The FA Cup final: Five big questions as Arsenal take on Chelsea

Arsenal faces Chelsea in the 2020 FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday, August 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 31 July 2020

The FA Cup final: Five big questions as Arsenal take on Chelsea

  • Mikel Arteta has slowly given Arsenal more cohesion and defensive stability

Which David Luiz will turn up?

The neutrals, as much as fans of his current and former clubs, will as ever be keeping an eye on David Luiz.

When Premier League football resumed after the enforced break caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID19) pandemic, the world watched as Luiz produced a comically inept display in Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to a rampant Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Eyes rolled: Same old David Luiz.

But since then he has been responsible for some of Arsenal’s best performances as Mikel Arteta has slowly given the team more cohesion and defensive stability.

So, which version of the Brazilian defender will turn up against his former club at Wembley?

Will it be the occasionally mistake-ridden player with a penchant for giving away penalties and getting sent off in high-profile matches? Or, more accurately, the two-time FA Cup winner with Chelsea whose outstanding performance against Manchester City in the semi-final played a significant part in the Gunners reaching the final?

Do not bet against him confounding his army of critics yet again.

Can Frank Lampard make history with Chelsea?

An already very good first season in charge of Chelsea could end up being an excellent one for Frank Lampard. And, indeed, a historic one.

Not many people imagined Lampard would enjoy such a fine debut season when he joined Chelsea last summer, particularly as the club was hamstrung by a transfer ban.

But despite inconsistent performances along the way, a fourth-place finish, and Champions League qualification, have exceeded the expectations of most Chelsea fans.

The emergence of young talent such as Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, and Billy Gilmour have added to the positivity around Stamford Bridge as big-money signings, like that of Timo Werner, return to the club ahead of next season.

But before that, the seemingly endless 2019-20 season could end with a trophy as well.

Should Chelsea come out on top at Wembley, Lampard, whose father Frank Lampard Snr. claimed two FA Cup winner’s medals with West Ham in 1975 and 1980, will become one of only 16 individuals to have won the famous competition as a player and manager.

He will also ensure that a Lampard has won the cup in the 1970s, 1980s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s.

Will Arteta resurrect Arsenal’s love affair with the FA Cup?

If expectations weigh heavy on Lampard, then spare a thought for Mikel Arteta. The young Spanish coach is on the verge of becoming the first man to lead Arsenal to a trophy since the club’s greatest manager Arsene Wenger.

Despite what many see as a disappointing denouement to 22 years at Arsenal, Wenger won the FA Cup three times in his last five seasons at the club, and a remarkable, record-breaking seven times in total.

While Unai Emery failed to handle the pressure of succeeding Wenger, Arteta seems to have thicker skin and, having represented the club as a player, a deeper understanding of what Arsenal fans demand.

It would be a stretch to say that Arteta’s time as coach has been an unqualified success so far, but all indications are that he is finally steering a club, that was drifting aimlessly, in the right direction.

A trophy in less than a season as manager would see him join former Arsenal greats in double-quick time.

Is Christian Pulisic ready to justify Captain America hype?

Few players have caught the eye quite like Christian Pulisic since Project Restart.

The man dubbed Captain America had a promising if inconsistent season disrupted by injury at the turn of the year. But the break gave him ample time to recover and his increasingly improving performances since then have made him one of Chelsea’s most in-form players going into the FA Cup final. His cameo against Liverpool at Anfield was particularly outstanding, almost inspiring what would have been a remarkable comeback.

A few minor mistakes will in recent weeks have concerned Lampard, who will know Pulisic’s pace and creativity could be a major weapon for Chelsea should he get the nod at Wembley.

The US international missed the 2-0 semi-final win over Manchester United and was substituted near the end of Chelsea’s last Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, perhaps an indication that his coach is saving him for the big showpiece event.

After the 21-year-old’s introduction against Liverpool, football pundit Gary Lineker tweeted that Pulisic could become “the first American footballing (soccer for you guys) star.”

What better way to confirm such a lofty prediction than by winning the FA Cup in your first season in England.

Mount or Saka: Which England hopeful will rise to the top?

A feature of both clubs’ seasons has been the reliance by Lampard and Arteta on young English academy talent ahead of more established, but fading, international stars.

