English football’s longest-ever campaign comes to a conclusion on Saturday evening when Arsenal and Chelsea face off at Wembley in the 139th FA Cup final at 16:30GMT.
The Gunners knocked out holders Manchester City in the semis through Aubameyang’s double and are seeking a record-extending 14th triumph in the competition, three years on from their most recent success.
Chelsea, beaten 2-1 by Arsenal in that year’s final, have secured a top-four finish in the Premier League and could make this an exceptional first campaign for Frank Lampard.
No two teams have had more success in the FA Cup since the year 2000 till now than Arsenal and Chelsea, lifting the famous trophy a combined 12 times – 6 each.
The Gunners have so often relied on the oldest domestic cup competition of them all to salvage their campaign in recent times, and that is very much the case this time around.
Improvements have been made since Mikel Arteta succeeded Unai Emery in December, but results have been mixed and the Gunners finished a lowly eighth in the Premier League.
That makes 2019-20 Arsenal’s worst league season in 25 years, having also crashed out of the other two cup competitions they entered relatively early.
It all comes down to one game for the North London outfit, then, with victory on Saturday worth up to £30m for the club given it means automatic qualification to the Europa League.
That could be the difference between keeping or selling skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; the difference between retaining Dani Ceballos or being made to promote from within.
Arsenal have triumphed in eight of their last nine FA Cup finals, including each of the last six – only Tottenham Hotspur (seven between 1901 and 1982) have won more in a row.
The worry for Arsenal, however, is that Chelsea are equally as prolific when it comes to getting the job done – even more so, perhaps.
After seeing off Manchester United in the semis, this will be the Blues’ ninth appearance in the showpiece fixture since 1997 and they have won seven of those.
The only two defeats in that period? Both to Arsenal – in the 2001/2002 season (2-0) and the aforementioned meeting three years ago when Aaron Ramsey struck a late winner for the Gunners.
There is less pressure on Chelsea than their capital rivals heading into this latest tussle, it is fair to say, with the Blues enjoying a successful debut campaign under Lampard.
Arsenal’s long injury list is now even longer following the news that Skhodran Mustafi will not feature again until October after injuring his hamstring in the semi-final.
Mustafi joins Gabriel Martinelli, Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari on the sidelines, while Bernd Leno and Hector Bellerin are not 100% fit and will not start on Saturday.
Arteta continues to overlook Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi for selection which we don’t know what both players have done.
The Gunners have stumbled upon a formation that works well for them, though, with the 3-4-3 fielded against Man City in the semis working to perfection.
Assuming that remains the case this weekend, Kieran Tierney is expected to be used as part of the back three, with Bukayo Saka favourite to get the nod at left wing-back.
Chelsea have fewer injury issues to contend with – Billy Gilmour is their only confirmed absentee, although N’Golo Kante is also a major doubt having missed the last six matches and also waiting on the fitness of Willian.
Kante is back in training but it looks likely to be a midfield trio of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount.
Lampard also has the option of using a three-man defence to match Arsenal, however, which would likely see Marcos Alonso and Reece James fielded in the wing-back slots.
The biggest talking point ahead of this match is whether Kepa Arrizabalaga is recalled after being dropped for the final Premier League game of the season.
If not then it will be a cup final start for Willy Caballero, while up the other end of the field it seems certain that Olivier Giroud will retain his place against his old side.
Giroud is aiming to become the second player to score for and against a specific side in separate FA Cup finals, having netted in Arsenal’s 4-0 win against Aston Villa in 2015.
Head to Head
Chelsea have won just one of their last 13 FA Cup games against Arsenal, beating them 2-1 in the 2009 semi-final, courtesy of goals from Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba.
Ramsey was the late hero for Arsenal in the 2017 final, while the 2001/2002 showpiece will be best remembered for late strikes by Freddie Ljungberg and Ray Parlour in Cardiff.
The last time Arsenal lost a FA Cup final was in the 2000/2001 season when they lost 2-1 against Liverpool. Since then Arsenal have played in 6 FA Cup finals and they have won all. Winning against Chelsea (twice), Southampton, Manchester United, Hull City and Aston Villa.
In all competitions, however, the Blues have lost just two of their last 10 meetings with the Gunners.
This season’s league fixtures finished in a 2-1 victory for Chelsea in December – Jorginho and Tammy Abraham scoring late on – and a 2-2 draw six months ago.
Prediction: Arsenal 1:2 Chelsea
By: Kwabena Asante Marfo (@KwabenaMarfo), KobbyKyeiSports