The stage is set for what promises to be a cracker of a finale for the 2019/20 season of English football this weekend. The FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea could not have a better script. While Frank Lampard's side has clawed and fought hard to finish top-four and earn a spot in the Champions League, Arsenal had their worst Premier League seasons in the last 14 years.
Under manager Mikel Arteta, the Gunners finished eighth in the Premier League. The last time Arsenal had finished outside the top-six was in 1995, when they were placed 12th in the table. An FA Cup win for Arsenal would not only give the fans something to cheer about - but it would also earn them a spot in the Europa League next season, which will only elevate the prospects of Arteta as manager.
Former Manchester City and Chelsea left-back, Terry Phelan, stresses the importance of the FA Cup final for Arsenal.
"Well, I think the FA Cup is very important for both the managers. Obviously, for Frank Lampard, being at the helm for 50 odd games now at Chelsea, we know that. Arteta coming in at a sticky period in Arsenal. Finishing 8th in Premier League, it wasn't really good. The last time Arsenal finished outside of the top-six was in 1995 when they had finished 12th. So, you know you have to put that one right," Phelan said in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times.
The former English footballer added that he believes Arsenal have the right blend of youth and experience that can get the job done on Saturday.
"I think he's got in there; he's got a lot of youngsters in there. He's trying to blend the youth with a lot of the older bodies. I think it's very important for the Arsenal, it's not just the European place at the stake, but also it's the trophy. It would be wonderful for them to get the trophy, and get Arsenal into Europe. It will be a wonderful time for them, and Arsenal fans will get a chance to be more self-aware in Europe. They should roll on the dice there," he said.
The biggest worry for Chelsea going into the game would be their shoddy defending that has left them down this season. The Blues have conceded 54 goals this season, which is not a record you would generally associate with a team that finishes in the top four. A string of poor performances have left a big mark on Chelsea's record goalkeeper buy Kepa Arrizabalaga, and he has not been helped much by shoddy work at the back by Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen.
Kurt Zouma has shown real improvement over the course of the season, but he has a tendency to go into the challenge, which easily makes him a frequent target for cards and suspensions.
In front of Chelsea's defensive, will be Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has been absolutely sensational in what has been a difficult season for the team. Aubameyang was one of the contenders for the Premier League Golden Boot, missing out on the trophy to Jamie Vardy by just one goal, scoring 27 goals in overall competitions this season.
"I would presume Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to be the biggest threat for Chelsea in the FA Cup final. If Arsenal could get him good service in and around the air, in the 18-yard box, get him between the lines and attacking Chelsea's back-four," says Phelan.
"We know what he's all about. He's quick, he's alive, he's got a great eye for goal, he's sharp. He brings other players into the game and all, he drifts off defenders. He waits for defenders to go to sleep. And that's where he is at his best. For him to be scoring in overall competitions, I think he's got about 27 goals, that's absolutely fantastic."
Chelsea manager Lampard will have to rely on his attacking prowess to get him his first silverware as a manager this Saturday. And if any manager could get the job done, it is him. All the odds were stacked up against him from the beginning of the season.
Lampard had little experience as a manager as he took on the role at Chelsea. There was a transfer ban on the club when he joined in so he was not allowed to bring in players. It looked like the club had no significant striker, and the first game of the season, Chelsea were thrashed 0-4 by Manchester United. Yet, the club found a way to finish in the top four, and it happened because of the youngsters rising to the occasion.
The likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic combined well with seniors N'golo Kante and Olivier Giroud to give Chelsea a huge push. Chelsea continued to score plenty of goals in every game, with players in every position contributing up front. And that has been the club's biggest strength this season.
"I think Frank Lampard went into a sticky situation at the start with the transfer window ban. He had a fantastic assistant coach in Jody Morris, who has worked for Chelsea for many years, he has played for Chelsea, he's always been in the background. He did a lot of the set-up for the youth team when he was there. I think Frank went in there and Chelsea and he goes 'look, I can't go out, and I can't get players. Let's give youth a chance', and it was great for the youth players to come in there," Phelan said.
"Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham who puts in a dive. All these wonderful players were given a chance, and to tell you the truth, these are the players who got Chelsea where they are."
Phelan added that he believes Lampard's Chelsea to be a much more settled team than Arsenal but noted that their propensity to concede too many goals cost them a lot this season.
"I think Frank had a settled team. But he just conceded too many goals at the back. So, for me, that's what they have to sort out. But overall, the youngsters have worked fantastic in mixing up with the senior players. Giroud has done very well. Everybody's chipped in for goals from the midfield, the defence also scored goals, so they can chip in goals from every single corner of the park," he signed off.