By Esther Muwonge
It will be a last chance salon for Arsenal, if they are to feature in the Uefa Europa League championship in the 2020/2021 season. Arsenal, who finished eighth on the log in the English Premier League, which ended on Sunday July 26, must beat city rivals Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday August 1.
This is the only way Arsenal will have the continental European football flag flying at the Emirates next season. One can only witness this make or break occasion for Arsenal on StarTimes TV, who will be telecasting this final live from Wembley stadium at 7:30pm.
However, Arsenal have their work cut out heading into this final, considering the number of injuries in their ranks. Defenders Shkodran Mustafi, Pablo Matri and forward Gabriel Martinelli are not expected to feature, while goalkeeper Bernd Leno also remains a major doubt, following the injury he suffered at Brighton.
That said, full-back Hector Bellerin should return, which will bolster Arsenal. In fact, Bellerin was expected to play in Arsenal’s game against Watford on the final day of the league. But it has been suggested, that the reason coach Mikel Arteta did not field him, was more a precautionary measure, to preserve him for the weekend tie.
Yet, even with all the problems facing Arteta’s team, this is not the time to feel sorry for themselves. They have to dig deep, and keep their European dream alive, because failure to win that game, will confirm Wolverhampton Wanderers football club, who finished seventh in the league, as England’s third representative in the Europa League.
Still boasting of an attack with Alexander Lacazette and Aubameyang, Arsenal remain a force to reckon with. In the semi-finals, Arsenal surprised the FA Cup defending champions Manchester City 2-0. So, Chelsea cannot be fooled to underestimate Arsenal.
Nonetheless, Chelsea will go into this tie buoyed, following their success in qualifying for Uefa Champions League on Sunday. And Chelsea coach Frank Lampard will be determined to get his hands on silverware, something he did ever so regularly while still a Chelsea player.
Lampard is boosted by the fact, that the biggest part of his squad are fully fit, with a number of winners therein. Willian, Pedro, Olivier Giroud, Cesar Azplicueta, Marcos Alonso, Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger, N’golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic have pretty resumes.
In addition, in the two meetings between the two sides in the league this season, Chelsea won at the Emirates 2-1, but drew with Arsenal 2-2 at home. The Blues carry the psychological advantage, and less pressure, since this tie is markedly a do or die for a European slot for Arsenal, as opposed to Chelsea, who qualified for the Champions League already.
The last time they met in the FA Cup final in May 2017, Arsenal stopped Chelsea from completing the League and Cup double, when they won 2-1. Their previous meeting in the same Cup had come in 2002, and Arsenal also won that one 2-0. Could Arsenal have Chelsea’s beating in the FA Cup finals?
Last year, when the two teams met in the Europa League final, Giroud opened Chelsea’s scoring in a 4-1 rout of Arsenal. Giroud has scored three goals in Chelsea’s last three games, which suggests good form. Notably, Arsenal’s Aubameyang is in such good form too, seeing that in his team’s last three games, he has scored four goals.
Such subplots brought the StarTimes TV Marketing Director Isma Lule to say: “This final will be the greatest rivalry in English Football. Isma added that it would be the rebirth of the famous London derby in FA cup.”
With Arsenal chasing a 14th FA Cup trophy and Chelsea its 9th, the last coming in 2018, there is a lot of pride at stake. For Aubameyang and Lacazette, as many others, it will be their first trophy at Arsenal. But even that does not match the need to make it into Europe next season.