An exclusive Arsene Wenger interview, classic goals, team news and a quiz. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of our Emirates FA Cup final against Chelsea.
PREPARING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
Like the majority of Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger has been through the full range of emotions as the clock counts down towards Emirates FA Cup final day.
It may be the eighth of his career, but all the old feelings he's experienced since his first back in 1998 have returned: nerves, excitement, sleepless nights and a keen sense of anticipation about what could unfold at Wembley.
“I am feeling all of that,” the manager told Arsenal Player with a smile. “There are moments when you are a bit more nervous and excited of course, and there is also the desire to win the trophy to make everyone happy, to win it as well because you love to win.
“Of course you know in a football game that anything can happen, you can win, you can draw, you can lose so there is a mixture of all of that. But I must say the desire to win takes over everything else. You worry just about preparing your team so they have a good chance to go into the game in very good condition.”
But that is easier said than done. If Wenger, who has overseen seven previous FA Cup finals, can feel the adrenaline kicking in over the course of the week, how about his players?
Take Rob Holding for example. This time last year he was dealing with the pain of relegation at Bolton Wanderers - now he is preparing for a final in front of millions of football fans across the globe against the Premier League champions.
So how does Wenger keep the 20-year-old - and the rest of his squad - calm ahead of such a big game?
“You have to get the nervous system to the right level, that means a good mixture of desire and excitement but also not too nervous,” the manager said.
“You also have to build up the belief in the team, so everybody knows what they have to do and what you expect of them, and that together they play their game. That is very important.”
In terms of build-up to an FA Cup final, ours has been far from ideal. Not only have we lost the suspended Laurent Koscielny after his red card against Everton, but Gabriel was also stretchered off in that game and will miss out on Wembley.
|Arsenal: Mustafi (ill - doubt), Cazorla (knee), Gabriel (knee), Reine-Adelaide (ankle)
Chelsea: Loftus-Cheek (back)
When you throw into the mix concerns about Shkodran Mustafi, it's clear that Wenger will have his work cut out when it comes to selecting his backline.
“To lose two players on the same day, in a sector where normally you didn’t expect to be exposed on the day [is difficult],” the manager said. “That shows you again how unpredictable this whole story is, because we lose two centre backs in a home game where mainly your focus is on attacking.
“I trust my gut feeling [when it comes to selecting my team for the final]. Overall I would say I know 90 per cent of the players, sometimes there are one or two positions where you have a hesitation and sometimes I cut that uncertainty early, and sometimes I leave it a bit later as it gives me more time to observe the players. But overall 90 per cent of the players who will start will know very early.
“Against Aston Villa in 2015 it was between Walcott and Giroud up front. I decided to go for Walcott as a centre forward because of the pace he has and I left it very late because Giroud had contributed a lot and I made my mind up late. But overall, sometimes [I make a late decision] for one position but most of the time you know your team.”
BANISHING THE BLUES
While our preparation for the final has hit a number of bumps in the road, Chelsea’s has been smooth as silk - and arguably it has been that way ever since our 3-0 win against them in September.
That day it was the Gunners, led by Mesut Ozil and Alexis, who looked to be the true title contenders - but that first-half demolition job at the Emirates sparked change in Antonio Conte’s squad.
A 13-match winning run would follow in the league, and it was the Blues who were victorious in the return match at Stamford Bridge. So what did Wenger learn from these first two acts in the trilogy?
“I would say that we were in a positive period and we were really sharp [in September’s win],” he said. “Chelsea had not found their tactics, their tactical shape and it was a very convincing win. After that Chelsea benefited from the fact they could work on a different shape and they did not play in Europe.
“Overall, they focused completely on the Premier League and in the end they won it. Our defeat was a warning for them and they rectified what went wrong for them and they could focus completely on the Premier League and the FA Cup as well.
“I would say it was quite an even game [at Stamford Bridge], where we did not take advantage of our chances and we were exposed to the counter-attacks, especially from Eden Hazard. The second goal was a typical example of what Hazard can do on counter-attacks. That’s what we have to stop against them.
“I think the third goal was a bit of an accident, but overall I think the game was tight so we have the third meeting now with them. So we have a good opportunity to show our strengths.”
‘WE CAN BEAT ANYBODY'
Chelsea may be the bookies’ favourites on Saturday, but we are in no mean run of form ourselves. Since our change to the much-discussed 3-4-3 formation, we have won eight of our past nine games and head to Wembley having won five on the bounce.
“I would say that from recent history the team gets belief, that if we are all on the same wavelength we can beat anybody,” he said.
“The final is a special occasion, we have had to fight to get there - we had to dig deep against Man City, we played away at Southampton and now we have an opportunity to grab the trophy. We have to focus on that. We have to turn up on the day with our best performance.”
It would be foolish to bet against Wenger, too. With six wins out of his seven FA Cup finals he knows exactly what is required and how to achieve it. He will become the competition’s most decorated manager if we lift the trophy.
“I love every competition, I love every game and I love to win every game so that’s why maybe I can compete for that,” he said. “But believe me, on the day I will be focused on bringing the trophy to the club. After that, the number of times I have been there shows I care for every single game for this club.”
More quizzes coming soon!
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