Wembley is the prestigious setting on Saturday as fierce London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea compete for a place in the final of the FA Cup in front of 90,000 fervent fans.
Meetings between the two sides are rarely short of needle – just ask Ashley Cole – and the fact that the winners will take on either Everton or Manchester United in the English football calendar’s most historic fixture only adds to the sense of gravitas surrounding the tie.
High- pressure games are the rule rather than the exception for these two capital giants at present and both sides secured a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League as well this week – Chelsea with a thrilling 4-4 draw with Liverpool and Arsenal with an impressive 3-0 victory over Villarreal.
While Arsenal’s success vindicated Arsene Wenger after a poor first half to the season – his side now losing just once in their past 25 games – Chelsea’s success only confirmed the suspicion that under Guus Hiddink, they are again a side capable of collecting silverware.
Robin van Persie spoke on Wednesday about how he feared his fellow Dutchman’s Midas Touch but if he is to add to his list of honors that includes four Dutch Cup wins, Hiddink will have to reverse a lengthy jinx that has seen Chelsea fail to beat Arsenal in 62 years in the competition.
Indeed The Gunners knocked Chelsea out of the competition in every season from 2000-2001 to 2003-2004, including a victory in the 2002 final that saw Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg score spectacular efforts at the Millennium Stadium.
Chelsea will draw heart from the last time the clubs met in cup competition though as two Didier Drogba goals gave The Blues a 2-1 victory in the 2007 Carling Cup final – a game that ended with three players being dismissed after an injury-time fracas.
While suspension will not rule any players out on Saturday, injury certainly will and Arsenal have been hit by a potentially disastrous string of defensive withdrawals. Former Chelsea defender William Gallas is out for the season and full back Kieran Gibbs (groin) could join Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, Manuel Almunia and Johan Djourou on the sidelines.
If he is deprived of such a lengthy list of players then a makeshift defense including Lukasz Fabianski, Mikael Silvestre, Alex Song, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue will be tasked with subduing a striker in Didier Drogba who has scored eight times in his last ten games.
The Ivorian is undoubtedly back to his best, and although his usual victim Philippe Senderos is on loan at Milan, Drogba will no doubt be itching at the prospect of unsettling Song, and possibly Silvestre.
Fingers have been pointed at Chelsea after they conceded seven goals in a week at Stamford Bridge but their defense is strengthened by the return of John Terry following his Champions League suspension, even if Branislav Ivanovic stays at right back following an injury to Jose Boswinga. Deco is also out injured.
Both sides enjoyed relatively easy passage to the last four with only Arsenal facing Premier League opposition when defeating Hull City - one of 22 domestic games unbeaten since a Carling Cup defeat to Burnley back in December.
Indeed, there is a very valid argument to suggest Arsenal are England’s form team at present and their FA Cup record at the semi-final stage is also comforting for Wenger. In 34 semi-final ties they have won on 17 occasions, drawing nine and losing eight, and with 10 victories in the competition are second only to Manchester United in the all-time list.
Chelsea have won the cup on four occasions, most recently when Jose Mourinho led them to an extra time victory over Manchester United in 2007, and with both sides enjoying impressive form it is virtually impossible to predict what the outcome will be.
But predict we must, and as Arsenal seem unshakable at present, even with a suspect defense, they may just, just, edge it.