THE FA Cup final at Wembley today will hand either Frank Lampard or Mikel Arteta their first trophy of a budding managerial career.
Both are in their first season as bosses of Chelsea and Arsenal, and a triumph today would be a big achievement for either. Lampard took over the reins at Stamford Bridge at the start of the campaign, while Arteta arrived at the Emirates in December.
Notwithstanding this, the Blues will start with a slight edge, but when the action gets underway, it could well count for nothing. The FA Cup, over the years, has taught us that the formbook doesn’t matter much on match day and today’s encounter could yet be one of those fixtures.
Chelsea’s season has already been credited as a reasonably decent one, mostly because they qualified for the Champions League by emerging fourth in the Premiership.
Arsenal were eighth – the first time in 25 years that they have not been among the top six. So a victory today would certainly mean more to the Gunners. It would also earn them a slot in the Europe League next season – their last shot at securing continental football.
That Chelsea are favourites to lift the famous trophy is not surprising. They have a solid squad that one would have to say can beat any side if they play to their full potential – something that Lampard has his work cut out for him.
Where they could improve a lot though is in defence and they are also somewhat short on experience. But beyond that, they have the game and players to see off Arsenal’s challenge.
Their key starters will be Christian Pulisic and Mateo Kovacic, who have done well enough to be considered among their outstanding players.
Lampard has also blooded more than a few up-and-coming players, mostly by default because of a transfer ban. Needless to say, they have served their manager with some distinction and a win here would be a fitting way to finish it all off.
Tammy Abraham has been one of the standout youngsters and for him, and the others, to lift the fabled Cup would be unforgettable. It would also be a glorious time to erase the 4-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of Manchester United on the opening day of the season back in August.
Chelsea certainly exacted a good measure of revenge for that loss with the dominant victory over the Red Devils in the semi-finals, which got them to today’s showpiece.
Arsenal surprisingly saw off favourites and defending champions Manchester City. With that scalp, along with that of newly crowned league champions Liverpool in the last two-and-a-half weeks, Arteta’s squad will go into today’s Wembley showpiece with plenty of belief.
Like Chelsea, Arsenal’s defence will need to put on a polished performance to claim victory. This side has leaked goals unnecessarily in a big way and that’s what really cost them in the Premier League.
Arteta has at his disposal one of the more exciting frontlines in the game. Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe are class acts, and in the view of many, it is Aubameyang that Chelsea will want to single out for extra caution.
The Gabon striker is as deadly as they come and if he is allowed a wee bit of room in front of goal, the Blues could end up paying dearly for it. He has scored in two of their last three matches and would love to round off the season with one in the Cup final, just as Lacazette, Pepe or any other in the side would.
London derbies, as this one is, are often fiery and loaded with emotion. Today’s showdown, named the “Heads Up FA Cup final” in honour of Prince William’s campaign in support of mental health, should be no exception.
And at the end of it, Lampard or Arteta will be more than delighted to accept the silverware as their first accolade in their new jobs.