Why Arsenal and Arsene Wenger can look towards Antonio Conte for unlikely FA Cup final incentive

 
Ross McLean
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Aston Villa v Arsenal - FA Cup Final
Arsenal retained the FA Cup in 2015 (Source: Getty)

Arsene Wenger’s mystique may have waned beyond redemption among vast sections of the Arsenal fanbase but on Saturday the Gunners’ long-serving manager has the opportunity to lift a third FA Cup in four years.

Wenger himself has a huge affiliation with the competition and victory over London rivals Chelsea at Wembley would secure the Frenchman a record seventh FA Cup crown.

Such a haul would surpass the tally he currently shares with former Aston Villa boss George Ramsay, who spent 32 years in charge of the Villans between 1884 and 1926.

For context, Sir Alex Ferguson, who won 28 major trophies during his silverware-fuelled 27-year stint at Manchester United, won the competition on five occasions.

When Wenger has needed the FA Cup, it has been there. Or put another way, it was no surprise that when his Arsenal future perhaps depended on it in 2014, the old trophy came to his rescue.

The Gunners squeezed past second-tier Wigan Athletic in the semi-finals before requiring extra-time to overturn a two-goal deficit and finally down plucky Premier League outfit Hull City in the final.

And amid a flurry of home ties – Arsenal were handed six out of a possible eight over the two campaigns – and minimal heavyweight opposition, the north Londoners repeated the feat in 2015.

Wenger arguably needs victory this year just as much as three years ago, with his future at the club back in limbo, although this time recently-crowned top-flight champions Chelsea stand in the way, not Hull.

Finals between the two are sparse and the win count balanced.

Midfield duo Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljunbgerg netted as Arsenal lifted the FA Cup in 2002.

Five years later Chelsea defeated Arsenal 2-1 in a feisty League Cup finale that saw John Terry knocked out by an Abou Diaby boot and John Obi Mikel, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor all sent off.

A 2009 Wembley semi-final went the way of Chelsea, while Arsenal beat the Blues in the 2015 Community Shield as Wenger finally ended his hoodoo over bitter rival Jose Mourinho.

With history being torn in terms of clues for a winner at the weekend, perhaps there is hidden value in considering the managers and their records in cup competitions.

Read more: Wenger: Uncertainty over my future derailed Arsenal

Over the last decade Arsenal have not been noted for their backbone, while critics have revelled in their ability to fade at telling moments, but Wenger does have those six FA Cup crowns.

Chelsea, meanwhile, may have won as many domestic cup competitions since 2005 as Arsenal have in 23 years, yet manager Antonio Conte, for all his success, has never had the pleasure.

Conte has now racked up four league titles in his last four years of club management – three with Serie A’s dominant force Juventus – but there is an imbalance in his back catalogue.

Juve, already crowned champions, were defeated 2-0 by Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico in the final of the Coppa Italia in 2012, while a year later the league took precedence.

Conte rested Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio for the second leg of the semi-final following a league match with Genoa and promptly lost 2-1 to Lazio, 3-2 on aggregate.

Though they finished the next season with a record 102 points – five clear of Inter Milan’s previous benchmark – Juve succumbed to Roma in the quarter-finals, despite entering the clash on a 13-game winning streak.

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Conte guided Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first season in English football (Source: Getty)

The former Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta, Siena and Italy manager’s Champions League record while at Juve, meanwhile, comprised last eight, group stage and semi-final exits.

It would clearly be wrong to suggest that Conte is Arsenal’s best hope of victory, but the 47-year-old will have to achieve a career first if he is to follow Wenger’s lead – and that of Chelsea predecessors Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti – and win a league and cup double in his first season in England.

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