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Three key battles to watch out for at Wembley as Arsenal face off with Chelsea

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Arsenal vs Chelsea FA Cup Final

Premier League champions Chelsea will be looking to complete the double and add to their league title when they take the trip across London to face rivals Arsenal in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Antonio Conte’s men surged to the Premier League title with two games remaining when they beat West Brom in early May and are now aiming to regain the famous trophy that they last won back in 2012.

Yet despite Arsene Wenger’s future still being in the balance after missing out on the top four, he will have the chance to win the FA Cup for a record seventh time with victory over their near rivals.

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See below for the three key battles that The Boot Room will look out for on Saturday teatime.

Petr Cech vs Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro

Undeniably the driving force behind Chelsea’s title success this season has been the prolific trio of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa in front of goal.

Between them they have managed 45 (53%) of Chelsea’s 85 goals in the Premier League and, at times, they have been an unstoppable force during the Blues’ rampant season.

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Add to this the 21 assists that they’ve chalked up this season and some 171 chances created across just 38 Premier League games and it’s already looking like a long afternoon for Arsenal supporters.

The man tasked with keeping them at bay for the Gunners is likely to be veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech, a man who will want to forget the last time he lined up against his former club in February.

On that occasion, an individual error from the 35-year-old led to Cesc Fabregas adding a third at Stamford Bridge on the way to a 3-1 win for Chelsea, in a game that also included a moment of world-class brilliance from Hazard who scored an exceptional solo goal from inside his own half.

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Yet Cech has been at his obdurate, consistent best for Arsene Wenger’s side this season, keeping 12 clean sheets in 35 appearances including four in his previous seven matches.

The worry for Arsenal though is that Hazard, Costa and Pedro have huge confidence and momentum on their side, and on a fast-paced Wembley pitch there’s a chance the trio could cause havoc.

Aaron Ramsey vs N’Golo Kante

The middle of the Wembley pitch on Saturday has the potential to turn into a mouth-watering encounter between the immense figure of N’Golo Kante and the unfulfilled potential of Aaron Ramsey.

There’s little that can be said about the 26-year-old French midfielder that hasn’t already been said this season, setting the Premier League alight once again and controlling the middle of the park.

Yet since making his return to the starting line-up in the middle of April, Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey has silently impressed and played a key part in pushing Arsenal so close to a top-four spot.

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Injuries have plagued Ramsey’s career at the Emirates but he’s beginning to build a solid partnership with Granit Xhaka in the Arsenal midfield, and the duo could give Kante a run for his money.

Whilst Ramsey offers more in an attacking sense than Kante does, often making late runs into space around the edge of the area to stretch a defence, the Chelsea man lends himself extremely well defensively and on average makes four times as many defensive actions each match than Ramsey.

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Despite the attacking fire-power that both sides possess, it’ll be in the midfield where the match will be won and it could boil down to which of Kante or Ramsey turns up on the day and dominates most.

Alexis Sanchez vs David Luiz

If there’s one man who will carry Arsenal’s hopes of ending the season with a piece of silverware it’s their talisman Alexis Sanchez, who has been a shining light in a dismal season at the Emirates.

Extra-time hero in the Gunners’ semi-final victory over Manchester City the Chilean featured in every single Premier League match this season, being directly involved in 44% of Arsenal’s goals.

This tally of 28 goals and 10 assists stands head and shoulders above any of his teammates this year, and with speculation over his uncertain future set to continue into the summer transfer window there’s a chance that the FA Cup final could potentially be his final farewell for Arsene Wenger’s side.

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There can be no doubt that David Luiz will have something to say about his however, lining up in the heart of a dogged Chelsea defence determined to secure his second FA Cup winners’ medal.

It seems a long time ago that there were question marks over his move back to Stamford Bridge from Paris Saint Germain, as an excellent campaign has seen the Brazilian back at his fluent best.

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Comfortable in a defensive three alongside Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta, Luiz has been the epitome of consistency but still possesses the desire and commitment that was so evident in his past spell.

It’ll be the battle of the South Americans at Wembley and it’s almost inevitable that passions will run high – particularly between Luiz and Sanchez – and it’ll be a clash worth keeping an eye on.

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Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Arsenal

Who is best-placed to challenge Manchester City next season?

Pep Guardiola’s side will be looking to defend their title during the 2018/19 campaign.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City were crowned as Premier League champions on Sunday afternoon after Manchester United suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of struggling West Bromwich Albion.

Pep Guardiola’s team have ripped apart the top-flight of English football this season with a devastatingly effective style of play that has left their rivals struggling to hold on to their coattails.

City are currently 16 points clear of second place with five games still to play and now have the opportunity to break the 100-point barrier as the season comes to a conclusion.

Here, The Boot Room evaluate which top-six team is best placed to challenge Manchester City’s dominance next year.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United

There are currently mixed feelings around Old Trafford regarding how Manchester United have performed this season and the long-term direction of the club under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho.

