Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea, FA Cup Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, May 27
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 73 Arsenal wins, 62 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 8 Arsenal wins, 5 Chelsea wins, 6 draws
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Preston North End, 2-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Southampton, 5-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Sutton United, 2-0
    • Sixth Round: Beat Lincoln City, 5-0
    • Semi-Final: Beat Manchester City, 2-1 after extra time
  • Chelsea's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Peterborough United, 4-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Brentford, 4-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0
    • Sixth Round: Beat Manchester United, 1-0
    • Semi-Final: Beat Tottenham Hotspur, 4-2
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...

The league season is over now and for the first time in over 20 years, Arsenal have finished outside of the top four. Astonishingly, they finished with more points this year (75) than they had in 10 of the 20 consecutive seasons where they qualified for Champions League football, so figure that one out. Just one of the many weird existential questions we'll have to ask ourselves in this season's postmortem: what the hell actually went wrong here?

There are many who won't give Arsenal a snowball's chance in hell for this game and it's quite easy to see why; it was hard to give Arsenal much of a chance even before all of their defenders got hurt and suspended at the same time.

That being said, anything can happen in a single 90-minute match of football. That's why they don't play matches on paper; they play them inside of television screens on 14th Street.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gabriel (knee,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Mustafi (concussion,) Gibbs (thigh,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Pérez (fictional)
Suspended: Koscielny (first of three, serious foul play)

Hey, have you ever played the position of central defender? If so, I know a London-based club that could probably use your services!

Arsenal's season started to swing back in the right direction once they started playing three center backs in April, but now, it might be a stretch to even name three available center backs that could start tomorrow. So, let's figure this out.

Here's a list of Arsenal's first team defenders, listed by squad number, listing their level of availability:

Mathieu Debuchy (probably available, but far from ideal)
Kieran Gibbs (doubtful)
Per Mertesacker (available, but not quite ideal)
Gabriel (out)
Laurent Koscielny (out)
Rob Holding (available)
Nacho Monreal (available)
Shkodran Mustafi (doubtful)
Héctor Bellerín (available)
Carl Jenkinson (see Debuchy)

Thank God there are four names available, though you could argue that Mertesacker is not ideal for a match of this magnitude, given how little he has played this season. Like, do we even still have Mathieu Debuchy? There were photographs of him at an end of season event looking glum (or, as they say in France, le gluuuumme), so he does exist. I haven't been bothered to check if Lucas Pérez is in any of those pictures because I'm going to maintain that he's fictional.

My guess is that Mertesacker will anchor a back three including Rob Holding and Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal will start on the left and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, back in full training from his injury suffered at Southampton, will start on the right.

From there, the selection seems easy to me, aside from center forward. Danny Welbeck was a bit wasteful against Everton last weekend but strikes me as a better option than Olivier Giroud at the moment.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mertesacker, Holding, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Loftus-Cheek (back)

Thanks to Chelsea's deal with Satan, which was re-upped for another five years last summer, the Blues have no major injury concerns entering the final. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been out with a nagging back problem; he made only six appearances in the league this season, none of them starts, which has led to swirling transfer speculation around the 21-year-old midfielder.

Chelsea play a 3-4-3 formation, something they switched to after losing to Arsenal in September (covered below), with a back three composed of David Luiz, Gary Cahill, and César Azpilicueta. The midfield four are usually Victor Moses, Marcos Alonso, Nemanja Matić, and either Cesc Fàbregas or N'Golo Kanté.

The attacking trio feels a bit like Murderers' Row, with Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, and Pedro all capable of doing quite a bit of damage against an Arsenal back three-or-four-or-five that is being held together with duct tape and Per Mertesacker's long reach.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Moses, Alonso, Matić, Fàbregas, Hazard, Pedro, Costa.

Season in Review

Both of these sides switched to a back-three this season following a 3-0 road loss within London. For one, it made them runaway title winners. For the other, it came far too late.

When Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates in September (covered in more detail below,) they were in the middle of what would go on to be a 19-match unbeaten run across all competitions. The loss, Chelsea's second in a row at that point, dropped the Blues to eighth in the table after six games. A week later, at Hull, they struggled to a 2-0 win. From the BBC recap of that match:
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte promised "a solution" after his side went down with a whimper against Arsenal last weekend and he found his answer in a strategy he used at former club Juventus. The Italian opted for a three-man defence during much of this trophy-filled time in Turin and deployed Gary Cahill, David Luiz and César Azpilicueta at the back as he organised his Chelsea rearguard to match.
The win at Hull was the first of 13 consecutive league wins for the Blues as they catapulted their way to the top of the table. Even after Spurs snapped the winning streak on January 4, Chelsea still went on to win 14 of their final 18 league games, as they won the league by seven points.

