Arse­nal boss seeks so­lace in quest for sev­enth FA Cup

New Straits Times - - Sport -

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, to­day’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.

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

Would it be a nice farewell? No, what I want is to win the next game,

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 to­mor­row’s sched­uled ti­tle vic­tory pa­rade around west Lon­don and Arse­nal will not pa­rade the FA Cup if they pre­vail to­day.

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