So here we are. We’ve arrived at what is now the single most important day of the season and it’s a day that will quite literally be season defining: the FA Cup Final.
A win will have seen this shambles of a season end with some semblance of positivity about it. A win would give us a trophy to cheer. A win shows that this team does actually have it in them to be successful and there is something for us to go in to the summer for feeling happy.
A defeat hands Chelski a double. A defeat means this dogs dinner of a campaign ends on yet more disappointment. A defeat means failure by the team and a look of regression in the side that finished runners up to Leicester last season.
Never has one game felt like it had so much riding on it.
Except we already know that isn’t true, because this all feels very similar to what happened in 2014, when Arsène’s contract was up for renewal then too. A win will almost certainly spark an immediate announcement of him signing a contract extension. I personally think it’s the wrong decision but I think if we win today he will feel he can still do it and will start the propaganda for next season. A defeat muddies the waters a little bit because it makes his justification for staying all the harder. Much like in 2014 when a win means he could still prove he could win trophies at Arsenal, so used that as a justification for another three years, it feels like the same reasonings will occur today.
The only problem we’ve got is that the odds are more stacked against us today tha they were in 2014. We aren’t playing a team towards the foot of the table, we’re playing the newly elected champions, who have been better than us all season and have been revolutionised under the 3-5-2 with Conte. We’re playing a relentless juggernaught that gets ahead in games and just wears down the opposition. If we’re two down within ten minutes against the Chavs, we ain’t coming back like in 2014 folks, sorry as I am to say that.
Chelski have a fully fit compliment of players to choose from today. They have a fresh squad who have had a season of injury-freeness and the reduction in the number of games they’ve played has enabled them to storm to the title. They’ve choked the life out of games and teams and like I said above if they go ahead, I don’t much fancy our chances. When you compare their freshness and lack of injuries to our list of absentees, it starts to get scary and with the likelihood that Mustafi is out today and Cech has picked up a ‘knock’, we’re essentially down five of the nine defensive players who have been playing recently. It’s a wicked twist of fate and especially given that we’ve already got a hard enough game if we were fully fit, so now it really does feel like this team has a mountain to climb.
But climb they must if they want to lift that big eared jug. And perform to their optimum they must too. We need ‘game of your life’ stuff from nearly all of our players and I’m interested to see how we cope with Hazard today. He’s the one I fear the most. He’s the one that will pick up the ball in those pockets of space and will run at our back line again and again. Costa scores goals and I’m sure he’ll be a threat too (and will probably score), but it’s Hazard who I think will do the most damage, because he’s their superstar.
There’s not really anybody in our team who is in a position to pick him up all game either. If we had a Kante or Matic in our side, then perhaps you could argue the point, but Ramsey and Xhaka just aren’t the type of players who can do a marshalling job. That’s why I’m a little more worried than I even thought I would be, because I fear that we don’t have the sort of person who can shut Hazard down higher up the pitch.
But this is FA Cup final day and I should have a little more positivity, at least now whilst I can, because we have some game changers in our side. Game-changer-in-chief Alexis for one and I want to see him at his mercurial best today. I want him running at Luiz, Cahill or Azpilicueta because through him I think we have the most effective player in the league and if anybody can pull something out of a magic bag of tricks, it’s Sanchez.
He can’t do it on his own though. We need the Özil with vision who can see a ball, who can split defences and who won’t go missing in a big game, which is also why I hope Welbeck plays, because I think if he does then he will create more space in his runs for Özil to look for. I suspect today – despite our problems at the back – Arsène goes for a back three and that just doesn’t work further up the pitch when it comes to the static Ollie G, so Welbeck running the channels is a must for me this afternoon.
That will hopefully give Özil the opportunity to have more space and he’s going to have to give us the Özil versus Chelski at the Emirates against Kante, rather than the Özil versus Chelski at Stamford Bridge, because we need the French midfielder to be chasing shadows and dropped shoulders, not breaking up play for Hazard and Costa to counter us at pace.
This game is probably easier to call if you’re a Chelski fan, because you know you’ll get a level of consistency from your team, rather than us. We know the boys have it in them to beat this side, but injuries and suspensions mean it becomes less likely; but we need to hope that the players are spending today excited and not fearful, and in about 12 hours time we’ll know if they’ve risen to the challenge.
Come on you reds.