Football

Cup win won't disguise poor season, says Welbeck

FA CUP FINAL
ARSENAL CHELSEA

Arsenal take on English Premier League champions Chelsea tomorrow in the FA Cup final - a competition they won in 2014 and again in 2015.

However, the road to Wembley does not mask the disappointment of finishing out of the top four and out of the Champions League qualifying spots for the first time in manager Arsene Wenger's 20 seasons at the Gunners' helm.

"It's really disappointing not to get the top four," Welbeck said of Arsenal's fifth-placed finish this season.

"The way the season has gone for the club, fans, players and staff, it hasn't been the greatest season. We have the opportunity to make it a little bit better this weekend.

"We've got the opportunity to play in the final and win a trophy. That's a positive, but the league position doesn't make up for that."

The England striker, 26, was still at Manchester United when Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2014 and missed the 2015 final because of injury.

Fitness problems have continued to hamper him, with a foot injury having limited game time since he returned from a serious knee injury in January.

"I feel like I'm coping pretty well and have had no major reaction with my knee," he said.

"It's just a little niggle here and there with my foot and my big toe. That's the thing that has been putting me out of the team at the moment.

"Obviously in the future, I hope I will be playing three games in a week.

"It's just a bruise on the bottom of my foot. So every time I'm running on it, it repeatedly is banging on the bruise."

Arsenal also face injury concerns at the back, with Per Mertesacker revealing he has no idea if he is fit enough to play in the final, but has had to prepare himself to do so.

The club captain, 32, is in contention to start with Laurent Koscielny suspended, Gabriel Paulista injured and Shkodran Mustafi battling to overcome illness.

Should Mertesacker start, he would have to adjust to Arsenal's new 3-4-3 formation in only his second appearance of a season disrupted by a knee injury.

While he may have recovered, there remain significant concerns over his match fitness against the energetic Premier League champions, who scored 85 times in the process of securing a record 30 league victories, particularly given the potential for extra-time.

Asked if he would be ready if selected by manager Wenger, Mertesacker responded: "I cannot tell you. I haven't played this year, but I have done this for 15 years. So I expect myself to be ready no matter what comes.

"That is my mindset, no matter what happens or what is facing me on Saturday, I am going to go for it. I owe this to this team and to this club.

"I want to make sure I will be ready and my mindset is '120 minutes plus penalties'.

"It is completely unexpected. I made the squad because of two injuries and then I came on (on Sunday in the 3-1 defeat of Everton) due to one red card and one injury.

"It was unexpected, but you need to be ready at any time. It was good to get a run out and, obviously, make my first appearance of the season after a long, long injury. I was very grateful I got the opportunity."

- WIRE SERVICES

FA CuparsenalCHELSEA (EPL)