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2017 FA Cup Final - Chelsea v Arsenal, Sat 15:00

After missing out on the top-four for the first time in 20 years, Arsenal have the opportunity to go some way to rescuing what’s been a disappointing campaign by securing a record-breaking 13th FA Cup. For Chelsea, victory would crown a remarkable start to Antonio Conte’s tenure.

Since deploying three at the back as an exercise in damage limitation at the Emirates when they were 3-0 down, Chelsea have proven extremely clinical as they’ve had a W32-D2-L4 record in all competitions. The Blues eased past lower-league sides Peterborough, Brentford and Wolves in the early stages of the Cup before being faced with tougher challenges in the last two rounds. They broke down a typically stubborn Mourinho side at the Bridge before outclassing Spurs in the semis, despite neither Hazard nor Costa starting at Wembley, though that duo were decisive in getting the Blues over the line when introduced as substitutes around the hour mark.

In the league, the Blues have impressed against their nearest rivals after that defeat at Arsenal, and against Liverpool prior to that, going W5-D1-L2 against fellow top-six sides since, though the fact that they kept only one clean sheet in these 10 games will give the Gunners some encouragement. However, as so often seems to be the case, Wenger’s men have struggled against the big teams, going W1-D2-L5 against teams above them in the league this term, though they did manage to net in all but one of these. They did have some success in the semi-finals of this competition as they managed to see off Man City and interestingly that win came after Wenger had himself introduced three at the back after a string of disappointing results.

Whilst that formation might in theory make his side tougher to break down here, Wenger is struggling to find three central defenders who are able to line up. Koscielny was sent off against Everton and is suspended, whilst Gabriel was stretchered off in the same game and Mustafi is also likely to miss out with concussion. That leaves the so far impressive Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker, who made his first appearance of the season last weekend after recovering from a serious knee injury.

The club captain’s likely presence in the starting line-up will hardly fill Gunners’ fans with confidence, nor will their recent record against Chelsea. The win at the Emirates early on in the campaign ended a run of seven defeats in nine winless clashes with Chelsea for Wenger (excluding the Community Shield victory in 2015), and normal order was restored with the Blues winning 3-1 at the Bridge in February.

What’s more, as far as the FA Cup is concerned, Wigan’s 2013 triumph over Man City was the only instance since 2001/02 of the underdogs coming out on top in finals since 2000/01. And in the last 20 FA Cup finals the trophy has been lifted by the team that finished higher in the league on 17 occasions. Moreover, Wigan’s 2013 triumph over Man City was the only instance since 2002 when the side we had lower in our club rankings managed to lift the trophy – unsurprisingly we have Chelsea above Arsenal, albeit not by as much as might be expected.

Having said that, the likes of West Ham against Liverpool back in 2006, Hull against Arsenal in 2014 and Palace against Utd last year took the tie beyond 90 minutes and despite the strong record of favourites, Arsenal’s victory over Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa in 2015 was the only time a team has won an FA Cup Final by more than one goal since Utd beat Millwall 3-0 in 2004.

The Blues are as short as 1.4 to lift the trophy and whilst that looks a short price, it’s hard to make a case against them. However, given the hard-fought nature of FA Cup finals, dutching the draw at 3.9 and Chelsea to win by one goal at 3.75 looks a solid play at combined odds of 1.9. Since both these sides’ games against the top teams have tended to produce plenty of goals, it’s reasonable to expect something similar here, particularly with the defensive absentees for Arsenal. However, with half the 10 finals at the new Wembley seeing no more than a single strike we prefer to stick with the outcome for this one.

Best Bets: Dutch the Draw and Chelsea to Win by One Goal at 1.9 (combined odds)

Weekend Team News Analysis

Cagliari v Milan
Bruno Alves (CB), Mauricio Isla (RM) and Marco Sau (FW), Cagliari

Cagliari have lost six of the eight matches Sau has missed this season as they’ve failed to score four times. Meanwhile, Alves has missed just one match this term and Isla only six. Milan have a superb record against Cagliari and have won 15 of their last 18 meetings - back them to win again at 1.95.

Roma v Genoa
Armando Izzo (CB) and Giovanni Simeone (FW), Genoa

Izzo has missed 10 away matches since the start of last season and Genoa have lost eight of those. Simeone is a doubt and while he has 12 goals this season none of their other players have managed more than three. Genoa have been rubbish in 2017 with problems at both ends of the pitch that is likely to be exacerbated here with two key players missing. Roma Win to Nil looks a banker at 1.73.

Sampdoria v Napoli
Luis Muriel (FW) and Jacopo Sala (RB), Sampdoria

Muriel is Sampdoria’s most important player, with their most goals, most assists and most key passes played. Since the start of last season they’ve averaged 1.50 points per game in his 42 appearances but just 0.76 PPG in the 33 he’s missed. With Sampdoria's best forward missing Napoli can end their season in style with a Win to Nil at 2.5.

It's the last weekend of the big European leagues as Serie A reaches it's conclusion and we've got an 8/1 treble to finish in style. Good luck!

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