Friday, 29 May 2015

Arsenal v Aston Villa: FA Cup Final Preview

It had been a long nine years without a trophy for Arsenal before they beat Hull to lift last season's FA Cup. While the FA Cup might not be right up there with the Premier League or the Champions League you can be sure every other team in the Premier League would be more than delighted to be in the final and have a chance of winning a trophy. Chelsea are the only team to lift any silverware this season with the league and League Cup trophies to their name while every other team will have a bare cupboard this summer.

Of course Arsenal haven't retained the trophy they fought so hard to win last year quite yet and they will have to overcome a Villa side who have done extremely well to get this far. Not too many people gave Villa a chance in their semi final against Liverpool, but they were excellent on the day and fully deserved their place in the final. They might have only just managed to avoid relegation this season, but they have shown significant improvement since Tim Sherwood took the reins. 

Prior to his appointment Villa had forgotten how to score a goal and I thought they looked almost certain to face the drop. He came in and helped them regain some confidence in attack as he chose a more attacking formation than his predecessor. Their goals for column certainly improved with him in charge, but they are still shaky at best at the back and that's where Arsenal can take advantage of them.

Arsenal haven't had the greatest finish to their season with recent results not doing much to inspire confidence in a genuine title challenge next season with the exception of the last day victory over West Brom. Maybe those results will make Arsene Wenger realise he still needs to invest heavily in his squad this summer if that challenge is going to materialise. For the moment though he can only go with the players he has available for the cup final and he has to choose a team to get the upper hand on the day.

For me it's impossible to ignore the hat trick Theo Walcott scored on Sunday against West Brom and he has to be in the team. We had seen a very stale looking Arsenal team prior to that game, but he showed he is fresh and raring to go following his long injury absence and recent long spell on the bench. He took his goals very well and showed the sort of movement in the opponents penalty which the team had lacked so much recently.

Olivier Giroud has had a good season, but he hasn't scored in a while now and has looked well off the pace to me. He hasn't been first choice for the FA Cup this season or last either as the boss has given a chance to other players up front. Even in last season's final Yaya Sanogo got the nod ahead of him, but Giroud did come on and played a big part in the winning goal. 

It looks like the only player unavailable for the final will be Danny Welbeck who hasn't recovered from his knee injury in time. It means Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all fit to return and would all hope to play if they had a little more game time under their collective belts. With so many players available to choose from not only will the team selection not be easy, but it won't even be easy to decide who makes the bench and who misses out altogether.

One of the few certainties will be the inclusion of Wojciech Szczesny in goal as he has been this season's FA Cup goalkeeper since David Osoina took over as first choice. I'm still not fond of the first choice keeper missing out, but Lukasz Fabianski got a winners medal last season when Szczesny should have played and Szczesny will hopefully get his medal this season. I don't think there's much between the two of them and Ospina certainly showed his bad side in the goal West Brom scored on Sunday.

I have a feeling the boss will play a strong team and there won't be too many other changes from his perceived best 11. As I said I think Walcott should play, but Giroud will probably get the nod and I would be very surprised if Aaron Ramsey didn't start ahead of Jack Wilshere. I have no doubt that Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla will be in there from the start and I expect Francis Coquelin to play too. I think it would be far too risky to leave Coquelin out and leave the defensive duties in midfield to any other combination of players. 

I think the defence more or less picks itself although I don't think the choice between Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs is a foregone conclusion and I think Gibbs has a chance to play. I wouldn't mind seeing Gabriel Paulista playing from the start either, but I would be very surprised if Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker don't get the nod in central defence. That would leave just Hector Bellerin at right back and I would be highly surprised if anyone played ahead of him.

In the last two seasons Arsenal have had some very good results in the cup, but their best performances have come against the better sides and they have often struggled against so called lesser opponents. The semi finals in both seasons were certainly a case in point and last season's final was almost lost before Arsenal even considered getting involved. They cannot start off against Villa like they did against Hull last season or they could have too much of a hill to climb later in the game. 

Villa could quite possibly attempt to park the bus as that tactic has worked quite well against Arsenal in recent weeks. Under Sherwood they have shown far more to their attacking game though and he might just be tempted to go head to head with Arsenal. That could be a big mistake for Villa if they adopt that tactic and they might be best suited to defending in depth and trying to win the game on the break from a set piece.

This final is a chance for Arsenal to set a couple of records of their own and hopefully they can do just that. As it is they will have won the cup 12 times if they win and no other team can match that record. It would also be the boss's sixth FA Cup triumph and again that's a record for any manager. 

There's so much to play for that the prospect of the team not showing up like they haven't done recently just isn't an option. They need to be switched on from first minute to last and ready for whatever game Villa decide to play on the day. The bus parking of recent weeks has been a real problem for Arsenal to get past and they can't let it get to them again if Villa play that way.

At the same time they can't throw caution to the wind too soon even if they are chasing the game as they are all too vulnerable on the break when they do so. The defeat to Swansea and draw with Sunderland could be a perfect template for Villa to adopt and Arsenal need to break that down if they're going to retain the cup. For me the key will as always be the pace of their game and the speed at which they move the ball.

A fast start with Villa under pressure from the off will hopefully reap some early rewards and then keep Villa at bay. When chances come along they need someone to convert them and Walcott looks the player most likely to do so at the moment. I think they can take control of the game from early on and I think they will win by a couple of goals.

I'm still not sure where I'll be watching the game and it will be hard to match my trip to London for last season's final. I didn't have a ticket for the game, but I had a fantastic time in a local Arsenal pub and I wish I was there again this season. Unfortunately circumstances don't allow and I will have to find somewhere a lot closer to home to cheer on Arsenal.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment