2015 FA Cup: Arsenal vs Aston Villa

2015FA Cup

The FA Cup. The grandaddy of them all. The world’s oldest knockout footballing cup competition has played every year since 1872, except for two breaks during World War I and World War II. This is its 131st edition, and two of the competition’s old stalwarts are present: Arsenal and Aston Villa.

Arsenal are tied with Manchester United for both final appearances and trophies won, with 18 and 11 respectively. Win this year, and you’d have to say Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal would be cemented for all time, regardless of whether they win another Premiership trophy under him. Not that anyone wonders whether the French tactician isn’t already a legend at the North London club, but with as many detractors in and out of the Emirates, this win would be a most welcome addition to the silverware cabinet.

Aston Villa have appeared in the final ten times, winning seven of those. They are the fourth record highest FA Cup winners, and are as such not to be taken lightly in this competition. Their last appearance was in 2000, where they lost to Chelsea, and their last victory was in 1957. It’s a wonder whether any supporter of theirs in the stands today was alive on that day way back when.

There is a sense of tradition and history today. If Wenger can lead his Gunners to victory, then they will be the all time FA Cup winner champions, with twelve. Villa winning would see them move up into a tie with Tottenham for third most Cups won.

The form book has these fairly even, but the Villains saw their play dip slightly once their survival was ensured. Villa manager Tim Sherwood wants to see his side recover their playing ability and fight for this, one you can believe the boys will be pumped up. Both will have a go at each other, and you can be sure there will be no buses parked at either end of the pitch; Wenger does not believe in them and Sherwood only knows how to play attacking football. On a head to head for their attacking players, I have a sense that Villa’s Christian Benteke might have the edge over Olivier Giroud of Arsenal, having rediscovered his shooting boots in the latter half of the season. He has scored ten goals in the last ten games of this year’s Premier League. Giroud has not scored four, but the last of these was in the beginning of April. If it comes down to the strikers, you’d have to bet on Benteke.

For my money, Arsenal’s danger man is Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh schemer has scored 11 in all competitions over the last year, which might not seem like much but he has the knack of putting them in on the big occasion, like last year’s FA Cup final. Arsenal have some injury concerns: striker Danny Welbeck is to miss the final through injury, while Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Mathieu Debuchy are all to be given late fitness tests. Villa are at almost full strength. Keep an eye on teenage midfielder Jack Greelish. He had a great game against Liverpool, and the intrepid young man could factor hugely again today.

In the head-to-head, the two sides have faced each other ten times at different stages of the FA Cup. The Gunners have prevailed on seven of those occasions, so Villa will be hoping to add a very big fourth win over them today. I am pulling for the Villains. I have no issue with the Gunners or Wenger, but my sense is the wind is at Villa’s back. Having avoided the drop and seeing that they can play good football with the squad they have, they will be going into the final full of belief. As already mentioned, today’s final is likely to be an open, exciting affair. Here’s hoping for goals during the regular ninety, and over time, maybe even penalties. This is because I am taking my son to a birthday party in an hour here and will miss the bulk of the game. Selfish, I know, but it’s my blog!

D-day for Blatter

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The delegates are voting on the future of Sepp Blatter, and the organization as a whole. You can follow the blow by blow here. The ever reliable BBC has their man on the inside. It’s rather humorous.

Blatter will almost certainly be voted back in. Getting him out will be difficult, although it can be done. Scrolling down through above link, I found this:

“… Uefa could call for an extraordinary general meeting of Fifa’s Congress if Blatter. [sic] If 20% of members agree, the meeting would have to be held within three months – and a motion of no confidence would almost certainly be put forward.”

What this tells us is even if he gets in, Blatter now has a fight on two fronts. He will do his level best to keep any to the dirt that will inevitably flow out of the arested FIFA dignitaries from staining him, all the while fighting an insurrection within UEFA. It makes for marvelous theater!

A dark day for the Swiss schemer, no doubt, but one he is liable to survive. If this scandal does not literally do him in, he will still be fighting against a tide of disgust and unrest from within UEFA and the larger delegation that is liable to sweep him away, for good. And the sooner, the better. It is as yet unknown whether Prince Ali is an improvement, but until Blatter is out we will not know. My guess is that reality, or any one that does not include a Sepp-tic component to it (sorry…) is still some ways away.

Special thanks to a good friend, João Miller, for telling me about this amazing, world changing program called Photoshop. And here I thought all along that those model girls were just really skinny and plastic looking!

If I were buying… Bournemouth

Bournemouth

Team Profile: The Cherries Deans Court (naming rights were sold to Goldsands Management, thus Goldsands Stadium now) will be the smallest venue teams will come to in the Premier League this year, at only 12,000 seats. They are owned by Russian businessman Maxim Demin, who made his fortune in the petrochemicals business. He bought a controlling interest in the club in 2011 and then bought out the previous owner completely in 2013. He has operated mostly behind the scenes, keeping a very low profile.

I totally admit to knowing next to nothing about this team. Apparently, they were minutes away from being liquidated altogether, and fans took up a collection to keep the doors open, which should give some indication of the affection this town hold for their club. Bournemouth itself is a small seaside resort town that sees close to 5 million visitors coming through per year. Former famous folks attached to the club include none other than ‘Appy ‘Arry Redknapp, who managed them in the ’80’s.

The 2015-2016 season will be an absolute first for the club as they have never been to the top of the Football League pyramid in their 125-year history. The ascent has been a rapid one, coinciding with Demin taking over the club. The end of the 2013-2014 season saw the South Coast club promoted from League One to the Championship, which they subsequently won comfortably as well. So, two seasons, two promotions. These are heady times indeed for the Cherries.

