By Peter Auf der Heyde
Going into Saturday’ FA Cup final, all the pressure will be on Arsenal to win the trophy for a record-extending 14th time.
Both finalists – Arsenal and Chelsea – won their last league match of the season, but while Chelsea’s 2-0 victory against Wolves ensured them a fourth place finish in the league and a place in next season’s Champions League, Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Watford, which saw them climb over Sheffield United and Burnley into eighth, was not good enough to qualify them for a place in Europa next season.
Victory against Chelsea on Saturday in Wembley will do that though, as the winner of the oldest knock-out competition in the world is automatically given a place in the prestigious Europa League.
Should Chelsea emerge victorious on Saturday, the place in the Europa League will go to Wolves, who finished seventh in the league.
For Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta, who captained Arsenal to their FA Cup win in the 2013/14 season, there was good news and bad news ahead of the final.
The good news was that German goalkeeper Bernd Leno could well be available for the match against Chelsea after recovering quicker than expected from an injury that has kept him out for several weeks.
Hector Bellerin, who missed the Gunners’ game against Watford should also be available as his absence in the last game was more of a precaution than anything else.
It does, however, seem unlikely that German World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi will be able to play as he picked up an injury in Arsenal’s semi-final win against Manchester City.
“Musti is injured and we need to assess a little bit how long he is out. I doubt it [he’ll be fit for the final]. I don’t know. We have to see how he evolves in the next few days. At the moment, I doubt it,” Arteta said.
Arteta will be hoping that his star striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang brings his recent form to Wembley, having scored four of Arsenal’s six goals in their last three matches.
At 31, the Gabonese international is aware that he presumably has just one big-time transfer still ahead of him and there is speculation that he could be on his way out of Arsenal this year.
Winning the FA Cup might keep him.
For Chelsea coach Frank Lampard, who is only in his second season as a first-team coach, winning the FA Cup would be a huge success. He won the cup four times as a player and would love nothing more to win it as a coach as well, giving the club their ninth FA Cup victory.
One of the players Lampard will be counting on to bring success is Christian Pulisic, who has been outstanding in his first season with the club.
“Obviously the FA Cup trophy would be massive. We have some good opportunities in front of us and we are going to go take it,” the American said.
Football fans throughout Africa will be able to watch the match live in HD, as the continent’s leading digital-TV operator, StarTimes, has secured the rights to broadcast the exciting competition.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.
Dusingizimana Remy is a journalist for Umuryango.rw. He studied at the University of Rwanda.He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communication. He started his career in writing about sports in 2015.Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @REMY SAGAN