London (AFP) – Bruised but unbowed, Arsene Wenger hopes to end the most painful season of his long tenure as Arsenal manager with a record-breaking FA Cup final victory over Double-chasing Chelsea.
Though he has been barracked by his own fans and failed to secure Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years, Wenger can make history by becoming the first manager to win seven FA Cups.
With his contract due to expire and no news forthcoming about his future, Saturday’s game could provide an opportunity for a golden send-off — not that Wenger will be disclosing his plans in advance.
“Would it be a nice farewell? No, what I want is to win the next game,” he said this week.
“I love to win and I love to do well for my club. I want to win the cup for my club. It’s not about me, it’s about us winning the trophy and giving everything to achieve it.”
It is not the first time Wenger finds himself looking to the world’s oldest cup competition for solace, with the FA Cup having enabled him to apply silver finishes to the season in both 2014 and 2015.
But he has never before gone into a final knowing it is his last hope of salvaging anything from the season, after Arsenal missed out on the top four and fell by the wayside in the League Cup and Champions League.
While the Frenchman continues to be targeted by the vociferous ‘Wenger Out’ brigade, Arsenal’s recent form means they approach the game with something of a spring in their step.
They won seven of their last eight league matches, winning all of the last five, and lost out to Liverpool in the race for fourth place by only a point.
Their most recent Wembley outing will also stand them in good stead, with Arsenal having seen off Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 2-1 in the semi-finals courtesy of an extra-time winner by Alexis Sanchez.
Wenger’s switch to a back three — mirroring Chelsea — has helped Arsenal find a second wind, but the defence he aligns beneath the Wembley arch will be far from a first-choice triumvirate.
– Manchester tributes –
Laurent Koscielny is banned following his dismissal in last Sunday’s 3-1 win over Everton and Gabriel has been ruled out with knee ligament damage sustained in the same game. Shkodran Mustafi is a doubt due to concussion.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte hopes to emulate his Italian compatriot Carlo Ancelotti by steering the club to a league and FA Cup Double in his first season at Stamford Bridge.
He, too, can point to impressive form — six straight league wins – and a stirring recent Wembley triumph, his side having overcome Mauricio Pochettino’s dangerous Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 in the last four.
“We don’t feel any pressure. We’re just taking this game as it comes,” says wing-back Victor Moses.
“We think we’re good enough to beat Arsenal, but it’s not going to be an easy game.
“We’ve got the league title and they’re going to want to win because they missed out on top four. We’re going to try and stop them because we want the Double.”
The game will be John Terry’s last in Chelsea’s colours and although he is not expected to start, he could bow out by lifting his 17th trophy as captain and 18th in total.
Conte once again has a full squad to choose from and must decide who out of Pedro and Willian will complete his front three alongside Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.
Monday’s fatal terror attack in Manchester, which left 22 people dead, means there will be a heavy police presence around Wembley.
The players will wear black armbands and there will be a period of silence before kick-off.
Chelsea have cancelled Sunday’s scheduled title victory parade around west London and Arsenal will not parade the FA Cup if they prevail on Saturday.
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