelsea drew 2-2 with a 4-3-3 set-up throughout. Mikel Arteta has since switched to 3-4-3, registering big wins against back-four adherents Liverpool and Manchester City.
Part of the reason for Chelsea choosing the formation recently has been the absence of injured central midfielder N’Golo Kante, but he may return this weekend.
Arsenal will be wary of their in-form ‘ex’ Olivier Giroud and not just because Watford target man Troy Deeney at times opened up their defence last weekend. The France striker has now found the net eight times in 11 appearances across all competitions, including the Blues’ 100th goal this season last weekend.
Wing-back Cesar Azpilicueta’s set-up was his seventh in all competitions, and the Spaniard has now equalled his best return in assists and goals (two) from 2017/18. Seventy-one of his passes have led to attempts on goal in the league, second only to Willian (98).
Mason Mount, the creator of Giroud’s goal against Wolves, scored in his own right with a dead-ball technique displayed since his early days at the Chelsea Academy, and was the Blues’ second direct free-kick in the top flight this season.
Four other players to feature alongside him in the United and Wanderers games were fellow graduates of our Academy: Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. With the extra replacements allowed, there is a good chance the Blues could match our highest number of homegrowns ever fielded in the final of this competition, which was six in 1967, followed by five in 1970.
Mikel Arteta is Arsenal’s third head coach this season and his win rate of 55 per cent is the highest: Unai Emery managed 31 per cent up to his sacking in November, and Freddie Ljungberg 20 per cent.
Chelsea actually inflicted the former Man City assistant’s first defeat in his second match as head coach, and even a subsequent improvement failed to prevent the worst finishing position since 12th in 1995 (beneath Glenn Hoddle’s emerging Blues). Without victory in this final, Islington will be without European football for the first time in a generation.
In the 10 league matches this season against fellow members of the traditional top six (Chelsea, Liverpool, the Manchester clubs and Tottenham), the Gunners have lost five and won two. To their credit, they took the scalps of Liverpool and City in the semi-final, despite squad problems. Mesut Ozil has not featured since the restart, and Matteo Guendouzi has not been selected since a red card at Brighton 11 outings ago.
On top of that, former Blue David Luiz has conceded five penalties over the campaign, which is a Premier League record. One was for bundling over Tammy Abraham in their home game against Chelsea, resulting in dismissal by referee Stuart Attwell – this weekend’s VAR.
David Luiz and Rob Holding both appear more comfortable as part of a back three, but Arteta’s preferred centre-back partner for the Brazilian, Shkodran Mustafi, is injured, and potential replacement Sokratis has been unused since the lockdown ended.
No one should underestimate their attackers, especially leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Defending deep and counter-attacking with pace worked brilliantly against Pep Guardiola’s side, and Arteta could fall back on that approach again.
Another capital occasion
Chelsea and Arsenal are playing each other in a cup final for the third time in four years. It is the 201st meeting between the two clubs.
In the 2017 FA Cup final the Blues had just won the Premier League for a fifth time and could have matched opponents Arsenal’s tally of two league and cup doubles. Instead, Antonio Conte’s men were strangely out of sorts, losing 1-2 with 10 men. Nowadays, the VAR would probably rule out Alexis Sanchez’s opening goal for handball in the build-up (and maybe offside too).
Last season the Londoners met again for the Europa League final in Baku – almost as impossible to attend as Saturday’s occasion, for many. The Blues were comfortable 4-1 winners, starting with a Giroud glancing header against his old club which had too much for former Blue Petr Cech.
Pedro completed a slick move for two, and in his final wearing of the famous royal blue Eden Hazard hit a brace, one a penalty, either side of Alex wobi’s consolation.
The eclipse of the Manchester clubs in this season’s FA Cup semi-finals made this the 11th all-London cup final in major competitions since 1967. Chelsea have been involved in seven of the previous 10.
Not business as usual
This will be a unique FA Cup showpiece in so many ways. Long gone are ‘It’s A Cup Final Knockout,’ and pitch-side impressions of players by a scarf-wearing comic. But measures to curb the pandemic also mean no presentation of teams to VIPs beforehand, no victors’ march up to the royal box, and no communal singing because, devastatingly, there will be no community of fans present. Supporters of long standing on either side of the London divide will be missing their first final for decades.
When it comes to embracing difference, there are few clubs better placed than Chelsea and Arsenal, who have consistently been at the vanguard of change in the game, from trialling numbers on shirts in 1928 to funding foundations that are genuinely helping to improve people’s lives.
It is the Blues, though, who hosted the last FA Cup final before it took residence at Wembley, who won the showpiece on its final day in the old stadium and again when it reopened. And now the west Londoners are back for perhaps the only one ever to be played behind closed doors.
