Everyone’s thoughts will be with the victims, families and friends of the Manchester Arena outrage as Arsenal take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final today.

Arsenal take on Chelsea at Wembley in the 136th FA Cup Final this afternoon (5.30pm kick-off UK time).

The match will be played against the backcloth of the terrorist atrocity at the Manchester Arena on Monday.

A period of silence will be observed prior to kick-off to honour the victims and their families and friends.

Commemorative wreaths will be laid by HRH the Duke of Cambridge and the FA Chairman Greg Clarke.

Arsenal and Chelsea players, as well as the match officials, will wear black armbands.

Both clubs have also made donations to the”We Love Manchester Emergency Fund” set up for the victims of Monday’s atrocity.

Back to the match itself.

This will be a seventh FA Cup final appearance for both sides this century.

It will be only the second FA Cup final in 35 years to feature two London clubs – the other was in 2002 when Arsenal beat Chelsea to claim the Double.

Arsenal are playing in a record 20th FA Cup final. and will be looking to win the FA Cup for a record-breaking 13th time.; they are currently level with Manchester United on 12 wins.

The Gunners have won the trophy in their last five FA Cup final appearances, and in seven of their last eight. Their only defeat in that time came against Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium in 2001.

The Gunners have only lost one of their last 22 matches in the FA Cup (W19, D2 – with one of those draws followed by a penalty shoot-out win versus Wigan).

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last seven matches at Wembley Stadium, with six wins and a penalty shoot-out victory against Wigan.

Their last defeat there was the 2-1 loss versus Birmingham City in the 2011 League Cup final.The last time they lost in the FA Cup away from the Emirates was in 2012 – a 2-0 loss at Sunderland.

It’s been a disappointing season though for the Gunners.

Despite winning eight of nine games since (losing to Tottenham Hotspur), Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League table.

It means the Gunners miss out on playing Champions League football next season for the first time in twenty years.

Arsenal go into today’s match with uncertainty still hanging over whether Arsene Wenger will still be in charge next season.

Wenger’s future will be decided at a board meeting likely to be held next week.

And on whether Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will extend their contracts. The prospect of playing Europa League football rather than strutting their stuff in the Champions League may well impact on their decisions to say or go.

To add to the state of flux Alisher Usmanov recently decided this was the right time to make a £1billion offer to buy out majority shareholder Stan Kroenke. The offer was turned down by Kroenke.

As if that little lot wasn’t enough to be worrying about, Arsenal also have a central defensive injury crisis to content with.

Laurent Koscielny is suspended, Gabriel injured and Shkodran Mustafi a doubt.

The Blues are in search of an 8th FA Cup win. If they achieve that today they will complete the double having been crowned Premier League champions on Sunday.

Chelsea won 93 points in winning the title, which was 18 more than Arsenal accrued.

If they win today it will be the second time in their history that Chelsea will have completed a league and FA Cup double. The did it for the first time in 2009/10.

They can become only the third team to achieve the feat more than once, following in the footsteps of Manchester United and Arsenal (who have three each)

Today will be Chelsea’s 19th cup final in 21 years.

Chelsea have been victorious in their last four FA Cup final appearances, all by single-goal margins.

The Blues have won nine of 11 major finals under the ownership of Roman Abramovich – with their two defeats both coming in 2008 (the Champions League final versus Manchester United and League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur).

Head-to-Head

The sides have met once before in an FA Cup final.

Arsenal winning 2-0 on 4th May 2002 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, with goals from Ray Parlour (69th minute) and Freddie Ljungberg (79th minute).

The Gunners have won seven of the last eight FA Cup ties between these sides.

Chelsea came out on top in the last meeting – a 2-1 semi-final win in 2009 – but that is their only FA Cup victory against the Gunners in the last 70 years.

Overall, the sides have been paired together 13 times in this competition, with Arsenal winning eight ties and Chelsea victorious five times.

The Gunners only victory over the Blues in the past 12 competitive meetings between the sides was the 3-0 Premier League win at the Emirates Stadium on 24th September 2016.

Arsenal lost the return fixture 3-1 at Stamford Bridge in February.

Arsenal did though beat Chelsea in their last meeting at Wembley. A 1-0 victory in the Community Shield in August 2015.

Road to Wembley

Arsenal

Third Round: Preston North End 1, Arsenal 2

Fourth Round: Southampton 0, Arsenal 5

Fifth Round: Sutton United 0, Arsenal 2

Sixth Round: Arsenal 5, Lincoln City 0

Semi-final: Arsenal 2, Manchester City 1

Chelsea

Third Round: Chelsea 4, Peterborough United 1

Fourth Round: Chelsea 4, Brentford 0

Fifth Round: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0, Chelsea 2

Sixth Round: Chelsea 1, Manchester United 0

Semi-final: Chelsea 4, Tottenham Hotspur 2

Key Men

Arsenal

Akexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s talisman. The Chilean netted twenty-four Premier League goals in the season that has just ended.

