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The Big Match Tactical View: Arsenal v Chelsea

Can Alexis Sanchez fire Arsenal to victory?
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Can Antonio Conte complete the double in his first season in English football? Michael Cox looks at the tactics and Alan Thompson provides the betting lowdown...


"Arsene Wenger’s main task here will be trying to create a cohesive backline without some of his key performers."

Arsenal v Chelsea
Saturday 17:30, BBC One and BT Sport 1.
Match Odds: Arsenal [4.9], Chelsea [1.84], The Draw [3.9].


It's a London derby in Saturday's FA Cup final - and league champions Chelsea start as strong favourites. Indeed, their price has shortened considerably since the market opened. Having initially traded at around [2.0], they're now closer to [1.85].

That can be explained by the huge problems faced by their opponents. Arsene Wenger's Arsenal have a serious injury crisis in defence, and Wenger's main task here will be trying to create a cohesive backline without some of his key performers.

The major issue is that Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal's defensive leader and the man who has worn the armband for most of the campaign, is suspended after his ludicrous two-footed lunge brought a red card against Everton on the final day. The problems are compounded by the fact that Shkodran Mustafi has been ill after suffering concussion, and though rated as doubtful rather than ruled out, that's not something you can take a chance with.

Brazilian centre-back Gabriel is also out, and while not a regular he's looked better in this three-man defence, and provided probably his best display in an Arsenal shirt against Manchester City in the 2-1 semi-final victory. Per Mertesacker, meanwhile, is available but his 40 minutes against Everton last Sunday is his only playing time all season. Can Wenger throw in Arsenal's club captain after such little match practice?

There's also the question of whether Wenger will consider it appropriate to abandon the 3-4-3 system he's used in recent weeks, and switch to a 4-2-3-1. That probably causes more problems, however, so he's trying to find three defenders from somewhere.

One will be Nacho Monreal, who has looked comfortable on the left of the three. The other seems likely to be Rob Holding, impressive in this system but up against Eden Hazard, the Premier League's trickiest attacker. The central centre-back remains to be seen. Wenger will be keen to play Mustafi if possible - and he's the type of player capable of outmuscling Diego Costa. If not, it looks like Mertesacker, though whether he'd last 90 - or 120 - minutes remains to be seen.

Wenger has other selection issues. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has recovered from injury, a big boost considering how comfortable he's looked on the right of this system - but is he fit enough to start over Hector Bellerin? Could he be used on the left, where Kieran Gibbs hasn't performed well?

There's also a major selection upfront, where Wenger is choosing between the speed of Danny Welbeck and the hold-up play of Olivier Giroud. The latter hasn't performed well against Chelsea in the past, and Arsenal look better in this system when Welbeck stretches teams.

It's also worth remembering that Wenger has deployed his 'cup goalkeeper' in Arsenal's last two FA Cup finals - Lukasz Fabianski and then Wojciech Szczesny. He fielded David Ospina for much of this cup run, but his injury for the semi-final means Petr Cech played, and he should start here against his old club.

In stark contrast, Chelsea have no injury problems whatsoever, and Antonio Conte only really has one decision to make - should he be bold and let Cesc Fabregas loose against his former side? That would provide extra midfield creativity, and through-balls for the front three. It seems far more likely, however, that Conte will be scared of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez drifting between the lines, and use both Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante in front of the defence.

Ozil and Sanchez seems Arsenal's only real area of strength here, and Chelsea's defensive task will be largely about stopping balls into them.

Chelsea's wing-backs, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, caused Arsenal real problems in Chelsea's 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge back in February, but now Arsenal are matching Chelsea's system this should be less of a problem.

The problem, however, will be that Arsenal won't have a spare man against Chelsea's front three. With Hazard's acceleration against the inexperienced Holding, Pedro's runs in behind his compatriot Monreal, and Costa's strength against a centre-back unlikely to be fully fit, it's difficult to see past a Chelsea victory here.


The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson

Arsene Wenger will be hurting after missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time as Arsenal boss. Rumours have been circulating all season that this could be his final game in charge. If those rumours are true, this would be a great way to end his reign. Of course, it won’t be easy as he faces the Premier League champions and Chelsea will be keen to make Antonio Conte’s debut season a double-winning season.

The Gunners have been in good form keeping the race for top four going to the final game of the season, with five wins in a row and 13 goals scored (only two conceded) during those games. Despite finishing the season well the loss of Laurent Koscielny for his straight red against Everton on the final day certainly weakens them.

If you look at the Champions last seven games, starting with the 4-2 defeat of Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final they scored at least three goals in six of those games (the 1-0 victory at West Brom being the exception), a total of 24 goals (eight conceded) during that spell.

One of these clubs has won this trophy six of the last ten years, so they are no stranger to success in the competition. Arsenal have won each of their last five FA Cup finals and Chelsea their last four – Chelsea’s last defeat in an FA Cup final was against Arsenal in 2002.

When this market was formed (sometime after the semi finals) Chelsea traded some decent amounts around evens which is more around the price I thought they would be. They are a bit short at [1.8] in my book. Arsenal are almost a point higher to win this than they were when they came from behind to draw with Manchester City in 90 minutes before winning in extra-time. I think there is some value in backing Arsenal on the Asian Handicap +0.5 & +1.0 at around evens.

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