It way have taken three months longer than usual, but – wonder of wonders – we have an FA Cup final to look forward to on Saturday evening, and while the date and time may have changed, some things just have a habit of repeating, like these two sides in cup runs.
Saturday is Arsenal’s 21st visit to the traditional season-ending fixture, putting them one game ahead of Manchester United. They’ve won it 13 times, more than any other club too, and they could do with any and all good omens ahead of Saturday given their failure to land a European spot in other competitions this season.
Meanwhile, Chelsea may only have a meagre 13 to boast about prior to this weekend’s clash, but over half of those have come in the last 20 years – they’re almost as much a part fo the Cup final furniture as Wembley at this stage. They’re also riding the crest of a wave having nailed down a first piece of silverware under Frank Lampard, the fourth-placed trophy, last weekend.
As a rule, finals are pretty cagey affair. Chelsea’s less-than-convincing approach to defending is a wild-card in all their games, but I’d still expect this game to be a nip-and-tuck battle, with one side’s error cancelling out the other’s – imagine you blindfold Mike Tyson and Roy Jones for this fight they’re supposedly going to have, that’s what I’m expecting here.
It’s also worth noting that Arsenal’s recent successes against the top two teams in the Premier League saw them cede possession to their opponents in a way that would have had old coach Arsene Wenger hopping mad in his lagging jacket were he still in charge at the Emirates. You’d expect them to try to pull the same trick again here, using Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pace to threaten Chelsea’s porous defence – they conceded more goals than any of the other top 10 teams in the Premier League this season.
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Though they’ve shored things up recently, Arsenal haven’t been all that sure-footed defensively either this season, allowing just six goals fewer than their opponent’s in the league campaign, and, with David Luiz in contention for selection anything is possible, which means Chelsea should score too.
It’ll make for a contrast in styles and these teams can go error-for-error. With Europe their goal-scoring captain’s future, and quite a lot of money on the line for Arsenal, and a first real trophy for Lamps as manager, they’ll try their best to keep this a tight game, even if they don’t always succeed, so the score draw after 90 minutes looks the likeliest result to me.
Logically, that points us to extra-time, and while both sides might be able to hold things together relatively well for 90 minutes, the extra-time period after a gruelling stretch of games to finish out the league season looks primed for some unfortunate, leggy (possible curly-haired) defender to make a crucial error and leave his knackered teammates struggling to summon an equaliser to take it to penalties.
Chelsea in ET are available at more than 8/1 if you fancy Luis to commit that crucial calamity, but I’d rather hedge and be on the side of any result in the additional 30 minutes.
If the season was confined to just the post-lockdown stint, there’d be a case for Pulisic in the player of the season stakes. Sure, he may not pass the ball sideways as magisterially as Jordan Henderson, but what he does do is run at defenders and try to create opportunities for himself and others. Four of his nine goals this season have come since the resumption and he has been an electrifying force in Chelsea’s attack as they fought for a top-four spot, showing that his signing as “Eden Hazard’s replacement” might be an unfair mantle he can at least carry with a degree of justification in the coming seasons.
He’s probably worth a look in assist markets too given how he’s been playing, and, if you fancy a Chelsea scorer first, I wouldn’t put anyone off a punt on his to break the deadlock, but my preference is the 21-year-old to net anytime.
- Draw and Over 1.5 Goals
- Method of Victory: Either Team in ET
- Christian Pulisic to Score
- #WhatOddsPaddy: Christian Pulisic to assist 1 or more goals
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