Arsenal Behind Enemy Lines – FA Cup Preview with All Things Chelsea
*The core of this article was taken from an FA Cup preview podcast by The Dubious Goals Panel, which is available here for those wanting a more in-depth preview of the upcoming fixture between Chelsea and Arsenal.
Ahead of the FA Cup final, I decided to go across party lines and enter the den of the opposition as I sat down with @Isoncfc from All Things Chelsea to try and understand his views on the upcoming fixture and how he saw the final panning out.
You’ve of course already had the better of the two fixtures between the clubs so far this season, taking 4/6 points, but finals are always different. How do you see Lampard setting up Chelsea?
We’ve tried both a back four and a back three against Arsenal in our two games against Arsenal this season with mixed results. We got played off the park in the first half against you guys in December, but the change to a back four completely changed the game. Despite this, I expected Frank to roll out with a back three on Saturday. The Wembley pitch is absolutely huge and it means we can easily deploy two people on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and hopefully reduce his effectiveness on that left-wing. We already saw how devastating he can be from there against Manchester City.
Will there be any surprise inclusions do you think?
I don’t believe so. Not unless you count our 38-year-old reserve keeper starting over the one we paid a world-record fee for. As mind-boggling as it sounds, this will likely be the most surprising choice in our lineup. I think Frank Lampard will be pretty happy with that he’s seen from the side in the last few weeks and so it would seem silly to change it in such a big game.
Based on your knowledge of David Luiz, which version of the Brazilian do you think we will see on Saturday evening?
It’s a tough one for sure. We saw what David Luiz was capable of against Manchester City. In a big game, with the world watching, he looked imperious in defence. He commanded the box, his head meeting every ball and every tackle was seemingly perfectly timed. We’ve seen these performances time and time again for Chelsea when he wants to be he is one of the best defenders in the world. We also saw his other side against Manchester City just after the restart and this was accompanied by a red card against Chelsea in the game at Stamford Bridge. If Chelsea have a slow start to the game on Saturday, a couple of poor crosses will quickly turn into confidence gainers for Luiz. As harsh as it feels to say it, I think we could be due one of his performances which ultimately stops him being considered among the modern-day greats.
Where do you think this final will be won and lost?
It’s a very interesting question for sure. I fully expect Reece James to be matched up against Aubameyang which will be a crucial battle within the game. Aubameyang has James for pace all day, but Reece is so strong physically and an excellent one-on-one defender. Furthermore, it’s also fairly likely he’ll have veteran César Azpilicueta for company, one of the finest defenders I think we’ve seen in this last decade. The other obvious battle is the one in midfield, we’ll likely only have a two-man midfield so there will be a chance for Arsenal to take this midfield battle depending on how they set up.
What do you think the final score will be?
It’s not an easy one to call, there is so much riding on this game for Arsenal Football Club but at the same time, could there be too much pressure? A win here for Arsenal doesn’t fix their season, but it does help to recover parts of it whilst ensuring they will still be competing in Europa in some form next season. I think Chelsea’s quality and setup will still prevail nonetheless, so I believe a 3-1 win should be more than achievable.
How much of a difference will a trophy make to your judgement of Frank Lampard’s job this season?
To be honest, not a huge amount. Many considered this season a write-off and the work Frank Lampard has done working youth into our team across the pitch whilst still maintaining our place amongst Europe’s elite next season is nothing short of remarkable, all whilst having a transfer ban! Such was the success of this season, it’s allowing us to target some truly world-class players in the transfer window because we know that we have youth players with their whole career in front of them in other positions. That being said, how good would a trophy be on Saturday?!
Can you see Willian swapping West London for North London, and if so what do you think he can offer Arsenal?
Willian has been the provider of an immense amount of frustration during his seven-year stay in South-West London. On some days he has the quality of a player such as Eden Hazard, and e’s put in some of the best performances I’ve seen for this club, but he goes through barren patches where you also barely notice he’s there. All in all, he’s a quality player and a good person, and the grit he shows on the pitch is something I can’t remember any Arsenal players having. He’d be a class signing for Arsenal for a couple of years as he starts to enter the twilight of his career.
Obviously, the two clubs this season have had very different fortunes. As an outsider looking in, however, do you think that Arteta has the club, if not the side, on the right track to get back into the top four?
As much as it pains me to say it, Mikel Arteta is a breath of fresh air at Arsenal Football Club. The club took a huge risk appointing someone with such little experience, but they knew of course that he had already been tutored by one of the very best managers football has to offer. The games against Manchester City and Liverpool recently gave us an Arsenal performance we’ve not seen in a long time. He has a huge task at hand to guide the club back towards the Top 4, but if he is backed there is no reason that Arsenal can’t be aiming for those positions in two to three years time. I believe the club has been run awfully for the best part of a decade, so it’s not going to be a quick fix to get them back to the top. I just hope the board realise this for the fans and Arteta’s sake.
The FA Cup final will take place this Saturday at 5.30 pm and will be on BBC One in the UK, free-to-air.
Words by Ben Browning.