So, the English Premier League is done and dusted. Chelsea are deserved champions, Hull, Burnley and QPR make the dreaded drop to The Championship, and a summer of speculation, managerial sackings and big money transfers is set to begin before it all kicks off again in just 75 days.
But first there is the small matter of the 134th edition of the FA Cup Final to be played, as defending FA Cup holders Arsenal face surprise finalists Aston Villa in the world’s oldest club competition. The Gunners won the 2013/4 Final 3-2 against another surprise finalist in Hull City, granting Arsene Wenger his first piece of silverware in nine long seasons and they will enter the 2015 final as they did in 2014, as heavy favourites.
A resurgent Aston Villa side successfully avoided the drop after replacing Paul Lambert with Tim Sherwood in February, and the former Spurs man has instilled a belief in the Villians that was lacking pre Christmas. Sherwood’s men came from a goal down in the Semi Final against Liverpool and have also defeated Premier League Midlands rivals WBA and Leicester on the way to the final.
Arsenal ended their Premier League season with a flourish, comprehensively defeating WBA 4-1 after a Theo Walcott hattrick inside 37 minutes put paid to any murmerings of another insipid home performance after the Gunners had failed to score in their previous three games at the Emirates.
Interestingly, Walcott was deployed up front, with Wenger taking the opportunity to rest regular striker Olivier Giroud with Wembley in mind, and the number 14 looked lively throughout, suggesting Wenger will find it hard to not find a place for him in the starting XI on Saturday.
Defender Laurent Koscielny and midfielder Aaron Ramesy were also given a breather by Wenger, although the midfield trio of Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil all played the full 90 minutes.
Sanchez has been a revelation this season, consistently providing the most attacking threat for the Gunners, ending the season with 16 PL goals, whilst the unsung Cazorla has pulled the strings from behind the front men, contributing the second most assists in the PL (11).
How Wenger plans to accomodate this trio, the returned to fitness Jack Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott and Giroud will be the most interesting part of Arsenal’s line-up.
In contrast, Villa ended the season meekly, with a 1-0 home defeat to already relegated Burnley, where surely Wembley was playing on their minds.
Sherwood was expected to make changes to the line-up, having already survived relegation the previous week, despite a 6-1 mauling at Southampton, but again, star men Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph all played the full 90 minutes.
Goalkeeper Shay Given was rested, but should return between the posts having played every minute of the FA Cup campaign so far.
Villa should revert to their normal 4-5-1 formation, with Benteke as the attacking spearhead come Saturday, although it will be interesting to see if former Man City man Scott Sinclair can find a way into the side after returning from injury with a 20 minute cameo against The Clarets.
Keys to the Game
Where to start? This is surely Arsenal’s to lose, and if they touch anywhere near 85-90% of their potential then they should run away with the game.
The sides met twice during the Premier league season, resulting in 3-0 and 5-0 wins for The Gunners, although both matches were admittedly played before Tim Sherwood took up his managerial duties.
Sherwood will have a lot on his plate trying to contain the attacking threat that Arsenal possess, and will be looking to experienced defender Ron Vlaar to lead the relatively inexperienced backline as he did against Liverpool in the semi-final.
As mentioned, selection of the attacking players will be Wenger’s biggest headache, and there will be a couple of dissatisfied players come the 5:30pm kick-off, but whatever side he puts on the field should have enough to dismiss Villa and end the clubs chances of their first FA Cup final victory since 1957.
Of course Villa are not without a hope, having started underdogs against Liverpool in the semi, but it would take beast of a striker Benteke to have a field day, and stellar performances from midfielders Tom Cleverley, Grealish and Charles N’Zogbia.
As at the time of this post, Arsenal are at 1.53 to retain the cup after dismissing Reading in professional fashion at The Wembly stadium,while Aston villa has a chance of winning after beating Liverpool out of the FA cup semi final, Tim Sherwood team has a chance of winning arsenal with an odd of 6.58 while odd for draw is 4.21.