The FA Cup semi finals take centre stage over the weekend as four of the Premier League’s top sides lock horns at Wembley. Saturday evening’s tie sees the top flight’s top two run out at the national stadium, with Chelsea and Spurs in an intriguing battle. On Sunday it’s the turn of Arsenal and Man City as Arsene Wenger looks to end his managerial reign at the Gunners on a high, and Pep Guardiola looks to start creating his own legacy at the Citizens with a first trophy. Two games that are loaded with pressure and promise to be hugely entertaining.
From a betting perspective the Chelsea v Spurs game is very finely balanced. The pair have shared the points in the Premier League this season – Chelsea won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in November last year, and Spurs claimed a 2-0 victory at White Hart Lane in January. There’s precious little to choose between them on the domestic front. Spurs have whittled the Blues’ lead at the top of the table down to four points with six games to go, and the title is back up for grabs. Mauricio Pochettino’s men are arguably in the better form having won the last eight games on the trot, while Chelsea have lost two of their last four. However, Spurs were woeful at Wembley in their ill-fated Champions League campaign, and it remains to be seen if nerves will get to them on the big stage once again.
Although no official announcements have been made, Arsene Wenger’s long reign at Arsenal looks to be coming to a bitter end. Despite the successes over the years his relationship with fans appears to be at it’s worst in his time at the club, and mot in the game expect a summer change to be forthcoming. A top four place is slipping from the Gunners’ grasp, and it’s threatening to be a dismal end to one of England’s longest managerial careers. An FA Cup would certainly add a bit of gloss if this is to be the Frenchman’s last season, but City are a formidable opponent standing in their way. Pep Guardiola may never be given the sort of time at City that Wenger has enjoyed at Arsenal, and he will be judged on how well he fills the trophy cabinet. A top four finish and an FA Cup win wouldn’t be the return City were dreaming of, but it would at least be a moderately successful season.
Chelsea v Tottenham
The draw represents decent value at +240 with Bet365 in a tight semi final which could see two teams cancel each other out.
Few would argue with the suggestion that these are the two best sides in the country right now. It looked like Chelsea had the Premier League title wrapped up just a few weeks ago, but a shock 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace and a 2-0 loss at Manchester United has changed all that. The nerves have started to show as the Blues try to get over the finish line, and Spurs are coming with a strong late run. Eight wins on the trot (seven in the league) mean that they are odds-on to earn another season of Champions League football, and could even snatch the title in the last strides.
Both teams have been scoring plenty of goals of late, but this would not be the first semi final to be stifled by the pressure and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see these two cancel each other out as they give little away in the opening exchanges. The pressure not to make mistakes often leads players to play ‘protectively’ and take less risks. Playing in this huge stadium in the Champions League appeared to have an adverse effect on Spurs earlier this season, so don’t expect the same free-flowing side that trounced Bournemouth 4-0 last weekend. Equally, Chelsea’s Antonio Conte has built his teams of recent seasons on a solid defence, and those two recent defeats may have seen him take his players back to the basics that put them top of the table in the first place.
No replays means that extra-time and penalties could be on the cards in the case of a stalemate, and at the prices the draw looks by far the best bet.
Arsenal v Manchester City
Man-for-man the City squad is stronger than the Arsenal squad, and there’s no reason to believe that superiority won’t be confirmed on Sunday afternoon. The Citizens are 4th in the table, seven points ahead of Arsenal in 6th, although the Gunners do have a game in hand. Neither side has been hugely convincing in recent weeks, but City have probably been in better form and the impact of Vincent Kompany’s return to the heart of the defence cannot be overstated.
Pep Guardiola’s side twice went ahead at the Emirates when the sides drew 2-2 earlier this month, and although beaten by Chelsea in the following match, they’ve won the last two comfortably against Hull and Southampton. Arsenal suffered a damaging 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, but bounced back straight away with a 2-1 win at Middlesbrough last Monday night.
There’s plenty in City’s favour, but most of all it’s Arsenal’s capacity to collapse in big games this season. Twice they fell apart against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and the capitulation at Crystal Palace just two games ago is a huge worry for Gunners’ fans. With Kompany back to shore up City’s problematic back line, they could take advantage of Arsenal’s frailty.
Chelsea and Spurs to Draw
Saturday 22nd April, 17:15 GMT
Manchester City to beat Arsenal
Sunday 23rd April, 15:00 GMT