It is being renamed the Heads Up FA Cup final for a good reason. It is a partnership between the FA and mental wellbeing charity Heads Together, looking to build a healthier environment for discussion and ending the stigma of asking for help in difficult times.Some conventions will persist. The traditional pre-match anthem ‘Abide With Me’ will be performed by Emeli Sande – not from the pitch but pre-recorded on the roof of the stadium – and the British Youth Opera will chorus the national anthem on the hallowed turf.
The BBC One audience for the Blues’ 3-1 semi-final victory over Man United peaked at 7.3 million, and the same channel plus BT Sport 1 will cover the final in the UK. Supporters in other parts of the world can see which channel to tune to here.
Win or lose, fans are urged to stay away from the Wembley Stadium area before, during and after the match. Despite the absence of crowds the Cup final programme is still being produced, and is available to buy here with a limited number of copies available in the Stamford Bridge Megastore, expected to arrive into store today (Friday) and sell out quickly.
The player/coach double
One of Saturday’s two coaches will add to the list of those who have won this trophy as player and manager with the same club. The last two men to complete the rare double did so for Chelsea: Gianluca Vialli in 2000 and Robbie Di Matteo in 2012.
Frank Lampard won the competition four times as a player and is the seventh Chelsea boss to reach the final in his debut season at the Bridge after Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Di Matteo and Antonio Conte. Eight different coaches have lifted the trophy with the Blues.
This campaign’s pattern of meeting auspicious opponents in this season’s competition continues. Every team faced in previous rounds had already been beaten twice or more en route to Chelsea lifting the trophy: Nottingham Forest (in 1999/00, 2006/07), Hull City (1999/00, 2017/18), Liverpool (1996/97, 2011/12), and Leicester (1996/97, 1999/00, 2011/12, 2017/18), and Manchester United (2006/07 and 2017/18 finals). So far, Chelsea have beaten Arsenal just the once on the way to winning the FA Cup, in the 2009 semi-finals. Saturday would be the second.
Refereeing the final is usually a one-off career event. However, the FA felt it was unfair to make this one the pinnacle of officials’ working life as measures to counter the pandemic are in place. As a result Anthony Taylor is back in the same role he fulfilled in 2017, a game not without its controversies. This time around, the man in black will have the benefit of VAR.
Chelsea were good value for our fifth win from a record nine meetings with Manchester United at Wembley Stadium. This FA Cup final will be the fifth time the national stadium has hosted Chelsea versus Arsenal, which will become the equal fifth most-played fixture in its 97-year history.
Cup final regulations
Five replacements are allowed in this match (six should the match enter extra-time), and there will be midpoint breaks for drinks. Video Assistant Referees will review the usual set of key moments.
Should the scores be level at the end of normal time, two halves of 15 minutes will be played and, if necessary, penalty kicks will decide the victors. Chelsea and Arsenal have both prevailed in three of the past five shoot-outs in all competitions, though the Gunners lost out to Liverpool last time out in the Carabao Cup.
The winner of this game will face champions Liverpool in the Community Shield on Saturday 29 August at Wembley, with the prospect that a small number of supporters may be permitted to attend as a trial.
The trophy itself is the fifth to be made for the Football Association Challenge Cup competition since 1872. The first was stolen and melted down, and the next three retired gracefully.
The current pot was crafted from Sterling 925 silver in 2014 by Thomas Lyte, silversmiths to the FA and the royal family. It will not be presented in the usual fashion, but picked up from a table by the successful skipper in a kind of self-service silverware buffet, and likewise the medals. The winning club will have the original trophy on loan until 1 March 2021.
Heritage in the kit
Look out for a nice nod to the anniversary of the epic 1970 FA Cup replay victory over Leeds United on Chelsea’s shirts. The words ‘Wembley 2020’ are embroidered into a simple ribbon scroll beneath the badge in the style used 50 years ago.
Meanwhile, the man who held loft FA Cup number one at Old Trafford, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, will be sharing anecdotes from his popular repertoire at the Bridge in a Legends stadium tour on Cup final day from 11am. The Museum is also open, with striking new displays featuring the boots of Frank Lampard and the 2004/05-worn shirts of John Terry. The recent VAT reduction means prices are lower than before, and Saturday places are still available here.
Spurs, Wolves eye secondary benefits
Obviously Arsenal’s European hopes would be most adversely affected by a Chelsea victory but other clubs would have cause to celebrate. As the Blues already have a marker in the Champions League, the Europa League group stage place earned by winning the FA Cup would be passed down.
Leicester in fifth would be unaffected but Tottenham, currently facing a one-off second qualifying round match on 17 September, with potentially two further rounds a week after each other, would instead join at the group stage. Seventh-placed Wolves, currently out of Europe next season, would step up to take Spurs’ place in those qualifiers.