Aston Villa vs. Arsenal: Gunners cap season with record 12th FA Cup title

A year ago, the Gunners did not have their best stuff in the FA Cup final, conceding two goals in the opening minutes against Hull. That was a different story on Saturday as Arsenal never gave Aston Villa a chance to get into the game. The Gunners won 4-0 to become the most successful team in the history of the FA Cup with 12 titles, including six under Wenger.

FA Cup final 2

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This was a one-sided match with Arsenal having nine shots on target to none for the Villans. The Gunners were playing their best football with some quick and sharp passing and great movement around the ballholder whereas Aston Villa couldn’t rise to the occasion. The Villans were so overwhelmed that four of their players received yellow cards by the 52nd minute.

Cazorla was named ‘Man of the Match’ for his outstanding performance at Wembley. The Spaniard pulled the strings in midfield with 79 passes, 22 more than Ramsey, second on the list of Gunners who made the most passes. Cazorla was not just a catalyst connecting defense to attack. He proved a threat in the final third with three shot assists and a low drive parried by Given in the 57th.

The Aston Villa defense especially suffered from the accuracy of Cazorla’s delivery from set pieces. However, Koscielny missed the target from a Cazorla corner in the ninth minute after beating Benteke to the ball. Cazorla then found Sanchez with a free kick in the 15th. The Chile forward crossed for Koscielny whose header was saved by Given. In the 62nd, Mertesacker escaped Benteke’s marking to head in another Cazorla corner for a 3-0 lead.

Sanchez’s work rate

Sanchez could have also claimed the ‘Man of the Match’ award with a goal and an assist but I guess some voters were put off by his relatively high turnover rate. He showed his generosity in the opening goal by knocking down Monreal’s cross in the 40th instead of taking his chance from seven yards. When Sanchez outjumped Richardson at the far post to head the ball across goal, I was furious because I thought he should have gone for goal. But a split second later, Walcott made a run inside the box to prove me wrong by pouncing on Sanchez’s header and placing the ball between Given and the near post.

The second goal resulted from Sanchez’s work rate. The Chile forward won a loose ball on the edge of the Aston Villa box and picked his spot to fire under the crossbar from 30 yards. There was so much spin and power on the ball that Given couldn’t react quickly enough to stop the swerving shot.

There was no real surprise in Wenger’s team selection. The manager stuck with Szczesny as his FA Cup goalkeeper just like he did last year with Fabianski. Up front, he gave the nod to Walcott over Giroud because Giroud was going through a goal drought while Walcott was high on confidence after netting a hat trick against West Brom the previous weekend.

The Villans played Okore at centerback to contain Walcott’s speed and compensate for Vlaar’s lack of pace. They were even bold enough to press high up the pitch and move their centerbacks just 15 yards behind the halfway line. I guess the idea was to win the ball back by forcing the Arsenal defense into hasty clearances.

Walcott’s composure

Aston Villa quickly identified Walcott as the main threat with Vlaar cutting Cazorla’s cross for the England forward in the eighth minute. His first scoring chance came in the 24th when Cazorla released Ozil down the left flank. Walcott met Ozil’s low cross for a goal-bound volley but Richardson made the block.

Walcott punished the Villans for a lapse of concentration in the 40th. When Walcott dropped back to release Monreal down the left wing, nobody tracked his run inside the box. From 10 yards, Walcott showed enough composure to hit a good half-volley with his weaker foot. Walcott wasn’t as brilliant as against West Brom. He was caught offside four times.

In the second half, I felt Walcott should have converted one of the two scoring chances he had. Walcott got the better of Okore to collect a through ball from Ozil in the 61st but the Aston Villa centerback quickly recovered to block his goal attempt. Then Ramsey led a counterattack in the 76th to feed Walcott with a long ball. Walcott got away from Okore but sent a curling shot wide with his right foot while a left-footed effort seemed the better option.

Unlucky Ramsey

Ramsey was the hero of last year’s FA Cup final but couldn’t find the net on Saturday despite five goal attempts. The Wales midfielder was unlucky with three of those shots. His effort in the 28th deflected off Vlaar to go into Given’s path. Another strike also lost its sting in the 47th because of a deflection. Ramsey was quite frustrated when the referee turned down a penalty claim in the 57th although Hutton’s arm blocked what looked like a shot on target.

Not much to say about the other two chances. Under Okore’s pressure, Ramsey could only slide a cutback from Bellerin into the side-netting in the 17th. Maybe he could have done better in the 20th when Vlaar’s poor clearance bounced off him. Ramsey couldn’t control the ball well and ended up flicking it over the bar. He had no success in front of the net but I still thought Ramsey contributed to the balance of the team, especially with some good defensive work that included five tackles, more than any other player on the pitch.

Ozil was tied with Cazorla for the most shot assists. Obviously, you expect him to thrive with a pacy forward like Walcott playing in front of him. The only negative from Saturday’s match was his delivery from set pieces (again). Ozil poorly took a free kick in the 12th and wasted corners in the 44th and 54th. It shouldn’t happen with a player as gifted technically as Ozil.

Small scares

Wilshere and Giroud replaced Ozil and Walcott in the 78th before the manager sent on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Sanchez in the 90th. Our substitutes all had a hand in the fourth goal as Wilshere slipped the ball to Chambo in the third minute of stoppage time and the winger made a low cross for Giroud, who nonchalantly flicked home with the outside of his left boot.

Aston Villa never really seemed in a position to score. The only minor scares came from Szczesny’s decision-making and the youth of Coquelin and Bellerin. Szczesny made the right decision in the 13th when he charged forward to punch away Richardson’s cross for Benteke. But I thought he shouldn’t have come off his line in the 32nd. Mertesacker and Koscielny were double-teaming Benteke near the penalty spot. So there was no need for Szczesny to intercept Delph’s cross. Szczesny missed his punch and the ball fell to Cleverley but the Villans couldn’t capitalize on that goalkeeping mistake. Szczesny flapped at another cross in the 55th and was again lucky to escape punishment.

Coquelin and Bellerin looked mature for their first final but their lack of experience somehow showed in the closing minutes. Coquelin made a poor challenge on Agbonlahor in the 80th. It should have been a free kick on the edge of the box but the referee failed to spot the foul although Coquelin did not get the ball. That was poor decision-making from Coquelin since Agbonlahor still had a defender to beat. To Coquelin’s credit, he intercepted two dangerous through balls.

The next step

The Villans then had a penalty claim turned down in the 86th. Bellerin blocked Grealish’s cross but the rebound fell into Grealish’s path near the by-line. Bellerin had an arm on Grealish’s shoulder as the Aston Villa midfielder cut inside and fell to the ground. The referee thought it was a dive but I’ve already seen penalties awarded in similar situations. Bellerin had a good game with four interceptions and three tackles won, the most among Arsenal defenders, but next season he’ll need to get rid of this habit of putting his arm on a player’s shoulder inside the box.

This has been a good season for Arsenal with a third-place finish in the Premier League and a record 12th FA Cup title. Of all the English clubs, only Chelsea enjoyed a better season by winning the league title and the League Cup trophy. Manchester City finished second in the league but had no silverware to add to its trophy cabinet. And Manchester United and Liverpool both had a worse season than Arsenal. The Red Devils could only take fourth despite a schedule with no European game, while Liverpool will miss out on the Champions League next season.

Wenger knows that the next step for the club is to win the league title. Lifting the FA Cup is great but it’s no guarantee of a serious challenge for the Premier League as the 2014-15 season showed. The manager still has some homework to do this summer.