This weekend sees the final of the oldest football competition in the world and the sign of the end of English football for the summer, the F.A Cup Final. The last piece of silverware available to the English clubs, this Saturday see’s holders Arsenal face off against the relegation surviving Aston Villa as the North London club go in search of a record breaking 12 FA Cup trophies. Aston Villa, whom just avoided the drop to the Championship with just a three point cushion separating themselves from the dreaded bottom three will be looking to cause an upset as they face an Arsenal side who have managed to elevate themselves to the heights of Premier League contention in recent months.
Although league form and standings would lead to a predicted Arsenal win, the FA Cup final is the most unpredictable and magical cup in world football and is never one to disappoint the neutral as well as the underdog. As we approach this huge cup final, we take a partizan view of the tie and breakdown the key battles that could win and or lose the game for either side.
With two goals in two FA Cup appearances for the Frenchman, Olivier Giroud’s form this season has paid dividends for Arsenal throughout the season and specifically to the FA Cup itself when Giroud netted twice in a 2-0 win over Middlesborough back in February. With crucial goals throughout the season, Giroud has played a huge part in Arsenal’s third placed finish and is certainly a player for the Aston Villa defence to focus on, giving his strength, aerial ability and surprisingly nimble feet. The Frenchman however hasn’t found the net for the Gunners since the club’s 4-1 win over Liverpool back in April, a whole eight games have been played since without the Frenchman finding the net with many attributing a post-match statement from Thierry Henry of all people as the catalyst for his dip in form. If Giroud can replicate his mid-season form he will cause the Villa defence real concern. At this point however, that is quite a sizeable ‘if’.
The Belgian international finished this campaign with 12 goals in his last 12 games and was an incredibly crucial catalyst to Aston Villa’s continued status as a Premier League club. A renowned bully of defenders, Benteke offers a true physical threat for Aston Villa and poses a genuine concerto the Arsenal defence. Benteke has netted three times in previous ties against the Gunners and Arsenal will need no reminding of the 24-year-old’s abilities and will know that the fate of the tie could hinge on the Belgian’s strong shoulders. With two goals in four FA Cup ties, Benteke has taken to the FA Cup well and is certainly set to be the main focus for Villa’s attack as they look to upset the cup holders.
Francis Coquelin’s emergence as one of the star players in Arsenal’s 2014/15 season has been one of the stand-out fairytale stories in recent Premier League season’s, an ideal rhetoric for the most romantic cup competition in the world. The 24-year-old has become a real enforcer for the Gunners and has made 22 appearances for the FA Cup holders since being called back from a loan spell at Charlton back in December. Coquelin has provided Arsenal with the two key things that have been lacking in Gunners sides of recent years; an aggressive mentality and a real midfield bite. Coquelin’s ability to dispossess, disrupt and distribute quickly has helped the intensely creative Arsenal midfield move through the gears at a high tempo and move the ball into dangerous areas. Some of the more underrated skills of the bulldog like Frenchman could pay dividends against a physical Villa side. Coquelin has won the most aerial duels of any Arsenal player and averaged at least seven key defensive contributions per game, whether it be last ditch tackles, important interceptions or even professional fouls. For Arsenal to avoid the ‘magic of the cup’ Coquelin will need to continue his aggressive and unattractive role in the middle of the park.
England International Fabian Delph has had a truly great season under manager Tim Sherwood, playing a key part in the sides upturn in fortune that led to a narrow escape from relegation. The 25-year-old has played 83 times over the past three seasons for Villa and has become an England player with five International caps for the Three Lions, earning massive praise along the way. Faban Delph will pay a pivotal role in tomorrow’s cup final and will certainly have a say in the eventual destination of the FA Cup, for good or for bad. Coming up against an incredibly creative midfield that will more than likely consist of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, Delph will have to make his priority disruption over distribution if he is to help his side avoid the possibility of chasing the ball under Arsenal’s control.
Only just back from a very long spell on the sidelines, Jack Wilshere looks set to feature in Saturday’s FA Cup Final after a phenomenal performance and goal against West Brom last week. There’s not much that hasn’t been said about Jack Wilshere’s potential and talent but there has always been the story of injury that has plagued Wilshere’s career at the Gunners. A master of the short pass with the style of link-up play that Arsenal are synonymous for, a fully fit Jack Wilshere is certain a player that can have a massive impression on a game like tomorrows. After scoring what is considered to be the goal of the season against the Baggies, Wilshere is likely to feature in high spirits, something that can really boost not only the morale but the fluidity of this Arsenal side. Wilshere will need to edge out Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Ozil to earn a spot in the starting line-up but will certainly bring an exciting and penetrative element to the Gunners.
19-year-old Jack Grealish has been outstanding in this, his debut season. Due to start alongside childhood hero Gabby Agbonlahor, Grealish is one of Villa’s most dynamic and threatening players. With phenomenally quick feet and an ability to manoeuvre through seemingly impossibly tight areas, Grealish is the player that keeps this Villa team ticking over. This season saw Grealish dragged to the limelight after a run of games under Paul Lambert who recognised his talent before sacrificing him for relegation survival. Once Tim Sherwood took the reigns however and hurled Jack back into first-team contention, with fantastic results. Fro this game on Grealish’s career changed. Grealish is now one of the most aggressive and forward players in the league and has become one of the most exciting young English players since his wee end opponent Jack Wilshere.