Matt Brocklebank expects Arsenal to beat Manchester City in a lively FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday.
Recommended bet: Sunday FA Cup
Arsenal v Manchester City (1500 BST, BT Sport 1)
There hasn’t been a vast amount between these two supposed heavyweights lately, five of the past 11 encounters in all competitions ending in a draw, with each club enjoying three wins from the other six across that period of five seasons.
One thing consistent throughout, however, has been the number of goals scored with both teams finding the net in eight of the matches, including the four Premier League fixtures over the past two years.
The latest 2-2 draw (it has become a popular scoreline between the two) at the Emirates at the start of this month saw the visitors twice take the lead, only for Arsenal to respond on each occasion, something they’ve not always been the best at under Arsene Wenger. Although quite impressive in dispatching West Ham the following midweek, the subsequent defeat to Crystal Palace left Arsenal seriously up against it when it comes to claiming yet another top-four finish in the league.
The games in hand they still hold over Liverpool (two) and City (one) offer a degree of hope, but it’s the FA Cup that now provides Wenger with the best chance to salvage something at the end of a difficult campaign.
Defeat could ultimately spell the end for the Frenchman, together with one or two high-profile players, and as such there can’t be any excuses when it comes to motivation.
Sticking with the attacking 3-4-2-1 line-up used when successful at the Riverside on Monday night should ensure Arsenal see plenty of the ball and it’s not hard to be drawn to them as the outsider of the three possible outcomes in the match market.
It’s hardly been a stress-free first season in charge for City boss Pep Guardiola. Had it not been for the ‘Wenger out’ mood, he’d definitely be deemed a real flop at the Etihad, though his track record inevitably affords Guardiola plenty of time and he’s got some exciting young players to go to war with next season.
One such star is January signing Gabriel Jesus, who could make a surprise return to the team at Wembley. He’s most likely set for a role on the bench here as David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are all available to support Sergio Aguero in attack.
There has to be an element of concern at the other end of the pitch, however, as playing that quintet would leave Fernandinho as the only midfield cover for a back four that remains fairly suspect. Skipper Vincent Kompany is clearly going to be used sparingly and he not only opened the scoring but also helped the Citizens to a first clean sheet in six matches when winning 3-0 at Southampton. But whether he can back up a week later – with the derby to follow swiftly on Thursday evening – remains to be seen.
What we do know is that John Stones misses out through injury and that could certainly leave Nicolas Otamendi and makeshift full-back Jesus Navas vulnerable to the aerial threat posed by Olivier Giroud, whose FA Cup record of 13 goals from 21 appearances makes him of interest at 2/1 in the anytime market. He’s got four against City including the Community Shield and is going to relish putting the flaky Claudio Bravo under pressure at every opportunity.
Arsenal are definitely wobbling in the top flight but a return to this competition, one in which they’ve lost one of their last 21 matches and made the final in two of the last three years, can help them bridge the gap on City, who have to be short-priced favourites but simply can’t be backed with confidence.
There’s enough quality about the Gunners to make for a seriously entertaining afternoon and it could be worth chancing them to emerge on top after another high-scoring affair.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-2 Manchester City (Matt Brocklebank)
This will be Arsenal’s 29th appearance in the FA Cup semi-finals – the most of any team in the competition’s history.
They’ve also won the trophy 12 times, a joint-record alongside Manchester United.
Manchester City have progressed from each of their last eight FA Cup semi-finals, most recently in 2013 against Chelsea. Their last defeat at this stage was in 1932 against Arsenal.
This will be the fourth meeting between these sides in the FA Cup. Man City won the first en route to winning the trophy in 1904, with Arsenal winning the next two in the 1932 semi-final (finishing as runners up) and the fifth round in 1971 (finishing as winners).
Three of the last six meetings between these sides have finished 2-2, with Arsenal winning 2-1 and 2-0 and Man City winning 2-1 across the other three.
After losing their first two games at the new Wembley, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last six (W5 D1), including beating Wigan on penalties in the 2014 FA Cup semi-final.
The Citizens have alternated between being victorious and losing in their last seven appearances at Wembley, beating Liverpool via penalty shootout last time out in the 2016 League Cup final.
Pep Guardiola won his only previous game of a team in charge at Wembley Stadium, beating Manchester United 3-1 with Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final. He also played in the 1992 European Cup final there with Barca, beating Sampdoria 1-0.
Manchester City have had eight different goalscorers in the FA Cup this season, more than any other side left in the competition.
Alexis Sanchez has scored five goals in his four appearances at Wembley Stadium (3 in 3 for Arsenal, and a brace for Chile against England).
The Gunners come into this game on the back of just five wins in their last 13 games in all competitions (D1 L7), with two of those victories coming against non-league sides (Sutton Utd and Lincoln City).
After a run of four games without a win in all competitions, City have won their last two, netting exactly three times in each victory.
Posted at 1630 BST on 21/04/17.
