Wembley finalists enjoy luck of the draw
Top six clubs dominate FA Cup
Fifteen years ago Arsenal and Chelsea reached the FA Cup final. Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 and went on to win the Premier League, in which they finished 23 points above Chelsea. Arsenal completed the double.
This season the roles could be reversed. Arsenal and Chelsea have reached the FA Cup final again. Chelsea have already won the Premier League and finished 18 points above Arsenal. Will they complete the double?
They are the most likely FA Cup winners. The odds seem a bit more in their favour than Premier League results might have suggested, but that is probably because Arsenal will have to play some sort of makeshift central defence.
Laurent Koscielny is suspended, Gabriel is injured and Shkodran Mustafi has been concussed. Per Mertesacker came on as a substitute last Sunday and played his only 42 minutes of the season.
Probably the odds are about right. Anyone who has seen Arsenal with a stop-gap defence before will worry for them.
Whoever lifts the trophy it will be the 17th time in 20 years that the FA Cup has been won by a team who were in the top six of the Premier League when they entered the FA Cup in the third round. Chelsea were first and Arsenal fifth, which is also where they finished.
This year the best teams have dominated the FA Cup even more firmly than usual. Two other top-six sides reached the semi-finals. Tottenham lost to Chelsea and Manchester City lost to Arsenal.
Which of the good teams reaches the final often depends to some extent on luck.
Chelsea had four home draws out of four, three against lower-level opponents. Arsenal played two National League opponents.
Premier League teams who win the FA Cup can be drawn home or away in rounds three to six then play at a neutral venue in the semi-finals and final. The average number of home draws for the previous 20 FA Cup winners was 2.5. If a home draw was not advantageous we should expect the average number of home draws for FA Cup winners to be 2.0.
Once teams reach the final, though, other considerations become more important.
Gunners exceeded market expectations
The FA Cup final could be Arsene Wenger’s last game as Arsenal manager. We will find out later if he is to stay or go.
Even if Arsenal lose at Wembley this will have been a respectable season, although it will not be remembered as such.
In the Premier League Arsenal gained 75 points. In only two of the previous 11 seasons did they gain more. Yet in each of those 11 seasons they finished in the top four whereas this season they finished fifth.
The all-important difference, of course, is that only the top four qualify for the prestigious Champions League.
No other team with 75 points in a 38-game Premier League season have finished outside the top four. Previously the highest total to miss the top four was 72 - by Everton in 2014 and Tottenham in 2013.
Anyone who bought Arsenal points with Sporting Index pre-season would have won three times their stake, which many people will be surprised to hear.
The reason Arsenal finished fifth despite exceeding market expectations is that four other highly-regarded teams also exceeded market expectations, and three of them by a bigger margin.
Anyone who had bought the points of the six most highly-regarded teams would have lost seven units on Manchester United.
However, they would have won 1.5 on Manchester City, seven on Liverpool, 18.5 on Tottenham and 21 on Chelsea. Add three more for Arsenal and that makes a profit of 41 times their stake.
Arsenal did well, but it does not look as though they did because most of their rivals for a top-four finish did even better.