It is here, another FA Cup final for the mighty Arsenal. We’re going for number 14. Mikel Arteta is going for his first as a coach. The young players are going for their first-ever trophy. We have Europe on the line.
It’s different this year and it’s a shame. I’ve never missed an Arsenal FA Cup final. I usually go with my football family, we meet up, get drunk, celebrate or commiserate together, and then it’s a beautiful memory forever locked (even the losses can be fun after).
My Uncle, who is a Leeds fan said to me a few years ago that trophies were about parties. If you’re having a lot of parties, life is good, but if you’re not, then what’s the point?
Arsenal fans might not have had a lot of major-trophy parties of late, but we’re certainly advanced in FA Cup shindigs. This is our trophy, no one has won it as often as us. You feel something in the air whenever we head to Wembley. Wenger took these games very seriously, he loved the FA Cup, and I expect some of that has rubbed off on Arteta, who played as his captain in a winning side. Let’s hope Mikel has a similar relationship with the trophy.
Today is going to be tough, we’re not favourites which is unusual, and the squad of players we have available can be a little bit like that box of chocolates Forest Gump always bangs on about. You don’t know what you’re going to get. However, after thinking about it, under Mikel Arteta, it is more likely than ever that we’ll be picking out a chocolate that doesn’t have a sour liqueur hiding inside.
We’ve beaten United, Liverpool, and City this season. Both our Chelsea games, whilst not optimal, saw solid performances. We’ve had some very good away wins in 2020 as well. Arteta tailors a game plan to the match, the players understand it, and if there are no mistakes, we usually have a pretty good chance of making it very difficult for the other side.
I think we’ll see more of that today. There are rumours that Kieran Tierney is being considered as a centre back today, Ainsley is apparently getting the nod, then it’s with the gods how we set the team up from there.
This isn’t the same game as City or Liverpool. Chelsea has a pretty exciting collection of players that can move the ball through midfield. They play very attractive football at their peak, they are quick on the counter, and they can also pick apart a deep block. They have Olivier Giroud, say what you will about him, but he’ll be motivated, he’s a brilliant link-up striker, and he can score outrageous goals. Willian is in blistering form and along with Kante, is in the squad today.
Their weak spot is in defence. Frank Lampard teams often have a soft underbelly through the middle of the park, and this particular team has struggled with the goalkeeping position. Chelsea actually conceded more goals in the league than Arsenal this season, clocking in at a whopping 54. That is a massive opportunity if you can deal with them going forward. Tough to see how we bring exciting football to unlock their defence after bumming around without a #10 for so long, but we have seen glimpses of good play, particularly the first half against Leicester.
Our challenge is defence, individual errors, and in-game management. We don’t have Mustafi and in this squad, that’s a problem. He’s been huge for us under Mikel, bar a couple of games I think he was fatigued in. There aren’t many good options for us, but nor was there in 2017 when Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding put in a BEASTLY performance for us. The individual errors issue always lurks, our xG has been shocking this season in part because of that, the players know this, and they have to be at their best today to avoid being ‘that guy’ in a final. I also think Lampard has been adept at times at changing things up during the game. Arteta needs to make good decisions when that happens today because Chelsea has more from the bench than we do.
In Arteta’s first run out in the league, a game I attended, we were really unlucky. Callum Chambers picked up a nasty injury, then Frank made some smart changes from the bench and got quite lucky with Jorginho staying on the pitch. The second game we managed to rescue the game with Xhaka and Mustafi sitting on the bench. This is our third crack at Chelsea, arguably the most important on, we have to deliver. Lampard will come with something interesting tactically and we have to counter it, and then move fast to deal with whatever he does in the second phase of the game.
Moments like today define managers and projects. A trophy in your first season, whatever it is, can be absolutely huge. It builds trust from the players, it bonds squads, it builds rapport with the fans, creates forward momentum, and it’s just a beautiful feeling to know you’re on the right path.
This is massive.
Enjoy the game, have fun with your friends and families, let’s make some memories of a different kind today.
Big love from everyone at Le Grove, COME ON YOU GUNNERS xx