Recommended bet: Saturday FA Cup
Tottenham v Chelsea (1715 BST, BBC1)
Spurs have definitely parked their tanks on the Chelsea lawn over the past fortnight and the spin doctors are advertising Saturday afternoon’s showdown as some sort of Premier League title decider.
Chelsea’s Gary Cahill was first out of the blocks as he desperately tried to play down the significance in the longer term of facing their fast-finishing rivals in the top flight.
Tottenham striker Harry Kane responded with the theory a victory here could have a significant psychological effect over the closing six games in a build-up where we all seem to have lost track of the fact there is actually an important Cup semi-final buried somewhere in amongst all the posturing.
Whatever the subsequent fallout, Saturday’s game has a beguiling quality coming in the midst of Antonio Conte’s stickiest spell as Chelsea boss while Tottenham stage a late-season blitzkrieg that stands at eight wins on the bounce.
Punters seem to be keeping faith with the Blues though as the market starts to take shape with them narrow favourites to win in 90 minutes and a fraction of odds-on to qualify for next month’s final.
That support suggests the team that has been the best in England for 4/5ths of the season will bounce back with gusto following a 2-0 defeat last weekend against Manchester United.
The excuses for a very lame effort at Old Trafford have poured out from the Chelsea camp – Conte blamed himself for not motivating his team enough. Officials blamed a bug affecting some of the squad. Players blamed a rare off day. Thibaut Courtois blamed the NBA.
The performance smacked of being outwitted by ex-boss Jose Mourinho mixed in with a case of good old fashion nerves after Tottenham had cut the deficit at the top to a very manageable four points 24 hours earlier.
They could not fashion a chance on target, Eden Hazard barely got a sniff, N’Golo Kante lacked his usual influence and Diego Costa returned to the narky, irritable character of last season as his domestic goal drought now tallies six games.
Conte might imitate a whirling dervish at times on the touchline but he strikes me as man who will not resort to bouts of panic – a lot of fuss surrounded Chelsea’s defeat to Crystal Palace but the Italian steadied the ship as his side immediately delivered big victories over Manchester City and Bournemouth.
He is going to have to really dig deep once more against the one side that has not chucked in the towel against them this season and played them off the park at White Hart Lane in early January with a thoroughly convincing performance.
There have been few setbacks since for Mauricio Pochettino’s men outside of a ropey Europa League effort and they seem to be making a perfectly timed run on the two competitive fronts remaining.
Confidence is sky high and reflected in an attacking verve that has seen them average over three goals per game during the current winning streak while the defence has not lost any of its miserly qualities.
Perhaps this season all the little things might be falling in their favour as well.
Kane’s ankle injury sustained against Millwall healed much quicker than expected and he is back in the goals although the versatility and dedication of this group of players covered his absence in ample fashion.
Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min and Mousa Dembele are an embarrassment of riches at the peak of their powers for Pochettino in midfield and man for man at the moment, this is a team that are a match for anyone in the country.
Perhaps the only thing left to conquer is the strange recent affliction developed playing at Wembley but it is not possible to hold some trivial mental block against a group this good for too long.
It is hard to believe Tottenham are the underdogs and I think it is going to be tough for Chelsea with those few creeping doubts to stop the current momentum of their rivals.
How the rest of the season will play out on the back of this fixture is a debate for another day but I am very keen on Spurs ensuring they are coming back here on May 27.
Prediction: Tottenham 3-1 Chelsea (David John)
The Blues have only lost one of their last five FA Cup semi-final ties, but it was in their last such appearance in 2013 (vs Manchester City).
Tottenham have lost each of their last six FA Cup semi-final appearances (1993, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2010 and 2012). Should they lose this, they’ll set a record for consecutive FA Cup semi-final defeats (Chelsea also six between 1920 and 1966).
The last time these sides met in the competition was in the 2012 semi-final, with Chelsea running out 5-1 winners en route to lifting the trophy.
In all competitions, Spurs have won just two of their last 16 meetings with Chelsea (D7 L7), though they did win the last game between them 2-0 in January.
This will be the fourth meeting between these sides at the new Wembley, making it the joint-most played fixture at the ground since it re-opened in 2007 (Chelsea v Man Utd also four).
Since beating Chelsea in the League Cup final in 2008, Tottenham have won just one of their eight games at Wembley (D2 L5), beating CSKA Moscow in a Champions League group stage game in December.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have lost two of their last three games at the ground, with the victory coming against Tottenham in the 2015 League Cup final.
Son Heung-Min has been involved in more goals than any other player in this season’s FA Cup (6 goals, 1 assist).
Pedro has scored four goals and assisted a further two in his three FA Cup appearances for Chelsea this season.
Tottenham players have scored a hat-trick in each of the last two rounds (Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min).
Chelsea lost their last match against Manchester United – they’ve not lost back-to-back games in all competitions since April 2016 (vs Swansea and Man City).
Tottenham meanwhile have won their last eight games in all competitions – they’ve only enjoyed a longer such run once in their history (13 games, April-October 1960).
Posted at 1300 BST on 20/04/17.
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