Frank Lampard was appointed manager of Chelsea Football Club on the 4th of July 2019. If you’d told me a little short of 13 months later that we would’ve just qualified for Champions League via the Top 4, with an FA Cup final still to play, I wouldn’t have believed you. And yet, here we are. Saturday’s FA Cup Final marks the latest one ever played in the calendar year by quite some way and whilst there won’t be any fans in the stadium, it doesn’t diminish the occasion in anyway for supporters of either side.
The importance of this game to Arsenal Football Club cannot be understated. Having finished 8th in the Premier League, the Gunners have already failed to get a place in the Europa League for next season, leaving a win in the FA Cup as their only route into Europe. Chelsea is already comfortably in the Champions League of course, but Lampard won this trophy four times as a player and will want to capture his first piece of silverware as a manager, all whilst denying Arsenal European football and preventing any kind of substantial rebuild.
Arsenal will be without Shkodran Mustafi for this game. Whilst the German international has been much criticised in the past, he has looked reborn under the guidance of Mikel Arteta and his absence will leave a hole in their defence, made worse by the absence of Pablo Mari and Callum Chambers. Martinelli, who scored in the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, is also out for the season with a knee injury. And Arsenal will of course be without first-choice keeper Bernd Leno. Chelsea appear to have an almost fully fit squad, minus Billy Gilmour, who sustained a knee injury against Crystal Palace.
Chelsea has met Arsenal twice this season, both times in the league. In the first encounter, Arsenal led into the 83rd minute until goals from Jorginho and Tammy Abraham completed a famous away win. In the return game, a controversial David Luiz sending off was the highlight of a well fought 2-2 draw for Arsenal after individual mistakes for Chelsea.
I expect Lampard to once again line up with with a three at the back defensive set up, which worked so well in the 2-0 victory against Wolves on Sunday. The defence looks so much more comfortable with those three centre backs and it’s absolutely crucial they build confidence against what is a very strong Arsenal attack. If Chelsea can stop Arsenal scoring in the first 20 or so minutes, the whole team will build in confidence, just like they did against Wolves and Manchester United. Lampard will definitely know this and be well aware of it. Despite Chelsea having an absolutely fantastic season so far, this is still a one off game and you can’t be sure which side will show up.
Two players who are likely to catch the eye are Luiz and Willian. Luiz of course already completed the move from South-West London to North London last summer, but Willian is now a player who is seemingly a target for Arteta’s side. Having missed the game on Sunday through injury, Willian is expected to be fit for this game and I’d be surprised if Lampard opted not to pick him for experience alone. In what is potentially his last domestic game for the club, Willian will want to make a statement to show both Chelsea and other clubs what he’s capable of.
A win for Chelsea in the FA Cup would be absolutely huge for everyone involved in the club. It will be a trophy for Lampard in his first season in the top flight. Furthermore, it will be a huge statement in the young careers of players such as Mason Mount and Reece James, who have already won the trophy at youth level. Whatever the result, this will still have been a hugely successful season for Chelsea.
But a trophy would be the icing on the cake.