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!