Arsenal must revel in being the underdog if they are to triumph in FA Cup final clash with Chelsea

There have been precious few occasions that I can recall in which Arsenal have found themselves such marked underdogs going into a major final.

Even when the Gunners faced Barcelona in the Champions League final of 2006, I never really felt as though we were miles out of our depth, or that we could be steamrolled at will.

Sure, the Barcelona team of that final was filled with stellar talents, capable of changing any game at will, but so was the Arsenal side, with or without 11 men on the pitch.

As we prepare for today’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, however, circumstances are much different. For the first time in a long time, we have to concede that our opponents are better than us – by some margin.

We have had, by our own standards, a pretty lousy season, with only a few rays of light amid a seemingly unending amount of gloom in 2017, in particular.

Chelsea by contrast, have had it all their own way this season and ran out deserved winners of the Premier League, with their tactical discipline and sheer quality of playing personnel setting them apart from the rest.

Facing a team that has been so effective and impressive this season is a daunting task, particularly for a side that has shown itself to be so fragile at times this year, and I think even the most ardent Arsenal fan would conceded it is going to be a tough ask.

But that is not to say that all hope is lost or that our chances of victory are non-existent, far from it.

Playing as the underdog can bring with it a galvanising quality that drives a time to greater heights than it otherwise might achieve. So many lesser lights over the years have proven themselves when their backs have been to the wall, and the odds against them.

The most effective underdog in the fight is that one that accepts its status and, indeed, revels in it, using it to defy and surprise an opponent, playing on the arrogance of the favourite and using it as a motivator.

If Arsene Wenger is to lift what may be his final piece of silverware for Arsenal, he must capture that spirit and use it to fire up his players in a way in which they have never been fired up before.

Remember when Chelsea came to the Emirates in the early part of the league season? They were second best all over the pitch. They didn’t want it. Arsenal were spoiling for the fight and dominated them from start to finish, driven on by an overwhelming dislike of their London rivals and a determination to overcome them. It was probably the Gunners’ performance of the season and has to be the blueprint if they are to stand a chance of winning at Wembley.

Our newly-employed three at the back has worked well since it was brought in for the trip to Middlesbrough in April, with eight wins racked up from nine matches in all competitions. It’s difficult to see, therefore, why we would set up any other way for today’s clash.

Of course, injury to playing personnel, especially in defence, and Chelsea’s own aptitude using the system may force Arsene to think differently, but ultimately he has to stick with what has worked pretty well for him these last six weeks or so. It would be foolish of him to abandon it now, with a cup at stake.

The key for me will be how much the players want it. If they are all on top of their games, they are easily as good as their opponents, but they can’t afford to be reticent or respectful, and carelessness is simply not an option, not against Antonio Conte’s side. They have to be disciplined in their shape, aware of their runners, and incisive in possession, anything less won’t be good enough.

Chelsea are unlikely to have a bad day of their own accord, so we have to force them into making the sort of mistakes that complacency can foster.

If the stars align, and the Gunners go into the game with the right attitude and the desire to get the win, they will give themselves the best chance. Defeat to what has been an impressive Chelsea team is a distinct possibility, even if we are playing good football, but we have to give ourselves the best possible chance.

There is no doubt that we are the underdogs, but in a one-off, winner-takes-all clash, that is not necessarily a disadvantage.

For the last time this season: Come on you Gunners!

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