Arsenal face Aston Villa in the FA Cup final Saturday, knowing a win will make the Gunners the first team to lift the Cup 12 times. Victory at Wembley would also take Arsene Wenger’s FA Cup tally to six, making the Frenchman ironically the most prolific manager in modern times in terms of winning English soccer’s most-celebrated domestic cup competition. Wenger is currently even with Sir Alex Ferguson with five. Having won the Cup 12 months ago, Arsenal could also become only the eighth team in history to retain it.
But the pressure will be on Wenger and his team, as Arsenal are strong favorites to beat a Villa side that barely avoided relegation.
Apart from the injured Danny Welbeck, Wenger will have his full squad at his disposal Saturday. Even long-term absences like Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be in contention for a spot in the squad. This Arsenal team look a far cry from the injury-ravaged force they were earlier in the season. They also look much steelier and sure-footed than the team that barely got past Hull City one year ago on the way to capturing Arsenal’s first trophy in nearly a decade.
A stellar run of results in 2015 has seen Arsenal finish third this season, an improvement on their usual fourth place finish. Having followed last year’s FA Cup with a Community Shield, the Gunners have rediscovered their hunger for trophies. Were it not for what defender Per Mertesacker called a “World Cup hangover” among the German members of the squad, Arsenal might just have sustained a better title challenge this season. But after nearly a decade of austerity measures, Arsenal are looking like a club that’s ready to challenge for more.
Though the Gunners are strong favorites, this Villa side is not to be underestimated: Tim Sherwood’s men knocked out three Premier League sides, including Liverpool, en-route to Aston Villa’s first FA Cup final since 2000.
And on the Villa bench, selection options have improved, with Aly Cissokho, Kieran Richardson and Jose Okore all having recovered from recent injuries well enough to train this week. Sherwood will also of course be able to call on striker Christian Benteke. The Belgian has 12 goals in his last 12 games and along with midfielder Jack Grealish, will be among Villa’s biggest threats.
Grealish has been one of the surprises of this Premier League season. The previously unknown 19-year-old Villa academy product has had a tremendous season. His pass success rate was the best in the Premier League and at 92.7 percent, was even with Barcelona’s Xavi this season.
Manager Tim Sherwood has already pulled off one miracle this season in keeping Villa in the Premier League. Arsenal must hope they can prevent him from pulling off another at Wembley Saturday.