It is Emirates FA Cup final day on Saturday when we will face Chelsea at Wembley as we look to lift the trophy for a record 13th time.
Ahead of the game, tactical expert Michael Cox examines our opponents’ strengths, dangermen and the key battles in the match.
MC: Antonio Conte has had an incredible impact in English football. It’s not simply that he won the Premier League in his first season – he also prompted a mini-revolution in English football with his successful use of the 3-4-3 system. A clever tactician and a good man-manager, Conte has proved an extremely successful appointment.
MC: Chelsea started the season in a 4-1-4-1 shape, but after their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates in autumn, switched to a 3-4-3 system. This improved Chelsea considerably – they embarked upon a run of 13 straight victories, the first six without conceding, which essentially fired them to the title. By the end of the campaign, 17 of the 20 Premier League sides had used a back three at some point, which must be partly attributed to Conte.
MC: Chelsea’s organisation is superb. David Luiz has excelled as the spare man in a back three, the wing-backs play their roles expertly, appearing as defenders, midfielders and attackers at various points, and the central midfield duo shield the defence well. Opponents find it difficult to get space between the lines, or to play penetrative passes in behind.
MC: Eden Hazard bounced back from a poor 2015/16 to enjoy a stunning campaign. A mazy dribbler, an incisive passer and calm finisher, perhaps only Alexis can rival Hazard in terms of being such an all-round attacking threat. This new system suits him nicely, as he can cut inside into an inside-left position, and has few defensive responsibilities.
AREAS TO TARGET
MC: A few cracks appeared in the second half of the season, when Chelsea kept very few clean sheets. Left-sided centre back Gary Cahill isn’t the most mobile, while right-sided centre-back Cesar Azpilicueta is almost unbeatable on the ground, but not the tallest. If Cesc Fabregas plays in midfield, meanwhile, teams can find space in behind him.
HAZARD v HOLDING
MC: Rob Holding has performed extremely impressively in recent weeks, playing on both the left and the right of Arsenal’s three-man defence, a system that seems to suit his ability to bring the ball forward from the back. He’s yet to encounter an opponent quite as tricky as Eden Hazard, however. The Belgian’s astonishing turn of speed has made fools of many defenders this season, and he’ll look to find space on the outside of Arsenal’s back three. Holding must stay on his feet, and will appreciate some help from Arsenal’s right wing back.
ALEXIS v AZPILICUETA
MC: Alexis has thrived in his inside-left role in recent weeks, as it allows him opportunities to drop deep in search of the ball, or sprint in behind the opposition to receive through-balls. This weekend, however, he’ll be up against the Premier League’s most versatile defender. Cesar Azpilicueta has played right back, left back, right wing back and right-sided centre back for Chelsea, and has an amazing ability to stick tight to opponents regardless of their movement. He rarely loses a tackle, but Alexis boasts tremendous trickery.
BELLERIN v ALONSO
MC: Chelsea’s opener in their 3-1 victory over Arsenal in February was somewhat controversial, as Marcos Alonso towered over Hector Bellerin to nod home at the far post – leaving the Arsenal right back with concussion. But the goal stood, and that approach is typical of Chelsea this season, their wing backs creeping in at the far post to convert, overloading the opposition five against four. Now Arsenal are playing with wing backs themselves, Bellerin’s positional task is arguably simpler – he just has to track Alonso’s runs reliably, and hopefully offer an attacking threat himself. He might find he has a speed advantage over Alonso, which may prove crucial.
More polls and quizzes to follow soon
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