Arsenal will have the chance to win a record 12th FA Cup Saturday, but they will have to overcome an upstart Aston Villa side led by Tim Sherwood. These two teams finished on completely different ends of the Premier League table as the Gunners fought their way to the third spot in the table, and Aston Villa battled relegation to the bitter end with a 17th place finish just three points above the drop. However, despite the massive gap that separated these two sides in the league, fans should be cautious to give Arsenal their second FA Cup title in a row before the opening whistle sounds at Wembley.
The favorites have to be the cup holders. Arsene Wenger’s men couldn’t be heading into Saturday’s game with any better form as they closed out the season with a 4-1 thrashing of West Brom ending a streak of three winless games. The closing fixture showed the attacking potential that Arsenal has with wingers like Alexis Sanchez and the pacey Theo Walcott (who scored a first half hat trick), while a prototypical power forward, Olivier Giroud, provides a constant aerial threat with his big presence in the nitty-gritty areas in attack. Don’t forget about the German magician that the Gunners have in the midfield either. Mesut looks to have fully adjusted to the English game during his second season in the Premier League and that is a scary thing for every other team. The depth of talent that the Gunners possess in the midfield and up top with the combination of Giroud and Danny Welback will cause fits for Villa’s defense and for me, it’s not a question of if Arsenal score, but a question of when.
On the defensive side of the ball, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will have their hands full, as well. Perhaps one of the biggest questions of the match is if these two experienced defenders will be able to handle the pace and size of Christian Benteke. The big Belgian forward has been in astonishing form for the Villains in the FA Cup having played a role in the majority of the team’s recent goals through his own scoring ability or his assists. In the teams two prior meetings in the league, Koscielny and Mertesacker have come out ahead in this battle keeping clean sheets in both matches. If they can find a way to cut Benteke out of the attack, Villa could be looking at a very long match.
Some would argue that the man responsible for Villa’s miracle trip the finals isn’t even a man on the pitch. The hiring of former Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood appears to have sparked resurgence from the team in the West Midlands and now they sit just one win away from their first FA Cup since 1957. Sherwood has instilled a new attacking style of play that utilizes the skill and speed that Villa possess in the squad. Forgotten players like former Manchester City man Scott Sinclair and on loan midfielder Tom Cleverley look reborn in the claret and blue kits. A player with confidence is a player to be feared and with this new style of play, there looks to be no shortage of those.
The newest star to emerge on this underdog Villa side is 19-year-old Jack Grealish. The young center midfielder provides a creative and attacking spark for the Villains with his somewhat awkward playing style. Even though he lacks the flair of players like Sanchez and Ozil, Grealish seemingly glides past defenders with simple touches and more importantly he retains possession for his team. The 19-year-old has yet to register a goal with the senior team, but during his five FA Cup appearances he has managed to record two assists including the key assist to Fabian Delph to put away Liverpool in the semifinals. It will be interesting to see whether or not Grealish will be able to replicate this skill and composure on the biggest stage in the English game, or if his youth and inexperience will cause him to shrink under the pressure.
With all of that being said, I’m going to take Arsenal for the repeat. Based on the previous two results between the sides (3-0 and 5-0 victories for Arsenal), I can’t see Villa’s quest for a long awaited trophy ending this weekend. The reliance on Benteke to score will be their downfall as Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud both score en route to a 2-0 Gunners’ cup triumph.