The stakes will be high when Arsenal and Chelsea face-off in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday. While Frank Lampard’s men would want to finish the season with some silverware after securing a Champions League berth, Mikel Arteta’s Gunners will be desperate to claim the trophy and qualify for the Europa League.
Arsenal and Chelsea last met in the FA Cup final in 2017, when goals by Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey helped the Londoners secure a 2-1 win. Arsenal remain the most successful side in the competition with 13 titles under their belt.
The two teams put in impressive performances in their semi-final victories. While Arsenal saw off defending champions Manchester City, Chelsea were dominant in their win against Manchester United.
Lampard and Arteta may be rookies in their roles as managers, but they have both tasted success in the FA Cup as players. Arteta was part of Arsenal’s triumphant team in 2014. If he emerges victorious on Saturday, he will become the first person to win the FA Cup with Arsenal both as a captain and a manager. Lampard, on the other hand, won the trophy four times as a player with Chelsea.
Arteta eyeing the big picture
Arteta has insisted that even winning the FA Cup will not salvage Arsenal’s season, but a trophy just eight months into his first managerial role will strengthen the impression the Gunners now have the right man in charge to right the ship.
Arteta won the FA Cup as captain when Arsenal ended a nine-year trophy drought in 2014. Yet despite winning the competition twice more in the six years since, standards have continued to slip at the Emirates since Arsene Wenger’s departure two years ago.
Despite an upturn since Arteta’s appointment in December, eighth place in the Premier League was the Londoners worst league finish in 15 years.
“For me this club deserves the best and you have to be fighting for every title,” said the Spaniard on the prospect of silverware and a place in the Europa League next season redeeming a miserable campaign. “Obviously after everything that happened, if we are able to win the final and qualify for Europe, we can say it’s okay. But it’s not the level for this football club.”
The Europa League may be the poor relation to the riches and prestige of the Champions League, but failure to qualify for European football at all for the first time since the 1995-’96 season would be a further blow to Arsenal’s already fragile finances.
Due to the lack of Champions League football, the Gunners posted a loss of £27 million ($35 million) in the 2018-’2019 campaign for the first time in 17 years.
That was despite generating nearly £40 million in TV and prize money from a run to the Europa League final and before the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic saw the club’s playing and coaching staff agree a 12.5 percent pay cut.
Victories over Liverpool and former employers Manchester City in the space of four days earlier this month have given Arteta plenty of credit in the bank from the Arsenal support. But questions remain over how much he can do to restore the club’s former glories if he is not backed in the transfer market.
Before looking to recruit for a rebuild, Arsenal also have to convince their outstanding talent to stay put. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was just one goal behind Jamie Vardy in the battle for the Premier League Golden Boot despite playing in a struggling side and it was his two goals that saw off City in the semi-final to make it back to Wembley on Saturday.
Lampard confident of his team
Meanwhile, Lampard has set his sights on capping an impressive first season as Chelsea manager by leading the Blues to FA Cup glory.
Lampard enjoyed four FA Cup final victories as a Chelsea player, but getting his hands on the first trophy of his nascent managerial career would be an even more significant moment for the 42-year-old.
Having led Chelsea into next season’s Champions League via a top four finish in the Premier League, Lampard heads to Wembley surfing a wave of positivity.
It is a testament to Lampard’s acumen that, in just his second season as a manager, he has Chelsea positioned as an emerging force just 12 months after the club was in turmoil.
When Lampard arrived at Stamford Bridge in June 2019 after one season as boss of second tier Derby, he carried the good wishes of supporters who idolised him during his glittering 13-year spell with the club.
But there were many pundits who doubted whether Lampard was the right man to get Chelsea back on track following the turbulent reign of Maurizio Sarri. The taciturn Sarri fell out with several of Chelsea’s stars, alienating them with his monotonous training regime and inflexible tactics.
Fixing the fractures in Chelsea’s dressing room wasn’t the only problem facing Lampard, who also had to deal with the club’s transfer ban last summer and the sale of Belgium playmaker Eden Hazard to Real Madrid.
Even for an experienced boss, it would have been a daunting situation, but Lampard has risen to the challenge.
“There were a lot of unknowns when I came in, could we move forward without Eden Hazard? We knew we had lost a massive player,” Lampard said. “We’ve a real spirit within the group now and it’s a real team effort now.”
Lampard’s midas touch hasn’t been restricted to the young guns. He coaxed consistency from Willian and brought Olivier Giroud back into the fold after the French striker had appeared set to leave in January.
“What we’ve done this season is take the opportunity to bring in the younger players and improve the existing players,” Lampard said.
With AFP Inputs