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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Chelsea look solid favourites to complete double

Arsenal overly reliant on free-scoring Sanchez

It's a match of great significance for Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger
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FA Cup final
BBC1 and BT Sport 2, 5.30pm Saturday

Jose Mourinho was in an exuberant mood after steering Manchester United to their third trophy this season but his former club, Chelsea, have been by far the best team in England and can seal a domestic double by beating Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

Chelsea have completed the league and FA Cup double just once in their 112-year history, seven years ago, but the match is also of great significance to Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger, who have attracted huge criticism over the course of the campaign.

Arsenal are facing a season without Champions League football for the first time since 1996 and there is uncertainty over the future of Wenger, who is 2-7 with Sky Bet to lead them into 2017-18.

However, the Gunners sprang a surprise when getting past Manchester City in the semi-finals and if they were to topple Chelsea, they could look upon the campaign in an entirely different light.

Arsenal grew into the game against City, starting cautiously and taking more risks as the match progressed.

They might look to do something similar against the Blues but the game-plan has less chance of working because of the absence of key defenders.

Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal's most reliable centre-back, misses out as a result of the red card picked up for a wild lunge on Everton's Enner Valencia on the final day of the Premier League season.

Gabriel sustained a knee injury in the same game and Shkodran Mustafi has been battling to overcome the effects of concussion sustained in the 2-0 victory at home to Sunderland 11 days ago.

Rob Holding looks a certainty to start and veteran Per Mertesacker is an option having come on as a substitute against Everton, although that was his only Premier League appearance of the season.

Given the shortage of fit central defenders it seems likely Wenger will dispense with the back three which he has used since the 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace in early April.

The system has worked well, with Arsenal winning eight of their last nine matches, although the standard of opposition was often far short of the level they face against Chelsea.

Arsenal's toughest test of the run-in was a visit to Tottenham and they came up a long way short in a 2-0 defeat which could easily have been more emphatic had their opponents shown a more ruthless attitude.

But the response to the north London derby defeat was good with talisman Alexis Sanchez leading the recovery with five goals in the last four matches.

Mesut Ozil has looked more engaged during the run-in and needs to play at the level he is capable of.

However, Arsenal's hopes look hugely and unhealthily dependent on Sanchez, who has been battling to shrug off a thigh strain.

Chelsea suffered their heaviest defeat of the season when losing 3-0 at the Emirates in September but are a totally different animal to the group who surrendered so meekly that day.

Antonio Conte switched to a back three during the match at the Emirates and his team went on to collect 83 more points from the remaining 32 games – an average of 2.59 per match.

The Blues have had a mental break since sealing the title with a 1-0 victory at West Brom 15 days ago but go into the final looking to extend a seven-match winning sequence.

Defensively, they were far from their best in recent home victories over Watford (4-3) and Sunderland (5-1) but they will have been getting back to some serious work at their Cobham training base this week and are likely to be fully focused on the task.

Keeping a high-quality Arsenal attack quiet will not be easy but the Blues' back three is tried and tested and gets excellent protection from Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante.

Arsenal's spine looks nowhere near as strong and Eden Hazard and Diego Costa – possibly playing his last game for the Blues – are likely to punish them.

Chelsea thoroughly deserve to be favourites and should get the job done without the need for extra-time.

2pts 5-6 Ladbrokes

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Team news
Laurent Koscielny is suspended after his red card against Everton and Gabriel (knee) is sidelined. Defender Shkodran Mustafi (concussion) is a doubt and David Ospina is expected to be preferred to Petr Cech in goal. Alexis Sanchez (thigh) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring) are also nursing injuries.

Chelsea have reported no fresh injuries but Antonio Conte has a decision to make in midfield with Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic and Ngolo Kante contesting two places.

Key stat
Arsenal have won just two of their last 13 matches against Chelsea.

Antonio Conte switched to a back three during the match at the Emirates and his team went on to collect 83 points from the remaining 32 games
E.W. Terms
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