A failure to maintain the astonishing pace set by Manchester City has left supporters having to be content with a top-four finish and FA Cup semi-final whilst there has been a deluge of criticism aimed at the pragmatic style of play utilised.

Mourinho remains one of the best managers in world football and he is still in the process of moulding a team in his own image.

The Portuguese maestro has already spent big in the transfer market, as demonstrated by the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku over the past two years, and the club are expected to make further significant investments in the summer.

He needs to find the missing piece to the Manchester United jigsaw and that will mean addressing the lop-sided defence, demonstrated by Ashley Young’s emergence as first-choice left-back.

Mourinho has overcome Guardiola in the past but there will be no room for excuses next season if, after two years of building a team, Manchester United are unable to challenge their cross-city rivals.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur have continuously improved year-on-year under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino but you still feel that the club is some way behind their rivals in terms of winning the Premier League.

Spurs have a young, dynamic squad of players that play fast, attacking football and, in Harry Kane, they possess one of the best strikers in the world right now. However, something is still missing and it is hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.

Perhaps it is simply a mental issue? Tottenham have not won a league title since 1960 and last secured silverware of any kind almost a decade ago – do the current group of players have the right mentality or experience to enable them to maintain performances over the course of a full campaign? Their upcoming FA Cup semi-final may provide an insight later this month.

Whilst you feel that Tottenham will always be in and around the top spots next season, it is difficult to see them overcoming Manchester City without significant investment or Pochettino uncovering the magic formula.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Chelsea

Chelsea have offered a feeble and limp defence of their title this year and still face a scramble to secure a place in the top-four.

Things have clearly not been right behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge and Antonio Conte is expected to depart the club in the summer after spending much of the season snipping at the Chelsea hierarchy.

Regardless of who the Italian’s successor is, it is widely expected that the club will bounce back.

Under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, the Blues have continuously maintained their standing as one of the leading side’s in the country and you would imagine that the Russian oligarch will be keen to reclaim their crown next season.

Chelsea will spend big in the summer to ensure that they build a squad capable of challenging Manchester City and a striker will be top of the new manager’s wish list. Alvaro Morata made a positive start to the campaign but has struggled for form and fitness in the second half of the season.

If the Blues can make the right appointment in the dugout and strengthen significantly on the pitch then history suggests they will be in and around the top spots.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Liverpool

Since arriving at Anfield in October 2015 Jurgen Klopp thrown himself into the task of restoring Liverpool’s status as one of the leading club’s in Europe.

Each transfer window has seen the squad steadily improve and you now feel that the German has built a team that is capable of challenging for both domestic and European silverware.

Liverpool have a reputation for producing attacking, dynamic and exciting football and the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino possess an abundance of pace, power and creativity.

Under the stewardship of Klopp, the team have always looked capable of scoring goals but have regularly been criticised for being undermined by defensive fragile and frail.

However, the signing of Virgil Van Dijk in January, the emergence of John Robertson and the new-found confidence of Loris Karius appears to have put some of those concerns to bed – Liverpool have kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 matches in all competitions.

Klopp will continue to develop the squad during the summer and, as proven by their historic victory over Manchester City, the Reds are certainly heading in the right direction.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Arsenal

There has continued to be a degree of frustration and dissatisfaction around the Emirates Stadium this season as Arsenal have continued to fall behind their rivals on the pitch.

The Gunners are currently 33 points behind Manchester City in the Premier League are relying on winning the Europa League in order to qualify for the Champions League next year.

The club under-performed last season, failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition, and the decline has continued over the following twelve months with supporters becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsene Wenger’s failure to consistently secure positive results.

The same old problems persist – there is a lack of leaders, a lack of quality in central defence and no commanding midfield player.

Wenger has brought together an exciting forward line that possesses pace, power and experience with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arriving in January to complement the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and a fit-again Danny Welbeck.

However, Arsenal continue to be undermined by prevalent weaknesses throughout the remainder of the team and there are currently a world away from competing with Manchester City.

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Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere should consider success of former team-mate and leave North-London

The England international looks set to leave the Emirates outfit this summer.

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Jack Wilshere
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If anyone this season can speak of a season defined by their rejuvenated form then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would take the gold as the once rejected. The once-out-of-favour winger at Arsenal has now transformed himself into one of the key additions to Liverpool‘s settled central midfield three.

Jürgen Klopp has well and truly got the best out of the 24-year-old this term and this marked improvement could inspire the Ox’s former team-mate, Jack Wilshere, who may considering that a move away from North London is now necessary to reignite his career.

Wilshere was hauled off in embarrassing fashion on Thursday night during Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with CSKA Moscow, with the Russians leading 2-0, and the player’s reaction to being axed early highlights just how unsettled at his boyhood club he  has become.

Reports in the Telegraph claim that, despite enjoying a rare, relatively injury-free campaign for the Gunners this season, Wilshere chose to turn down a new deal at the Emirates after refusing to take a pay-cut. Arsenal are keen for the England international to stay but won’t increase their original offer.

