Arsenal are one victory away from sewing up their second straight FA Cup, a feat only they and one other club have accomplished in the last 12 years. It's a stellar achievement for Arsene Wenger's side after a long silverware drought had many questioning the club's commitment to winning.
But while May 30’s Wembley Stadium date with upstart Aston Villa is surely on the Gunners' collective mind, an opportunity to avenge a loss earlier this season to Chelsea, and cut into the Blues' Premier League lead is up next for Arsenal.
Atop the table and 10 points clear of the second-place Gunners, Chelsea have six matches left to crown themselves Premier league champs, but Arsenal can derail any early celebrations with the momentum they’ve built up for the last few months.
The Gunners enter Sunday’s critical matchup at Emirates having laid waste to 11 of their last 12 Premier League opponents, and perhaps gained more added confidence after dispatching pesky Reading’s upset bid in the 2-1 FA Cup semifinals.
Arsenal once again received a huge boost from last summer’s top signing Alexis Sanchez, who was credited with both the Gunners goals against Reading, and the Chilean forward is tied with teammate Olivier Giroud for fifth in the Premier League with 14 goals.
Even with his club playing so well of late, Wenger isn’t opposed to hone in on the “vibe” of his players and make adjustments in training as such.
"The general plan is to play in training like you do in the game, or even harder,” Wenger said to the team’s official site. “But some days you have to ease off completely and not have the intensity because you need to recover after games.
"But basically you need to give the players the same intensity that they will face in a game. Even the day before a game you can think to yourself, ‘That intensity is absolutely amazing, the players are ready to go out tomorrow and perform at that level.’
"The team always gives you a vibe in training, like a weather forecast. Sometimes you think, ‘Yes, that’s right, they are there.’
Those vibes could very well lead to a late-season resurgence from Sanchez. The brace against Reading may have signaled the 26-year-old former Barcelona star is ready to carry even more of the attack. The majority of Sanchez’s 14 goals came early in the Premier League campaign, and he’s netted only two in the last nine EPL matches. Overall, his play, often involving dazzling dribbling effort through opposing defenses, has even surpassed high expectations.
The same goes for central midfielder Mesut Ozil, who has been plagued by inconsistency. The German star assisted on both of Sanchez’s goals against Reading, the type of effect on a match he hasn’t had since March 1’s 2-0 victory over Everton in Premier League play.
The last time the two sides met, Chelsea walked away with a 2-0 victory on Oct. 5 at Stamford Bridge. But the match was much closer than the score suggests, with the Blues first taking the lead off Eden Hazard’s penalty in the 27th minute after defender Laurent Koscielny drew a yellow card for a poor foul.
Of course, many headlines made more of Wenger shoving Jose Mourinho on the sidelines, adding new embers to a feud that’s raged for quite some time. The self-titled “Great One” later took a jab at Wenger and the Gunners’ Premier League title drought back in February, which should come as little shock given Mourinho's history. He is known for his keen ability to instigate, but Wenger will have no doubt learned his lesson and should maintain his composure this time around.
Assuming another minor manager skirmish doesn’t take place again, Chelsea are expected to enter the matchup with all of their strikers healthy. Diego Costa, who was considered questionable due to hamstring issues, is reportedly fit to face Arsenal. The Spain international has enjoyed an impressive debut season in the Premier League, ranking second in the league with 19 goals in 24 matches this term.
Only in need of two more victories to secure the title, Mourinho will also have Loic Remy and Didier Drogba at his disposal for the attack.