KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- After 358 days the last remaining issue of the 2019-20 English Premier League season will be resolved today. Perversely, the decisive match is not a league game but the FA Cup Final behind closed doors at Wembley.
If Arsenal beat Chelsea they will qualify for next season’s Europa League despite having finishing only eighth in the league. Chelsea are already in next season’s Champions League so, if the ribbons on the cup are blue, then seventh-placed Wolves will enter the Europa League instead.
Nowadays no European consolation exists for the FA Cup Final losers as in the days of the defunct Cup-winners Cup.
Today’s match-up is a repeat of the 2017 final which Arsenal won 2-1 on goals from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey.
Lampard already has a top-four finish to his credit but for Arteta the looming absence from Europe next season offers the prospect of winning the club’s record 14th FA Cup a double importance.
Arteta is the manager with more selection problems. Chelsea worry only about midfielder N’Golo Kante (thigh injury) but Arsenal will miss goalkeeper Bernd Leno (knee), defenders Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) and Calum Chambers (knee), midfielder Pablo Mari (ankle) and forward Gabriel Martinelli (knee).
One particular complication ahead of the final is the possibility that Willian may transfer from Chelsea to Arsenal once the season is finally at an end.
The Brazilian winger is out of contract at the end of the season and his future remains unclear after a seven-year stay. Currently, Willian is set to leave after Chelsea’s second leg against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on August 8 since the Blues are already 3-0 down.
But he has proved a key player for Lampard, particularly in recent weeks. The Brazilian has scored 11 goals in all competitions this season, including four in the space of three games during the Premier League restart. In seven years he has won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup and one Europa League.
Chelsea had hoped Willian would agree a new deal by the end of the week but now agent Kia Joorabchian has said the 31-year-old will make a decision only after the FA Cup Final. Arsenal are among the favourites ahead of one other Premier League club and one from MLS.
Arsenal and Arteta have long-term player concerns of their own which are being shelved for the next few days. Notably these concerns the futures of top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil.
Arteta wants at least one new centre-back and a defensive midfielder. Missing out yet again on Champions League revenue means some departures are inevitable but keeping Aubameyang is a priority after the club captain’s 27 goals in all competitions.
Pep Guardiola’s former Manchester City assistant remains confident that Aubameyang wants to stay but that may change if the Gunners are absent from any European stage next season.
Arteta said: ““He is loved, respected and admired by his teammates and from the conversations that I have with him and the people around him I feel that he wants to continue with us. But I know that things in football can change very quickly.”
The Ozil situation is even more complicated. Arteta has ignored the German midfielder in the closing weeks of the Premier League campaign. But the prospects of selling or even loaning Ozil away are minimal because he will earn around £18m next season by staying.
Ozil’s current deal, which sees the 31-year-old earn £350,000 a week, is not due to expire until next summer and it seems unlikely that another club will be willing to offer him similar wages.
Tony Adams, the former Arsenal captain, believes the answer lies more with Arteta than with Ozil. Adams said: “Everyone knows that Ozil is a talent. Half the job of a head coach is getting the best out of the talent he has available.”
That is not expected to be on Saturday.
The match facts
FA Cups: Arsenal 12, Chelsea 8.
Record in all competitions: Arsenal: 76 wins; Chelsea: 65 wins; Draws: 59
FA Cup: Arsenal 9 wins, Chelsea 5. Draws: 6.
Previous major finals:
2002 FA Cup Final: Arsenal 2:0
2007 League Cup Final: Chelsea 2:1
2017 FA Cup Final: Arsenal 2:1
2019 Europa League Final: Chelsea 4:1.
Overall FA Cup wins: Arsenal 13, Manchester United 12, Chelsea and Tottenham 8, Aston Villa and Liverpool 7.