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Arsenal vs. Chelsea FA Cup Final preview: for all the marbles

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You could say it’s a big game.

Arsenal v Manchester City - FA Cup: Semi Final Photo by Matthew Childs/Pool via Getty Images

Everybody knows what is at stake in Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea. It’s the biggest match for the Gunners since *checks notes* last season’s Europa League Final against Chelsea in Baku. That one didn’t go so well for the boys in red. But Arsenal have a chance for redemption tomorrow as they look for their record-extending 14th FA Cup victory and qualification into next season’s Europa League.

Arsenal and Chelsea have met twice before in the FA Cup Final 2002 and 2017 — the Gunners won both. In 2002, Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg lifted the Gunners to a 2-0 victory. In 2017, Alexis Sanchez scored in the 4th minute, Diego Costa equalized in the 76th for 10-man Chelsea, only to see Aaron Ramsey put Arsenal back in front minutes later for a 2-1 finish. That 2017 Final was “the Mertesacker game” because injuries to Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Gabriel Paulista forced the BFG into his first game back after more than a year on the sidelines recovering from an ACL injury. Mertesacker was partnered at the back by Rob Holding, who did a pretty darn good job containing the rambunctious Diego Costa.

Tomorrow’s match is the third meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea in a final, the most pairings in the championship match of any two clubs in the history of the competition. And the interesting facts don’t end there. David Luiz and Olivier Giroud will become the third and fourth player in FA Cup history to have represented both clubs playing in a final and the first two since the 1870’s. Mikel Arteta will become just the second man to play for and manage Arsenal in an FA Cup Final (George Graham was the other). If Arsenal win, Arteta will become the first person in club history to have captained and managed the team to FA Cup victories. Frank Lampard is also looking to join the “won the FA Cup as a player and manager at the same club” club.

Chelsea got the better of Arsenal this season in the Premier League, winning 2-1 in late December in Mikel Arteta’s second match in charge and drawing 2-2 in late January. That draw, however, was a great result for the Gunners. Down to 10 because of a David Luiz red card in the 26th minute, Arsenal fought back from down a goal twice to share the points.

But tomorrow’s match won’t look much like either of those fixtures, in large part because Chelsea’s attack looks entirely different. Christian Pulisic and Oliver Giroud have formed a potent partnership, combining for 10 goals and 2 assists since the restart — neither featured against Arsenal earlier this season. To be honest, I’m not sure which of the two I’m more concerned about. Pulisic is a handful, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ recent performances against Liverpool and Manchester City containing skilled, pacey wide attackers gives me hope. Olivier Giroud is an FA Cup specialist and gave Arsenal fits in last year’s Europa League final. The Frenchman has 16 goals and 8 assists in 30 FA Cup appearances and has lifted the trophy all 4 times he’s been in a final.

For me, tomorrow’s match comes down to which David Luiz shows up. If the Brazilian plays like he did against Liverpool and Manchester City, Arsenal have a pretty good shot. If he puts in a middling performance, I’d wager Chelsea are slightly favored. But David Luiz can also be an utter disaster. Let’s pray THAT version doesn’t show up.

With the injury to Shkodran Mustafi (and Pablo Mari, and Calum Chambers), it looks like Rob Holding will get the call tomorrow to partner Luiz and Kieran Tierney in a back three. Holding is still working his way back into form, but he has the aerial ability and physical strength (and familiarity) to contain Giroud. As mentioned above, he has stepped up in the FA Cup Final before. Hecter Bellerin was held out against Watford with a slight calf issue, but appears to be good to go tomorrow. Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Özil won’t be in the squad, the latter has reportedly been in Turkey the past few days. The other long-term injuries are unchanged.

On Chelsea’s side of things, both N’Golo Kante and Willian are expected to be in the squad for tomorrow’s final. Kante has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and Willian was held out against Wolves with an undisclosed ailment. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who missed most of the season recovering from an Achilles tear, has a groin issue and will not play.

An Arsenal win tomorrow qualifies the Gunners for next season’s Europa League, which would be a massive boost for the club’s finances. It would extend Arsenal’s FA Cup trophy record to 14 wins. It would be the Gunners’ 7th consecutive successful finals appearance, equaling Tottenham’s record, but the Gunners would have managed 7 wins from 7 straight appearances in just 18 years compared to 82 for Spurs.

A win tomorrow would go a long way towards putting some gloss on what has been the worst Arsenal season in 25 years. Up the Arsenal. #COYG

WHAT: Arsenal vs. Chelsea, FA Cup Final
WHERE: Wembley Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, August 1st 9:30 AM PT | 12:30 PM ET | 7:30 PM BT
US TV: Not broadcast. Streaming on ESPN+.

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