herald

Monday 24 July 2017

More than a cup final is at stake

Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, Gary Cahill and John Terry during training
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, Gary Cahill and John Terry during training

There is a pretty miserable moral cowardice at work at Arsenal as Arsene Wenger makes his preparations for the FA Cup final knowing that his life's work is in the balance.

He said the other day that he didn't really know what the club were up to and that it was up to them to make an announcement on his future.

But let's be real here. The people sitting on the Arsenal Board are scared of their lives to make a call on this one and he is definitely not ready to go quietly into the night.

He is obsessed and from what I can see, has nothing else important enough in his life to want to stop.

None of the Board members want to be seen to be the one who puts an end to a club legend and I would almost go as far as to say that some might even prefer that the Gunners lost the final to Chelsea.

That would make things easier for them. They could insist on a Director of Football to 'help' Wenger, knowing full well that he won't tolerate that.

Smug

Chelsea fans have no reason to be smug either. Antonio Conte gave a masterclass in management this season but there's a niggle in the back of mind that won't rule out the possibility of him heading back to Serie A as soon as he can. Even this summer!

It would certainly make a change. Instead of Roman Abramovich sacking another manager, Conte would, in effect, sack Chelsea if he left.

I definitely would not rule it out and that depresses me.

There was a time not so long ago when two managers coaching FA Cup finalists could relax about the following season.

It was a big enough achievement to get to a final for most clubs and even the top teams gave their manager credit if he made it to Wembley in a season.

How odd it is that I'm debating the possibility that both Cup managers could be working at different clubs or in Wenger's case, not working at all.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, the players are looking forward to this game, you can be sure of that.

Speaking as someone who still has bitter memories of a certain FA Cup final in 1973, I cannot underline how disappointing it is to lose one.

I know things have changed and I know the Cup was a different thing altogether when I stood humiliated while Sunderland's captain Bobby Kerr lifted the Cup and Bob Stokoe danced his jig.

But I still remember that bitter feeling, still remember how I didn't want to show my face for a week. Losing bothers me to this day.

I want to believe that the losers, be it Arsenal or Chelsea, will be distraught. There is a lot at stake. There's a Double for Chelsea and my head tells me that a win for Conte is the most likely outcome.

But there's also Wenger's job on the line, a major subplot in a game which already has plenty to recommend it.

Conte has had the best formula of any manager this season and I have no doubt that he will have players who worked well for him all season finely tuned for this game.

A key element of the Premier League title win was Conte's ability to keep his players focused on the task at hand and his control will not have slackened just because they won the title pulling up. But with Wenger's future in doubt, I think the Arsenal players will be very, very motivated for this as well.

Their season rests on a win and perhaps a great deal more than that.

I said a few months back when Wenger seemed to be in his darkest hour that if he could win the FA Cup and qualify for the Champions League, he would be able to make a good case to stay.

The Champions League is gone and now all he has left is the FA Cup and the chance to rewrite history and become the manager with the most wins of all-time.

If Arsenal win, they inch ahead of Manchester United as the most successful club in the FA Cup ever and even if the Board members probably don't rate that achievement too highly, I do and football fans all over the world do too.

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