FA CUP PREVIEW: History favours Gunners in Wembley clash

Chelsea fans would be hard pushed to find a greatest FA Cup wins over Arsenal DVD at the club s mammoth Stamford Bridge superstore. It is more than 60 years since the Blues tasted victory in the competition against their north London rivals. A double stri

Chelsea fans would be hard pushed to find a greatest FA Cup wins over Arsenal DVD at the club's mammoth Stamford Bridge superstore.

It is more than 60 years since the Blues tasted victory in the competition against their north London rivals. A double strike from future Gunner Tommy Lawton - after Arsenal had hit post and bar, and missed a penalty - sent them crashing out in a third round, second replay in front of 59,590 at White Hart Lane.

That was back in January 1947 when Guus Hiddink was less than two months old, and nearly three years before Louise Wenger gave birth to her second son, Arsene.

Since then it's been all Arsenal, knocking the Blues out of the cup on the seven occasions they have been drawn together.

Four of those victories have come in the past eight years alone, including a 2-0 win in the 2002 final to seal a second Double in four years.

On the last occasion they met in the world's oldest knockout competition, in February 2004, Jose Antonio Reyes scored his first two goals in English football, an early highlight for the Spaniard before his stay in London went sour.

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But despite Arsenal's red-hot past form, this one tomorrow is too close to call for most experts.

"I see goals, lots of goals, but I couldn't tell you who's going to get the win," admitted former Arsenal striker Paul Merson, a Chelsea fan in his youth growing up in the west London suburb of Northolt.

"It is too tight. Chelsea are looking good at the moment - that 3-1 win at Liverpool last week was pretty frightening - but, on the other hand, Arsenal are in stunning form and have all their big players back.

"I tipped Arsenal to finish the season strongly, and I'd say their current form, allied with the return of players like Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor, means they are the team to beat at the moment. It should be an absolute cracker."

In the past, Wembley has, literally, been a home from home for Arsenal, even acting as the club's base for two Champions League campaigns back in the late 1990s when Highbury was deemed too small to satisfy demand for tickets by the club's hierarchy.

Poor results - just two wins in six outings - soon meant a move back to N5 was a necessity, much to the disappointment of the club's money men.

Tomorrow teatime's big derby clash will be the first time Arsenal have appeared at the revamped national stadium since one of those poor, aforementioned, European nights, when Gabriel Batistuta's strike earned Fiorentina a 1-0 Champions League win in October 1999.

Wenger is looking forward to his first competitive visit to Brent in nearly a decade, and is confident of a return there next month for his first final since a penalty shoot-out win over Manchester United four years ago in Cardiff, Arsenal's last piece of major silverware.

"It's a great opportunity to go to Wembley and of course we want to go to the final now," said the manager. We will go with full belief - it will be a very interesting game. I believe the strength is in the squad."

A generation of Arsenal players have missed out on playing at the home of English football, and many are desperate to rectify that.

Robin van Persie revealed in January, after scoring in the 3-1 win over Plymouth Argyle in the third round, his burning desire to represent Arsenal on the famous Wembley turf.

"In my first year, I scored two goals in the last eight minutes in the semi-final in Cardiff," said the Dutchman, who was also voted E.ON Player Of The Sixth Round, after scoring in the 2-1 Emirates win over Hull.

"It was fantastic to be in front of 70,000 people but it is still a dream for me to play at Wembley. I have never played there. I still want to do it at Wembley."

His chance is almost here. Provided he steered clear of injury against Villarreal last night, the Rotterdam-born striker is a certain starter.

Arsenal's opponents have a fine Wembley cup pedigree.

They were the last team to win the competition at the old Wembley, 1-0 against Aston Villa in 2000, and won the first final at the rebuilt arena by the same scoreline against Manchester United in 2007.

Two possible starters for Chelsea have previously won the cup with Arsenal.

Nicolas Anelka, a scorer in the Gunners' 2-0 final win over Newcastle United in 1998, and Ashley Cole, in 2002, 2003 and 2005.

Guus Hiddink, Chelsea's manager until the end of next month, is adamant the FA Cup is on a par with the Champions League - and will not be taking the tie lightly.

"The FA Cup is so very important, it is recognised as that around the world," he said.

"When I was working outside of England people didn't just talk about the Premier League, it was the FA Cup too.

"That is how important it is. And it is important for us as well."