The FA Cup final is set with defending champions Arsenal primed to meet upstart Aston Villa on May 30 at Wembley Stadium. Both squads proved victorious in the semifinals over the weekend, with Arsenal receiving a brace from forward Alexis Sanchez and a bit of help from Reading’s keeper for a 2-1 victory, while Villa held off traditional power Liverpool on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger’s side are seeking their 12th English title in history, which would be the most ever and break a deadlock with Manchester United. The Gunners had previously been in a silverware drought, but have caught fire in the past two FA Cups.
Aston Villa, fresh off a 2-1 victory of their own over Liverpool thanks to midfielder Fabian Delph’s eventual-winner in the 54th minute, are one of the more decorated clubs in FA Cup history, but not recently. The Villains will make their first appearance in the final since 2000, and 10th overall, but they haven’t claimed England’s esteemed trophy since 1957. Arsenal and Aston Villa have never squared off in the final before.
Based off their two previous meetings during Premier League play this season, Arsenal must be considered the favorite heading into Wembley. The Gunners claimed both matchups by a combined score of 8-0, with a host of players recording goals.
Arsenal have also rocketed to second on the table with seven straight league victories, and they've tasted defeat only twice in their last 14 matches in any competition. The disappointment of the early exit against Monaco in the Champions League has resulted in more focused and efficient play in the Premier League and FA Cup.
However, Villa manager Tim Sherwood doesn’t seem discouraged by Arsenal’s success earlier this year, and in fact seems down right confident in his side's abilities.
“We’re coming back here in May, bring on the Gooners,” Sherwood said to Talk Sport after the win over Liverpool. “It was a great performance. The boys stuck in their despite going behind and we always had belief. We stuck to the game plan and thoroughly deserved it.”
Currently in 15th place on the Premier League table, Aston Villa have had their troubles in league play this season particularly on defense. They’ve allowed 45 goals to only 24 scored, with some blame falling on the shoulders of goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
The 30-year-old American has made 100 saves in 33 starts this season, but Villa and Sherwood have turned to tested veteran Shay Given for the FA Cup and the results have been far better.
Given, 38, has nine saves in five FA Cup starts this term, and has surrendered only three goals, and no more than one in any single match.
On the attack, Villa send out 10-goal scorer Christian Benteke, and fellow forward Gabriel Agbonlahor, who’s racked up six goals so far. It’s a solid blend of speed and athleticism at the point of Villa’s attack, but right now the Gunners have the upper hand in terms of firepower.
Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have accounted for 14 goals apiece this term, tied for fifth in Premier League, with attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil and striker Danny Welbeck rounding out the top of the attack with four goals each.
But the creativity of Wenger's midfield has been most important. Arsenal are enjoying an excellent season from playmaker Santi Cazorla with his seven goals and eight assists. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey dispelled injury concerns from earlier in the year to net five goals and as many assists in 18 starts, and appears to have regained his overall form from 2013-2014.
Arsenal did not look particularly sharp against Reading, and there is a fear that they may underestimate Aston Villa. After Villa's impressive victory over an inspired Liverpool squad, it's difficult to determine which club will enter the final with the momentum. Villa will likely play the role of confident underdog, while Arsenal can be presumed to be the experienced champion.