Arsenal do not have a ton of time to reflect on their disappointing league season as they face the champs in the FA Cup Final. There is much on the line for the Gunners – the chance not only to end the season with a trophy and muted celebration but the chance to seize back the title of the most successful club in the competition. Considering the stage, the stakes are relatively low. If Arsenal win, they beat back some of the negative narrative surrounding the club and set a record for most FA Cup titles. Lose and they would have done what was expected of them.
A True Test of Wenger’s Tactical Acumen
Laurent Koscielny’s red card appeal was denied. Gabriel is out with a knee injury. Mustafi is likely out with a head injury. That means it’s time for… the BFG. Lest you forget, the former captain Per Mertesacker is rested and available for the FA Cup Final, and if the thought of Chelsea’s quick midfielders running by him on a high line doesn’t terrify you, you aren’t paying attention.
A bigger question for Wenger is how he will deploy his starting XI. Since he has only two healthy true centrebacks, he could revert to four in the back with Monreal and Bellerin as fullbacks. However, Chelsea destroyed Arsenal with their 3-4-3 when they last played four in the back, and that was with defensive depth. If Wenger goes with a back three, his best choice to join BFG and Holding is Monreal. Wenger could go crazy, though, and move Coquelin to the backline but you would be gambling on the Frenchman not to commit stupid fouls with no one behind him. Then there’s Mustafi, who Arsenal could press into service. However, for his long-term health, he should stay far away from the field.
Missing players is going to force Wenger to be creative with his tactics and starting XI. This match will tell if The Professor still knows how to learn a thing or two.
Wenger Decides Not to Cech A Box
Reports broke late Friday that Arsene Wenger would select David Ospina over Petr Cech in goal for the FA Cup Final. Ospina, as the number two keeper, per Arsenal habit started the Cup matches this season and as such was in line to start the final Cup match of the football year. More came out later that, in fact, an injury was preventing Cech from featuring in the match.
Based on the uncertainty in the back 3 (or 4), is Ospina’s start a critical factor? Undoubtedly the Colombian is a world class player who, in terms of overall ability, is equal to Cech at this point. However, if Wenger could have started our Czech Cech, he would have had two advantages. The first is that while Ospina can make the athletic or impressive saves, he comes up at random times with baffling mistakes. For club or country, his consistency has been an issue. The second is that Cech is more experienced in big matches in England, and that experience is vital in a match where the back 3 (or 4) are not the normal groupings. Mertesacker is a veteran player but how much time has he spent on the training ground before this week specifically playing with Holding? How about Holding and Monreal? Having the more experienced Cech behind may have helped mitigate some of the issues that will arise from the patchwork backline.
Predicted Starting XI
Ospina / Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal / Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Xhaka, Gibbs / Sanchez, Giroud, Ozil
The FA Cup is the perfect tournament for this Arsenal side. Instead of needing to prove their class over thirty-eight matches, each one can be won with a bit of luck and better preparation. This Arsenal side should have the confidence and determination to win the FA Cup. Yet I cannot get that Eden Hazard end-to-end goal out of my head, and now we are struggling to find enough players in defence to even field our starting XI. Chelsea win 3-2 in extra time.