Arsenal have beauty, Chelsea have beasts
Wenger's reluctance to sign brutes may lead to ugly outcome
Arsenal once filled their sides with brutes.
From front to back, they were the kind of guys usually found on the steps of nightclubs, dismembering scrawny, under-aged students.
In tonight's FA Cup final, the Gunners will look like scrawny under-aged students.
They've still got a certain, fleeting beauty. But Chelsea have got the beasts and Arsene Wenger has got a problem.
The obvious, physical disparities between the two sides will underline how far the Frenchman has allowed his side to fall.
When the players saunter across the Wembley turf before kick-off, it won't be men against boys, but hulking, monster trucks against mopeds.
Both sides boast a smattering of artistry, but Antonio Conte's snarling, sinewy gang of relentless automatons have the potential to cruelly expose Wenger's decline to the watching world.
Much has been made this week of the previous meeting between the two sides in the FA Cup final.
Arsenal's triumph in 2002 is being trumpeted as the definitive turning point in the fortunes of both clubs.
The Gunners fell from grace soon after as Chelsea began their steady ascent to the summit.
Of course, the hypothesis is too neat and contrived. Arsenal's undefeated Invincibles came along two seasons later and the Blues didn't win the title until 2005.
But that FA Cup final was significant in one critical aspect: The personnel.
The players on parade then thoroughly underline the club's stagnation now, highlighting Wenger's erratic transfer and selection decisions in the last decade.
Arsenal boasted not one steely spine of vein-bulging obstinacy, but two.
In a loose 4-4-2, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry formed the left side of the spine and Sol Campbell, Ray Parlour and Dennis Bergkamp the other.
Compared to Arsenal's current flock of fragile peacocks, they were Reservoir Dogs, street-fighting men of the old-school kind.
Chelsea never stood a chance that day.
Wembley will again witness a similar calibre of enforcers in the all-London final, but they'll be dressed in blue.
Chelsea's back three, N'Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic and the wonderfully polarising Diego Costa are the kind of muscular, persistent pests that Arsenal used to make.
The old Wenger never won a trophy without one. The beastliness went hand in hand with the undeniable beauty.
But in recent seasons, Wenger has tried and failed to short-circuit the process.
Whether he was governed by philosophical or financial considerations, the Arsenal manager thought he could cut the middle man out, or the middle monster if you will.
He filled his side with slight variations of the same, interchangeable player - Mesut Oezil, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi could've come from a similar midfielder mould; the one marked "Wenger archetype".
But Chelsea have cornered the market on aggressive dominance with an occasional hint of ugliness.
Kante's Player-of-the-Year honours polarise slightly because his primary role is to nullify, the perception being that he's a stopper, rather than a creator.
Under Antonio Conte, the Frenchman has in fact morphed into something more than a midfield gatekeeper, but that misses the point in any case.
Arsenal haven't signed a midfielder with similar attributes since Vieira, but Chelsea have two in Kante and Matic.
Matic could crack walnuts between his thighs. Kante could catch walnuts as they fall from a tree.
In comparison, Granit Xhaka is more of a facsimile than a footballer. He's an inferior copy of Chelsea's originals.
And there are none more original than Costa. He has the face for a wanted poster and the track record to go with it.
He's a theatrical villain of the pantomime kind and may dominate the Wembley stage against Arsenal's threadbare defence. The Spaniard is addicted to winning at any cost.
He leads from the front, or with his head and elbows, in pursuit of victory. Nasty, sneaky and uncompromising, Costa kicks at the game's OB markers without apology.
He must be eyeing Arsenal's injury-hit back four like a shark circling a wounded seal. A feeding frenzy beckons.
The only Gunner who rivals Costa's tenacity is Alexis Sanchez and he could be off after the match. He does not fit at Arsenal anymore. He's a lonely beast of burden.
But Chelsea are full of gritty, beastly types that refuse to yield. They could have a monster's ball at Wembley.
And Wenger may be forced to accept once more that there is no beauty in defeat.