Arsenal, of course, stumbled throughout the winter and spring. Two losses in mid-December left Arsenal nine points out of first on Christmas. By the end of the season, that gap doubled.

The warning signs were there in January, when the Gunners spotted Bournemouth a 3-0 lead before having to storm back to draw 3-3. But, they responded by winning their next four across all competitions. The season truly fell apart in the last week of January and first week of February, when Arsenal were blitzed out of the gate at home by Watford, lost 2-1, then lost at Stamford Bridge four days later. Starting with the Watford match, Arsenal lost eight times in a 16-game span across all competitions.

After losing to Tottenham on April 30, Arsenal finished the season by winning five straight, but it was too-little, too-late.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Chelsea split their league meetings this season, with both sides winning at home under very different circumstances.

It feels so long ago that Arsenal ran riot over the Blues at the Emirates (it was September 24, so, eight months ago, I suppose that is a long time...) Arsenal jumped out to a huge lead, with Alexis Sánchez pouncing on a Gary Cahill error in the 11th minute before Theo Walcott doubled the lead three minutes later. Mesut Özil added a third before halftime and Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 win.

At Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea bludgeoned their way to an early lead, quite literally, as Marcos Alonso used his elbow to beat Hector Bellerín to a header on 13 minutes, forcing the Arsenal right back out of the game with a concussion to boot. Arsenal did well to keep the match close, but Francis Coquelin did not do well to keep Eden Hazard close on 53 minutes and the Belgian scored a wonderful individual goal to double the lead. Cesc Fàbregas made it three from a Petr Čech error on 85 minutes and Olivier Giroud scored a consolation goal in injury time.

Historically speaking, there was a watershed in the course of this rivalry, though it was not a league game or an FA Cup tie, but a Champions League tie in 2004. To remind you that the watershed came during the Invincibles season borders on blasphemy. It was, of course, Wayne Bridge's 87th minute goal at Highbury that saw Chelsea through to the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate. Since that match, Chelsea and Arsenal have played 31 times across all competitions. Chelsea have won 18 them. Seven have ended drawn. That leaves just six Arsenal wins in 13 years.

Chelsea and Arsenal have met in 13 previous FA Cup ties; Arsenal have won eight and Chelsea have won five. After splitting the first two, with Chelsea winning in 1915 and Arsenal winning in 1930, the Blues won three straight meetings in '31, '39, and '47. Arsenal then won seven consecutive ties between the clubs, in 1950, 1952, 1973, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. That 2004 win and the two league encounters that season (both Arsenal wins) came before that fateful Champions League tie, of course. The sides last met in 2009, with Chelsea winning 2-1 in the semifinal.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor. Taylor has had a colorful history when it comes to Arsenal, including that season-opening loss to Aston Villa almost four years ago as well as Arsène Wenger calling him "dishonest to his federation" when he was the fourth official against Burnley during the winter. Colorful history aside, Arsenal all-time have a record of 12 wins, five draws, and two losses with Taylor in the middle, across all competitions.

Arsenal only had Taylor as a referee twice this season and both instances came after the whole "dishonest to your federation" thing. The first was the FA Cup sixth round tie against Lincoln City, which Arsenal won 5-0. The other was the first match of Arsenal's back-three experiment, the 2-1 win at Middlesbrough on April 17.

All-time, Chelsea have a record of 11 wins, four draws, and four losses with Taylor in the middle. Only one of those losses was a league fixture (1-0 at Stoke in 2015.) Two of the three losses were League Cup losses: 2-0 to Swansea in the first leg of the 2012/13 semifinal (it was the second leg when Eden Hazard kicked a ballboy and was sent off by Chris Foy) and 2-1 after extra time to Sunderland the following season.

Taylor has worked a match between these two clubs at Wembley before; he was in charge of Arsenal's 1-0 win in the 2016 Community Shield, which was Chelsea's fourth loss from the list.

This year, Chelsea won all four games in which they had Taylor as the referee (though, to be fair, they did win 79% of their games this year in total): 2-1 over West Ham in August, 2-0 at Hull in October, 3-1 at Manchester City in December, and 2-1 at Stoke in March.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an intensive pronoun. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat yourself.