FA Cup final tale of the tape: Chelsea have the edge over Arsenal
For Chelsea, the chance to win a second Premier League and FA Cup double. For Arsenal, the chance to climb back above Manchester United and claim the trophy for the 13th time. Those are the barest facts of Saturday's FA Cup final at Wembley.
The subplots get more complicated beyond that. Might this be Arsene Wenger's final match in charge of Arsenal? Is this the last time Diego Costa leads the line for Chelsea? Similar might even be the case for Eden Hazard if Real Madrid can get their man.
All that could be answered in a match that is a rematch of the 2002 final, staged in Cardiff, when Arsenal were 2-0 victors. Only Wenger, and John Terry, for whom Wembley will definitely be his last day in the Chelsea sun, remain from that day. Here is a tale of the tape.
Petr Cech appears destined to face the club he spent 11 years serving with distinction, rather than David Ospina, who has usually played cup matches for Arsenal this season but did not play in the 2-1 semifinal victory over Manchester City. Cech won four FA Cups as a Chelsea player.
Thibaut Courtois will be in the opposing goal to former training partner Cech, whom he usurped during the 2014-15 season. Last year, as Chelsea faltered, there were some fans who yearned for his dependable predecessor as Courtois made some worrying flaps. This year, behind an admittedly excellent defence, he has returned to his previous form.
When Wenger made an April switch to a back three, he was accused of copying Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, but it has been a qualified success for Arsenal, helping them through that City semifinal and during a late-season run that took them to within a point of fourth place. The issue for Wenger is that he has barely three centre-backs to call on at Wembley. Laurent Koscielny's senseless sending-off against Everton last week was followed by Gabriel ruining his knee. To persist with the formation, Per Mertesacker, whose season debut came in replacing Gabriel last week, may need to be employed. There will be a great deal of responsibility on Rob Holding. With Shkodran Mustafi recovering from concussion, Nacho Monreal may need to step inside from the left flank.
Conte has a clean bill of health in his defence with his trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill set to line up. Terry can only expect to appear from the bench as a late, ceremonial sub at best, as Kurt Zouma is usual first reserve, and Nathan Ake is also more adaptable within that defensive trio. The wing-back play of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso has been a key factor in Chelsea's success and stopping them may be foremost in Wenger's thoughts.
Wenger had struggled for a midfield formula since Santi Cazorla was lost to injury in October but may have hit on one by accident during their late-season revival. That 3-4-2-1 formation suits the previously struggling Granit Xhaka far better in a deep-lying role and there have been recent glimpses of the same Aaron Ramsey who starred for Wales at Euro 2016. Their presence in the centre and with wing-backs pushed into midfield means Mesut Ozil is given licence to drift and does not have to track back.
N'Golo Kante is one of the many players Wenger claims he could have signed but chose not to. This season's Footballer of the Year might just be the greatest miss on that lengthy list, since he has been the dominant player of two successive title wins, for Leicester and Chelsea, and could be the player that could answer Arsenal's habitual lack of power and guile in big, crucial occasions. Alongside him, Nemanja Matic has been restored to the performance levels of two years ago. And, likely from the bench, Cesc Fabregas can hurt his former club with a passing quality that perhaps only Ozil in the English game is capable of emulating.
Once this game is finished, the transfer season is fully upon us, and Alexis Sanchez is being linked with a move to Chelsea, with just a year on his contract remaining. Saturday could be a busy day for body language experts. To play with Sanchez, Wenger has lately chosen the speed of Danny Welbeck over Olivier Giroud, preferring the greater pace the Englishman offers. Welbeck missed a couple of decent chances in last week's 3-1 defeat of Everton but he also showed great composure in setting up the ball for Sanchez to score Arsenal's second.
With a big move to China in the offing, this may well be the last chance to see Diego Costa run out for Chelsea. He has been a thorn in Arsenal's side during his three seasons in English football, though he may also be their best route to victory. When he gets riled up and distracted, then Costa can be more help rather than hindrance. Behind him, sometimes beyond him, or wherever the mood takes him, Eden Hazard has been the best, most consistent attacker in England once more this year. Stopping him will be more difficult than putting Costa off his stride.
Last week, after months of batting questions away, Wenger opened up a little on what has been a harrowing season for him and Arsenal. "Yes, of course," he replied when asked if questions over his future had been damaging. "You cannot say that the environment for the group of players was especially positive." This week, he has been much more guarded, still refusing to publicly commit his future. Whether this is the last match of his Arsenal career or not, signing off such a difficult campaign with another FA Cup would be sweet for him.
For all Conte's dominance of Serie A with Juventus, where he won three titles, there is a significant absence in his medal collection. As a manager, he is yet to win a cup competition beyond the preseason Supercoppa Italia, failing to win a double of Coppa Italia to accompany that trio of championships. Were his team to win at Wembley, he would emulate Italian compatriot Carlo Ancelotti in winning Chelsea a Double, to cap off a season his team has dominated. And Conte's own dominance is confirmed by the amount of managers copying his three-man defensive set-up this season. Including Wenger, of course.
Even with Chelsea going for a Double, a feat not completed since they last did it in 2010, most eyes will be on Wenger for signs that this may be his final bow. Having admitted his players have been affected, questions over their Wembley state of mind may be raised. And beyond Wenger himself, the contract situations of both Ozil and Sanchez also lie in abeyance. Arsenal are a club of uncertainties right now, as opposed to Chelsea, who have made an almost total recovery from the fallout that followed Jose Mourinho's December 2015 departure.
First in the Premier League against fifth, after Arsenal finished 28 points behind, makes the champions favourite, especially in the light of that defensive injury crisis. For Arsenal to win would be no giant-killing but it would register as a significant shock.
Perhaps Chelsea's greatest problem might be overconfidence but Conte, meticulous in preparation, clear-sighted in his vision, is unlikely to allow complacency to set in. Though it gave rise to the shift in formation that would swiftly alter the momentum of this season's title race, he will well remember the lessons of losing 3-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates in September.
Score prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal, with a flutter of late goals to seal the trophy.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.