Saturday 30th May – 17:30 – Wembley Stadium
It’s one of the biggest days in the footballing calendar. The FA Cup final, with years of history, pressure and glory if you’re on the right end of the scoreline. Holders Arsenal are in a record 19th final and are looking to claim their 12th trophy, a tally that would make them the most successful club in the competition’s history. They needed extra time to beat Championship outfit Reading in the semi-final, but did finish 3rd in the Premier League (their best finish since 2010) and smashed West Brom 4-1 on the last day thanks to a Theo Walcott hat-trick. The Gunners’ opponents under the arch are Aston Villa, who have 10 FA Cup finals and seven trophies to their name, but the last one came in 1957. They came from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 in the last round, the first game in this year’s competition that they didn’t play at Villa Park. But it’s not wasn’t plain sailing in the league. Tim Sherwood (who took over in February) guided the Villains to 17th place, just one spot above the drop zone as they finished the campaign with two consecutive defeats, 6-1 at Southampton and 1-0 to relegated Burnley on the final day. But form goes out the window in cup finals, and anything can happen in 90 minutes, or maybe 120, or perhaps a shoot-out could decide the final for the first time since 2006?
The Key Battle: Per Mertesacker vs Christian Benteke
Arsenal kept clean sheets home and away against Aston Villa last season, and captain Per Mertesacker played in both games so will be hoping for the same outcome meaning that he can lift the famous cup once more.
The 30 year old scored the first goal of the Gunners’ 2014-15 FA Cup campaign in the third round back in January against Hull, and will want to end it with just as much success.
It was Gabriel Paulista who partnered Mertesacker in the final Premier League game of the season but Laurent Koscielny seems certain to be restored alongside the big German at Wembley. Could his pace combined with Mertesacker’s height stop Christian Benteke?
Tim Sherwood will be hoping that it isn’t, because the Belgian is key to his side’s chances at Wembley. Benteke scored the equaliser against Liverpool in the semi-finals.
In a Villa side that is horribly out of form and out of sorts, the striker is the one shining light and has been transformed since Sherwood arrived at the Midlands, ending the campaign with 13 league goals.
His 6ft 3″ frame means that he’s won more aerial duels (188) than any other Premier League player, and if at his best, Benteke could win Saturday’s battle of the giants under the arch.
But it may well be the last game the 24 year old plays for the Midlands club, with his manager admitting that there is a buy-out fee in his contract so it could be impossible to stop him leaving this summer.
- Arsenal will be without Danny Welbeck due to a knee injury but otherwise Arsene Wenger has a full squad to choose from.
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Debuchy (both hamstring) and captain Mikel Arteta (ankle) are in contention after returning to training following recent injuries.
- Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is expected to retain his place from the semi-final ahead of David Ospina.
- Villa keeper Shay Given should be fit to start after missing the defeat to Burnley on the final day of the season with a groin injury.
- Given returned to training during the week but if he is not available, then Brad Guzan will make his first start in the competition this season.
- Aly Cissokho (groin), Kieran Richardson (calf) and Jores Okore (knee) have also trained but Ciaran Clark (knee) is out while Libor Kozak remains sidelined as he continues to recover from a broken leg.
Arsenal wins = 73 / Aston Villa wins = 62 / Draws = 41
Last Meeting: Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa (1st February 2015)
Four second half goals meant Arsenal recorded an emphatic 5-0 victory over struggling Aston Villa at the start of February. The Gunners dominated and took the lead when Olivier Giroud collected Mesut Ozil’s neat flick and finished well. Santi Cazorla’s shot struck the post before well-taken finishes from Ozil and Theo Walcott made it 3-0. Giroud hit the bar with a header before Cazorla fired home a penalty and Hector Bellerin made it 5-0 from 30 yards out.
Road to the Final
We saw a repeat of last season’s final as Hull City visited the Emirates Stadium, but it was a lot more comfortable for Arsenal this time around as goals from Per Mertesacker and Alexis Sanchez secured a comfortable 2-0 win.
The Gunners won a narrow contest at Championship side Brighton 3-2, with Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Tomas Rosicky scoring as they held their lead late on on the South Coast.
Middlesbrough had knocked out Manchester City in the last round, but Arsenal had no such problem against the team from Teeside. An Olivier Giroud double meant Arsene Wenger’s side progressed at the Emirates.
The glamour tie in the last eight saw Arsenal visit Manchester United, where a Nacho Monreal goal gave them a 25th minute lead. Wayne Rooney levelled it just four minutes later, but in the second half Red Devils old boy Danny Welbeck came back to haunt the hosts and send the Gunners through, but not before Angel di Maria had been sent off.
Arsenal went to Wembley as huge favourites against Championship side Reading, but were taken to extra time by the valiant Royals after Garath McCleary’s scrappy goal cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’s opener. The added half an hour saw yet more pressure from the underdogs, but in the end the match was decided by an unfortunate error as Aussie goalkeeper Adam Federici saw Sanchez’s shot slip through his fingers to give the Gunners a place in the final.
Drawn against Championship strugglers Blackpool, it needed a late Christian Benteke goal for Villa to avoid what would have been a surprising replay at Bloomfield Road.
This time it was the turn of eventual second tier champions Bournemouth to visit the Midlands, but they didn’t fare much better as goals from Carles Gil and Andi Weimann secured the win before Callum Wilson reduced the deficit in second half stoppage time.
With new boss Tim Sherwood watching from the stands, Villa were once again safely two goals up against Leicester courtesy of Leonardo Bacuna and Scott Sinclair strikes, before once again they were pegged back, this time by Andrej Kramaric. Again though, they held on.
A fourth home tie of the competition saw the Villains face Midlands rivals West Brom, and this they managed to keep a clean sheet after going two goals up. This time it was Fabian Delph and Sinclair that hit the back of the net, but the game was somewhat marred by red cards to Claudio Yacob and Jack Grealish, as well as ugly scenes at the end during the pitch invasion which was part of the jubilant celebrations at Villa Park.
For the third time in this year’s FA Cup, Aston Villa won 2-1 , this time against Liverpool to secure a spot in the final. But this time they had to come from behind as Philippe Coutinho put the Reds in front on the half hour mark, but only for six minutes as Benteke equalised. Delph was then the hero in the second half as he slotted past Simon Mignolet.
Stat of the Match
All eight FA Cup finals at the new Wembley have been won by a one-goal margin.
Where can I watch it?
You’ve got a choice of options for cup final day, as the BBC and BT Sport are both showing the game live. The former have a whole day of build up before the match coverage begins at 3:55pm, just over an hour and a half before kick-off. Meanwhile if you do have BT, they begin broadcasting at 5pm. The Beeb have the highlights sorted at 10:50pm on BBC One.
My prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Aston Villa
Arsenal only just won last year’s final and this year’s semi-final, so they certainly won’t smash Aston Villa, but with Tim Sherwood’s side out of form, I can only see a Gunners win, and I’m going for 2-0. Theo Walcott has returned to action full of fire and determination and I think he will score along with Alexis Sanchez as they lift a second successive FA Cup trophy and a 12th in total.