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Kevin Pullein: not much between FA Cup finalists Chelsea and Arsenal

Don't expect a flood of goals at Wembley Stadium

Chelsea face Arsenal in the FA Cup final
1 of 1

Chelsea and Arsenal have closer records than most FA Cup finalists.

Since the Premier League started in 1992 there have been 25 all-Premier League FA Cup finals. The average distance between the finalists in the league was eight places and 24 points.

Chelsea finished four places and ten points above Arsenal. So there was less difference in achievement between them than between most finalists.

I went back over each of those 25 previous finals and asked myself what I would have anticipated based only on the league records of the contestants. For example, at 90 minutes what would have been the chance of a win for the higher finishers, a win for the lower finishers and a draw?

Altogether I would have expected 14 wins for the higher finishers, four or five wins for the lower finishers and six or seven ties going to extra time. What happened? There were 14 wins for the higher finishers, five wins for the lower finishers and six ties went to extra time.

So the league records of the competitors predicted pretty well the chances in that knockout game.

Maybe the most important thing to remember about the FA Cup final is that it is a game of football. Like any other, it can be turned by something nonsensical. And the list of such possibilities has grown with the inclusion of bad VAR decisions. But the biggest influence on the outcome is still the skill of the players.

It follows that the smaller the lead in the Premier League of the higher finisher over the lower finisher the smaller the chance of them winning in the FA Cup final, and vice versa.

On average FA Cup finalists were separated in the Premier League by eight places and 24 points. When the gaps were smaller the higher finishers lifted the trophy eight times out of 13. In other seasons the higher finishers lifted the trophy ten times out of 12.

The situation at the end of normal time was like this. When Premier League gaps were smaller than average, there were six wins for the higher finishers, three wins for the lower finishers and four draws. In other seasons, there were eight wins for the higher finishers, two wins for the lower finishers and two draws.

Based only on league records, I estimate that at the end of normal time there is a 42 per cent chance of a Chelsea win, a 29 per cent chance of an Arsenal win and a 29 per cent chance of the tie going to extra time. To lift the trophy the chances become 57 per cent for Chelsea and 43 per cent for Arsenal.

Manchester City's Wembley goal spree was an exception

Last year in the FA Cup final Manchester City beat Watford 6-0. It was unusual but not unprecedented for there to be so many goals. Normally in an FA Cup final there are fewer goals than we should have anticipated if the teams were playing in the league.

You would see this if you looked all the way back to the start of the Football League in the late 1800s. But let us focus on the Premier League era.

In Premier League games the average difference in position between participants is seven places. For FA Cup finalists it has been eight places. So FA Cup finals have been quite like Premier League games in terms of the difference in Premier League positions between the teams.

The average number of goals in Premier League games has been 2.7. For FA Cup finals in normal time it has been 2.2. Any score is possible between Chelsea and Arsenal but a low score may be more likely than it would have been if they were playing in the Premier League.


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Normally in an FA Cup final there are fewer goals than we should have anticipated if the teams were playing in the league
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