Twenty-one-year-old Mason Mount started the season on fire for Chelsea, for a while even making fans forget the departure of club legend Eden Hazard. Expectations and fatigue would catch up with Mount, but it is a testament to his character that he has ended the season as one of the team’s best performers.

Bukayo Saka has arguably been an even bigger revelation. Only 18, the tricky winger forward has pace to burn, and is already a trusted first-team player for Arteta, not to mention a favorite with fans, despite his tender years. A new four-year contract signed recently showed just how highly the club’s hierarchy think of him.

As left-sided attacking players, Mount and Saka play in roughly the same position, making their potential appearances at Wembley one of the final’s more intriguing sub-plots. And with Euro 2020 postponed until next summer, do not be surprised if the two youngsters are vying for the same position in the England team by then as well.


The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

Updated 09 August 2020

The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

  • James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs
  • Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: This season’s NBA MVP has won the award before.
A trio of past winners of the award — reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and 2017-18 winner James Harden of the Houston Rockets — were announced Saturday as the finalists for this season’s top NBA individual honor.
James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs. Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award, and Harden is vying for his second MVP in three seasons.
“He’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo last month, stating his best player’s MVP case. “And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving and we’ll be excited to support him.”
Antetokounmpo is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert is bidding to win that trophy for a third consecutive season.
The league announced the top three vote-getters in six individual categories. Voting has already taken place by a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
The NBA has not set specific dates when the winners will be announced.
None of the games taking place at the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World factored into the voting, because ballots were due before games began again July 30.
The league took the step of saying games played before the league suspended the season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic could factor into award consideration, out of fairness to the eight teams that were not invited to the restart.
The other finalists for NBA honors:
Rookie of the Year — Ja Morant, Memphis; Kendrick Nunn, Miami; Zion Williamson, New Orleans.
Most Improved Player — Bam Adebayo, Miami; Luka Doncic, Dallas; Brandon Ingram, New Orleans.
Sixth Man — Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers; Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers.
Defensive Player of the Year — Antetokounmpo; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Utah.
Coach of the Year — Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee; Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City; Nick Nurse, Toronto.


GASOL VS. GRIZZLIES
Marc Gasol spent parts of 11 seasons in Memphis, going to three All-Star Games with a Grizzlies jersey on his back, earning two All-NBA selections there and a Defensive Player of the Year award as well.
And now, he’ll play against his former team for the first time.
The Grizzlies face Gasol and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. It’ll be the first game between the clubs since Gasol was traded to Toronto in February 2019 — a move that helped the Raptors win last season’s NBA championship.
Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.
“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. ... My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”
Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.
The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”


WORKING WIZARDS
On Friday, the Washington Wizards were eliminated from playoff contention.
On Saturday, they practiced.
The Wizards knew they were playoff longshots even before coming to the NBA’s restart at Disney, especially since Bradley Beal didn’t make the trip because of injury and Davis Bertans opted not to play because of health concerns.
But these eight games — Washington is 0-5 at Disney with three games left — were considered learning opportunities for the team’s young players, and a chance to get some high-level work in before the offseason starts. And just because the playoff chances are now gone doesn’t mean Wizards coach Scott Brooks is changing his thinking on that front.
“It’s about getting better,” Brooks said. “You know, I love our group. We want to keep improving. And the record, I’m not happy with it but I’m happy with our effort after every game that we’ve been in.”
Brooks has told his team repeatedly at Disney that the losses go on his record, not theirs.
“You can’t waste the days, you have to keep working on each day and keep improving and it’s hard,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to go through, you know, five losses in a row. But in order to get where we need to get to, you’re going to have to deal with it. You’re going to have to be able to handle it. You’re going to have to be able to get better from it, and it also has to hurt, going through it. And that’s fine.”


BUCKS CLINCH
The road to the NBA championship will go through Milwaukee’s white uniforms.
The Bucks have secured the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs for the second consecutive year, the clincher coming when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Indiana on Saturday.
Ordinarily, that would come with the right to host Game 1 and Game 7 of every series. This year, it just means that the Bucks will be called the home team in those games in each postseason round that they reach.