With the World Cup coming up and the 26-year-old still yet to establish himself as a regular England starter it remains to be seen whether Arsene Wenger can get the best out of the man that was once hailed the ‘future of the Three Lions’, even by the likes of footballing legends such as Barcelona’s Xavi.

This season Wilshere has featured in 33 matches for the London outfit and has made a personal record number of appearances since the 2013/2014 campaign.

(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images,)

However, since the offer of a new deal was made to Wilshere earlier this year, Mesut Ozil has signed a new contract that almost trebled his salary to £350,000-a-week.

In that time, Arsenal have also agreed to pay £200,000-a-week to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and £180,000-a-week to club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Thus highlighting just how far Wilshere has fallen down the financial pecking order at the Emirates.

Currently, the Englishman is set to become a free-agent in June.

After watching former Emirates team-mate Chamberlain firing Liverpool to the Champions League quarter-finals, with his sensational strike against Premier League champions Manchester City, should Wilshere look to the Klopp effect to get his fading career back on track?

It would definitely prove a risky move for both parties, if the Merseysiders were to pursue the signing.

However, flying high in Europe with once-written-off forward and PFA Player of the year favourite Mohamed Salah, who is already on 40 goals for the season, Liverpool are beginning to represent the perfect club for players to reignite their careers.

Wilshere should take comfort in the knowledge that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is the perfect manager to revive some of football’s fallen giants.

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Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck provides a timely reminder of his ability to Arsene Wenger

The England international has been key for the Gunners in recent fixtures.

Martyn Cooke

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Danny Welbeck
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It has certainly been an interesting week for Danny Welbeck.

The Arsenal striker produced a miss of the season contender against Southampton on Sunday afternoon when he somehow conspired to turn Jack Wilshere’s cross over the bar from a couple of yards out. However, he was then able to fully redeem himself by scoring a brace which included a powerful header in the second half which secured victory.

Welbeck was once again heavily involved on Thursday night as the Gunners travelled to Russia to face CSKA Moscow in the second leg of their Europe League quarter-final tie. With Arsenal trailing by two goals and seemingly in risk of throwing their three-goal advantage from the first leg away it was Welbeck that produced a smart, curling finish to drag his team back into the contest.

For the second time in five days the 27-year-old produced the goods just at the moment when Arsenal needed someone to stand up and drag the team out of a hole.

Ultimately, The Gunners would find an equaliser in Russia and progress to the semi-finals of the Europa League, yet it was Welbeck’s goal that blocked CSKA Moscow’s momentum at a point when the hosts were threatening to produce an upset.

Welbeck is something of an enigma. At 27, there is still a feeling that the former Manchester United academy graduate has yet to fulfil his potential and he has become something of a peripheral figure at the Emirates Stadium over the previous couple of seasons.

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

The striker’s first team involvement has been sporadic due to two serious knee injuries and his return to fitness has coincided with the big-money arrivals of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. However, Welbeck has provided Arsene Wenger with a timely reminder with three goals in the space of five days that he is looking to secure a spot in Arsenal’s starting line-up.

Ironically, Welbeck’s path to regular game time could now come through the misfortune of Henrikh Mkhitaryan who suffered his own knee injury that is likely to side-line him until next month. It has opened the door for Welbeck to stake a claim for a starting role and his contributions against Southampton and CSK Moscow will stand him in good stead.

However, the striker is not without his critics. The 27-year-old is renowned for being somewhat erratic in front of goal and lacks a degree of consistency. He has never been a regular goal scorer and his strike against CSKA Moscow means that he has reached double figures for goals in all competitions for only the third time in his career.

Despite these criticisms there is little doubt that Welbeck still has plenty to offer. His work ethic is second to none and his pace, power and aerial threat make him a dangerous prospect for defenders when he is fit and on form.

Whilst the striker will undoubtedly be focussing on securing a spot in Arsenal’s starting eleven he may also have one eye on the World Cup in the summer.

The 27-year-old has made over thirty appearances for England since making his debut in 2011 and there is currently a distinct lack of striking options in the current international squad. Beyond the duo of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy no other forward has been able to make a significant impact at club level this season.

(during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on April 1, 2018 in London, England.

Daniel Sturridge was a peripheral player at Liverpool and suffered an injury on his first start for West Bromwich Albion after joining the Baggies on loan in January. Tammy Abraham made a good start to the season with Swansea City but has found the next just once in the league since October. Even Marcus Rashford, one of the most promising young players in the country, has struggled to earn regular game time at Manchester United.

With that in mind, Welbeck will be keen to maintain his current form and fitness safe in the knowledge that there are still places in Gareth Southgate’s England squad that are up for grabs in the summer. If he continues to produce the same level of performance that he has provided over the past five days then he may well end a difficult season by earning a seat on the place to Russia.

Welbeck has provided a timely reminder of his ability to both Wenger and Southgate.

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