The mercurial Mesut Ozil divides opinion on his contribution and application. At his best Ozil is capable of unlocking the very best defences. At his worst he can be anonymous. Ozil netted twelve goals, and had twelve assists, in all competitions this season.

In the absence of Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel, Nacho Monreal may be pressed into playing in central defence today. Whether he can stand up to the physical and wily challenge of facing Diego Costa may have a major impact on the outcome of the match.

Chelsea

Diego Costa scored twenty goals (twenty-one in all competitions) in Chelsea’s title-winning season. He will be looking once again to be a thorn in the side of a weakened Arsenal defence.

Eden Hazard is the creative force in the Chelsea team. The Belgian netted sixteen (seventeen in all competitions) times in the Premier League this season.

Cesar Azpilicueta is the unsung hero of Chelsea’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation earlier this season. The adaptable Spaniard provides the balance to Chelsea’s defence, where he is equally comfortable playing in central defence or in either of the full back positions.

The Managers

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger will be looking to become the most successful manager in FA Cup history. He is currently tied with George Ramsay, who won the competition six times with Aston Villa.

An Arsenal win would take Wenger’s number of FA Cup wins to seven.

Victory would be Wenger’s 10th major Arsenal honour – he has won six FA Cups and three league titles.

This is what Wenger had to say about his future and whether this will be his last match as Arsenal manager.

“It will not be my last match because whatever happens I will stay in football.

“Would it be a nice farewell? No, what I want is to win the next game. I love to win and I love to do well for my club. I want to win the cup for my club.

“It’s not about me, it’s about us winning the trophy and giving everything to achieve it.”

On Arsenal’s central defensive problems, Wenger added.

“It just shows you how unpredictable football can be because we played at home, your mind is on attacking, and on the day we lost two centre backs,” the manager said.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable and unpredictable, and we have been hit hard in a position where we will need to be strong on Saturday. We’ll have to find solutions and hopefully I will find the good solutions.

“I have to decide until Saturday [whether to keep a back three or not] – we’ll test that in training until then.”

This is what Wenger had to say about potentially becoming the most successful manager in FA Cup history.

“I want to do it just to win the cup, because I think the team has redressed very well the situation on the sporting side. That will be a good crowning of what we have done in the last two months. The team has given so much, I think they really want to win something. On top of that, [if] I have some benefit as well, it’s OK, but that’s not my main worry.”

Antonio Conte

Conte has been crowned Premier League and League Managers Association for leading Chelsea to the Premier League title.  He will now be looking to emulate Carlo Ancelotti, who managed the Blues to the double in 2009/10.

“I saw a lot of concentration from all my players in training, we trained very well despite the heat.

“I guess they are calm, it is impossible for me to not trust my players after this season, but for 120 minutes plus penalties we have to forget we won the league.

“We could start as the underdog, as we won and celebrated league, but the side we face are a team that lost the Champions League next season and have this possibility to save their season.

“We must pay great focus and show great desire. I trust a lot in my players as they showed great concentration to win league. It will be a tough game for both teams, and we are ready to fight.

This is what Conte added on Wenger.

“I know very well Arsene Wenger has done well in the FA Cup and won many trophies,” said Conte.

“I don’t think this will be the last game for Arsene, he deserves to be working for Arsenal.

“He has done a fantastic job.

“Sometimes in England I think you undervalue the achievement of qualifying for the Champions League. Only this season they haven’t qualified for the Champions League.

“When you stay for a long time, for sure he is a good manager. We must consider him to be one of the best managers in history.”

Team News

Arsenal

Laurent Koscielny is suspended after his sending off for a reckless tackle against Everton in the Gunners final Premier League match of the season on Sunday.

Gabriel also misses out after sustaining knee ligament damage after a challenge in the match against Everton.

Shkodran Mustafi is a doubt after suffering concussion in the Premier League win over Sunderland.

Kieran Gibbs has a thigh problem.

Per Mertesacker could start his first game for 13 months, after his substitute appearance against Everton last Sunday.

Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should both be fit.

Chelsea

Chelsea have almost a fully fit squad to choose from, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek the only slight doubt.

Conte will have to choose between Willian – who has started every FA Cup game this season – and Pedro.

And between Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic.

Match Officials

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Assistant referees Gary Beswick (Durham FA) and Marc Perry (Birmingham FA), fourth official Robert Madley (West Riding FA) and reserve assistant referee Adam Nunn (Wiltshire FA).

This is what Taylor had to say about his appointment to referee the match

“The first feeling when I got was the call…I was delighted, excited and very, very honoured and humbled to be appointed to the game,” said Taylor, who has also taken charge at The FA Community Shield, League Cup Final, FA Trophy and FA Vase Finals at the national stadium.

“It’s been a long-standing dream of mine in the 20-odd years that I’ve been a referee to one day officiate The FA Cup Final, it’s the pinnacle of your domestic career.

“Refereeing a match at Wembley is a fantastic experience, any game that you do there, but the Cup Final is iconic and especially with it being a London derby as well, that adds an extra dimension to the occasion.”

Prediction

Arsenal to get a 2-1 win.

 

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