After Chelsea sealed a second Premier League title in three years with victory over West Brom, Cesc Fabregas claimed the season would only be considered a true success if they win the FA Cup too.
To do the double, the Blues will have to beat Fabregas’ old club Arsenal in the final, but they are clear favourites to do so.
It was a bold claim by Fabregas, as most players would be delighted to win such a prestigious piece of silverware as the Premiership title, but it shows the sort of winning mentality Antonio Conte has instilled in Chelsea’s players. They have been superb this season and a lot of it is thanks to Arsenal.
After the Gunners beat Chelsea 3-0 at The Emirates in September, Conte overhauled his team’s system to spark a revival in their fortunes. He reverted to his preferred three at the back, employing Victor Moses and Marcus Alonso as marauding wing-backs. He reportedly followed Moses up and down the line during training to provide his man with a running commentary on the nuances of this new role. It freed up Eden Hazard to wreak havoc in attack, and Chelsea never looked back.
Superb performances from the likes of N’Golo Kante, Diego Costa, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta catapulted a team that finished mid-table last season back to the summit of the Premier League, and they have stayed there all season. They are deserved champions, the strongest and most consistent team in the land, with excellent balance in the team and real star quality.
A key game was beating Arsenal 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. It highlighted how far they had come, and how far Arsenal had regressed.
It has been a poor season for Arsenal, who look set to finish outside the top four for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 22-year tenure and miss out on Champions League football for the first time.
They have enjoyed a resurgence of late, winning five of their last six, but they look like they will fall just short of Liverpool and Man City. A lot is being pinned on this FA Cup final for Arsenal, and they are in good form after mimicking Chelsea by switching to three at the back.
It should prove to be a great final. Two games between them this season have featured seven goals, and sitting back and soaking up pressure is not in Arsenal’s nature, so you would expect an open game with plenty of chances for both sides. It will pit Hazard up against Alexis Sanchez in the battle to be viewed as the country’s best attacking midfielder. Sanchez has been the one shining light at Arsenal this season, the Premier League’s third highest scorer after Romelu Lukaku, despite not playing as a centre forward for half the campaign.
It will also see Petr Cech come up against his former club and the man that replaced him as Chelsea’s number one, Thibaut Courtois. More worryingly for Arsenal fans, it will see Kante come up against Arsenal’s weak central midfielders, two of Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Mohammed Elneny.
Chelsea will deservedly be the favourites. Pinnacle Sports has odds for the FA Cup final – review them and you will see that Chelsea are just 1.97 to win it, making them odds-on favourites, while Arsenal are all the way out at 4.07.
You can almost double your money by backing Chelsea to beat an unconvincing and inconsistent Arsenal team, and many will be tempted by that. But Arsenal have excellent players and can beat anyone on their day, as they proved by surging past Man City in the semi-final, so 4.07 looks very attractive too.
You might look instead to both teams to score and over 2.5 goals, which is 2.05, so you more than double your money if it comes in. Arsenal invariably concede as they are poor at the back and have been tormented by Hazard, but they are excellent going forwards, with Sanchez and the improving Mesut Ozil leading the charge, so that bet looks interesting.