Arsene Wenger was left with the plaudits of Arsenal fans as a pre-match gamble on starting his red-hot striker Theo Walcott paid off in spades, as the Gunners cruised to a second straight FA Cup with a 4-0 win over a flat Aston Villa.
All the talk before the game centred on whether or not Wenger would select the England man, following his fine thirty-minute hat-trick at the Emirates against West Brom in the Premier League closer. And with an hour before kick-off it was the number 14 of Walcott that was on the teamsheet ahead of Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who’d been the main man for the Reds this season.
Arsenal, started strongly, and this momentum set them up as the dominant force from the first minute to last, the pre-match hype of a potential shock from Tim Sherwood’s plucky Villa failed, as they couldn’t match the performance that knocked out Liverpool in the semi-final at Wembley a month ago.
It didn’t take long for veteran Irish keeper Shay Given to be thrust into action. Following a succession of early corners and Christian Benteke working as a makeshift centre-back more than a centre-forward, the energetic maverick Alexis Sanchez lobbed a ball into the box that Laurent Koscielny thumped down onto the goaline, only for Given to lumber across and scramble away in the 14th minute. It was only an inkling of what was to be a disappointing afternoon for the thousands of fans who’d travelled down from the Second City.
As the game progressed Aaron Ramsey and Sanchez were starting to pick their way through the Villa barricades, as Sherwood’s team could hardly break out of their own half. Kieran Richardson’s last-ditch clearance thwarted Walcott’s attempts to net a pull-back, and slowly but surely it was becoming evident there would be only one winner.
The breakthrough finally come just before half-time in the 40th minute, with Walcott releasing Nacho Monreal down the left-hand side, before the Spaniard’s cross was knocked down by Sanchez for the on-rushing Walcott to smash home from the penalty spot. It was just what the Gunners deserved and a sign of their authority over a side which hadn’t quite turned up.
Come half-time, Sherwood would have riled up his team and had some form of tactical genius to resort to…right? Wrong. If anything the second-half was the 45 which saw the resistance of the claret and blues finally break in such a manner that it’ll put more than a few doubts into fans’ minds about their relatively raw leader.
Just five minutes into the second half, and Sanchez became the second Chilean to score in the FA Cup final, with a sumptuous strike, his twenty-five yard strike brimming with ferocious pace, the pace and power that convinced Wenger to shell out multi-millions for the former Barcelona forward last summer.
At this point the Gunners were strutting around the lush Wembley turf, taking in their 25,000 fans’ adulation, with 40 minutes remaining, but they weren’t done with two goals, oh no.
Captain Per Mertesacker didn’t improve the mood of Villa owner Randy Lerner and Prince William, himself a prominent fan, when he netted from a simple and straightforward corner, crashing home a powerful shoulder. By this point Villa hadn’t quite shut-down though.
The introduction of Gabby Agbonlahor had given them a boost, but the homegrown player couldn’t bring the goals his side desperately needed, and with star striker Christian Benteke deprived of any real quality service, the Belgian looked lost and alone up-top.Another desperate disappointment was the performance of young winger Jack Grealish. Highlighted as one for the future, both with club and country (once he decides whether to plump with Ireland or England), the pacy, skillful runs we saw against Liverpool were nowhere to be seen in the Final. Arguably only England’s Fabian Delph or the 39-year-old Given could be afforded any sort of praise for their performances, as Villa floundered on their big day.
There were a couple of late shouts for the Midlanders’, Agbonlahor tumbling under a robust challenge from Francois Coquelin, which after a replay looked a convincing enough foul, a sentiment referee Jon Moss did not agree with, giving neither free-kick nor penalty to Villa. The aforementioned Grealish also looked to be tugged back by youngster Hector Bellerin in the box, but by then the game was gone, with Olivier Giroud adding a late fourth, as the game gradually petered out.
But the game which offered so plenty, was interesting in other senses than a straight head-to-head: where does this leave Tim Sherwood’s Villa revolution, and will he be eventually found out as a Premier League manager, or rise to the challenge to prove the doubters wrong? Can Arsene Wenger finally push on an deliver a first Premier League title in over a decade next season? His players certainly seemed to think so following an absolute crushing in a domestic final, the next step should seemingly be a title challenge, the question is, will they offer Chelsea and Jose Mourinho a reputable threat?