Chelsea are narrow favourites for Saturday’s FA Cup final against London rivals Arsenal. Both teams have a strong recent history in the competition, with the Gunners coming out on top when they met in the 2017 final. Aaron Ramsey scored the winner on that day but who could be the difference maker this time round? Here are five players who could decide the FA Cup final.
5 players who could decide the FA Cup final
Arsenal fans will have been concerned when first-choice goalkeeper Bernd Leno was carried off on a stretcher after an ugly clash with Brighton striker Neal Maupay a few weeks ago.
But replacement Emiliano Martinez has been almost faultless deputising for the German, with some supporters now believing the 27-year-old could be a better long-term option in goal.
Martinez is good with his feet, as well as being a sharp shot-stopper and another fine display at the weekend could give Mikel Arteta something to think about when Leno is fit to return.
It is an understatement to say eyebrows were raised when Arsenal opted to give David Luiz a new contract – even though it was only a 12-month extension.
But the Brazilian centre-back was magnificent in Arsenal’s shock 2-0 defeat of holders Manchester City in the semi-finals and he will be desperate to impress against his old club.
There is always a mistake in the 33-year-old but, in recent weeks, he has shown he remains a top-class defender when able to keep the errors out of his game. If Arsenal are to defeat Chelsea and win the FA Cup for the fourth time in seven years, Luiz will need to stay solid.
Arsenal’s match-winner in the last round was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – he hit a brace against City – and the Gabon striker is undoubtedly one of the players who could decide the FA Cup final.
Aubameyang recently reached 50 Premier League goals for Arsenal but he has no club honours to show from his time at Emirates Stadium so far.
Chelsea’s defence has been porous and their goalkeeping situation remains unclear so Aubameyang, who is heading into the last year of his Arsenal contract, might look to profit. For Aubameyang, this could be another chance to shine and potentially earn a lucrative move ahead of next season.
Chelsea’s best player in the post-lockdown period by some distance, Christian Pulisic goes into the FA Cup final as one of the country’s most in-form players.
Tasked with replacing Eden Hazard after the Belgian’s move to Real Madrid, Pulisic had a slow start to life at Stamford Bridge but has appeared a lot more settled in the last few matches.
Pulisic almost sparked an improbable comeback with a lively cameo off the bench against Liverpool last week and he has been a regular scorer for Chelsea during Project Restart.
Whoever starts at right-back for Arsenal, with Hector Bellerin likely to line up in that position, faces a testing afternoon against the confident American.
Pulisic’s recent performances have been so enthralling that some people are now speculating he could go on to develop into an even better player than Hazard in the future.
Some players prove themselves as cup specialists and Olivier Giroud certainly fits that category. The France striker set up Aaron Ramsey’s headed winner when Arsenal beat Chelsea in the final three years ago but this time he will be wearing a blue shirt instead of a red one.
Giroud forced his way back into Frank Lampard’s attack, ahead of Tammy Abraham, shortly before lockdown. He has maintained his fine form since the resumption, netting a handful of key goals at vital moments for his side in their successful battle to qualify for the Champions League.
The 33-year-old won the FA Cup three times with Arsenal, scoring the last goal in a 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the 2015 final. Giroud’s aerial ability is sure to give Arsenal’s defence a headache while his ability to hold the ball up well and bring runners like Mason Mount and Pulisic into play helps to set an attacking platform for Chelsea.
Giroud has been there and done it before so is undoubtedly one of the players who could decide the FA Cup final this year.
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