Goals in 2015-2016: In a word, survival. It’s possible no other club will profit in all of English football from this promotion quite like Bournemouth. If you want to have a visual aide as to how dire things were a few seasons back, go here. It’s moving stuff.

Bournemouth have already completely defied expectations simply by surviving not one but two winding up orders in barely over a ten-year period, to then suddenly springboard up the leagues. They will already receive an almighty cash influx from the current TV money deal. The current one, though, will be dwarfed by the 2016-2017 deal, which will see the figure soar from the current $4.6 billion to $7.9 billion, nearly doubling the cash in the League. The 20 teams in the Premier League last season were all among the 40 wealthiest football clubs in the world. That’s largely due to the TV money. Now imagine doubling the cash. Each broadcast game between 2016-2019 will be worth $15 million. Each and every one. If Bournemouth manage to stay in the League, it could forever alter the trajectory of this little South Coast team.

Miracle-working Eddie Howe, still only 37 years of age, has been named both the League Managers Association manager of the year (for last term) and manager of the decade. The Cherries play an attractive, passing game, and will find many neutrals pulling for them next year. The ultimate small town kid done good, Howe already has the freedom of the City of Bournemouth. Should they survive, the residents likely would march on Parliament and demand he be knighted.

What they will need: The Cherries have already released seven players from the club, so there’s every indication they are planning to be busy during the summer transfer window. Last summer saw a few faces come in, but Howe assembled the bulk of this squad during the 2013 season. The young manager will likely buy with an eye on quality.

The Cherries broke scoring records last year, with six in the squad ending the year with nine or more goals just in the league. Top scorer Callum Wilson bagged 20, while the other two forwards Yann Kermorgant and Brett Pitman bagged 15 and 13 respectively. Goals came from midfield also, with schemers Marc Pugh and Harry Arter tallying up nine a piece. But it is Matt Ritchie who takes the cake with 15.

Ritchie deserves some attention. A relative newcomer to the club, he plied his trade up until 2013 at Portsmouth and Swindon Town, spending four years at the latter. Still only 25, Ritchie is a right winger with a deft touch and cannon of a left foot, although he’s very capable with either foot. He creates, sets up goals and scores them from open play, cutting in from the wing onto his stronger left foot to ping them in from outside the box. He is also excellent from set pieces, taking their corners from the right and scoring more than once from the foul spot last term. Have a look at this highlight reel for an idea. I am concerned for the young man, though, as there is noise in the press that Howe is going to make a loan move for Chelsea winger Chritian Atsu, who spent last season playing Candy Crush Saga on the Everton sidelines. It would be a real slap in the face, unless Howe simply wants Atsu to compete for the right wing spot with Ritchie, and not allow the Scotland international to become complacent in the big time. I suspect it’s more the latter.

To this mix Howe would do well to add some seasoned Premier League campaigners, who can talk to the lads and settle any nerves when they walk into, say, the 76,000 seater Old Trafford. It’s a whole other beast out there. Howe used Artur Boruc in between the sticks last year, but as a loaned player he would either need to tie him down to a proper deal or find another higher profile keeper. He has opted for the former while also bringing in Ozzie stopper Adam Federicci from Reading. Federicci has spent one season in the League with Reading, but that was a short-lived and brutal campaign. Concern here is he is prone to the howler, as evidenced here and here.

I think Howe needs to also bring in a midfield general who can both break up the play and distribute the ball. Given that Howe was probably not planning at the beginning of last year to be plying his trade in the big leagues, he is not likely to have well developed scouting on the European continent. This means he will look for peripheral players in well established and deep squads. I’d say he could do worse than going right back to Chelsea for Jon Obi Mikel. At 28 he is a seasoned pro and has not been in the starting lineup for going on two years. Perhaps he could be convinced to give up the capital for the sunny shores of the South Coast.

Bournemouth did not struggle to find the back of the net in the Championship last term, but the gulf in class between that and the Premiership will sink in once hostilities resume in August, and Howe would be wise to find himself a proven goal scorer at this level. Since we’re already talking Chelsea here and I’m lazy, why not plump up the cash for Didier Drogba? He left the Blues to search for first team football, and while there’s been talk of a move to the US, nothing has been finalized. I could see a one-year deal with a fat per-goal rider on his contract and a chance to go down in history at a club known for its big strikers.

I’d hope Howe resists the urge to go for “seasoned” (as in old) defenders and avoid QPR’s mistakes last season. The Cherries were fairly meager in defense, and it is my opinion that you want to stick with the crew that managed to keep the door closed last year. Defense in the top leagues always starts at the front anyway, and with Bournemouth’s spirit de corps being what it is right now you perhaps want to stay away from tampering with it too much. That said, I would bring in some defenders on loan from the bigger teams, players such as Tottenham’s Vlad Chiriches or Tyler Blackett from Manchester United, although the latter has been linked with Everton. What the team may not have in defensive nous it could make up in athleticism, and Blackett has, to my mind, the makings of a dominant, intimidating central defender. A bit more playing time at a club with less of a fishbowl vibe to it could do him well.

Conclusion: It will be an exhilarating, emotional and exhausting season for the Cherries, but one that could forever change their fortunes and see them become the unlikeliest of success stories. They are coming at a time during an extreme upward trajectory in their history, and if Howe proves to have the wherewithal to keep them up, than who knows where this story will end. I’m not making predictions here, as I want to see how the transfer window plays out, but I am inclined to say, though, that the Premier League is just one bridge too far, and they could end up dead last. But I said the same about Leicester last year and was happy to be wrong about that, so who knows?