Arsenal face Aston Villa on Saturday in their second consecutive FA Cup final.
Here we look to analyse the key areas where match will be won or lost and whether or not Aston Villa can upset the odds.
Last season’s season came to a close in a five goal thriller and it would not be a surprise if Saturday’s final was of a similar breed.
Aston Villa’s defence has looked vulnerable, having conceded six against Southampton and lost to the already relegated Burnley.
Arsenal on the other hand have sured up their defence recently, but with players such as Jack Grealish set to put the Arsenal full backs on the back foot and the in-form Christian Benteke ready to terrorise Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, goals are a guarantee.
THE FRONT MEN
Arsene Wenger has to start Olivier Giroud. Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick against West Brom last Sunday but the France forward offers much more in terms of providing for the enigmatic Alexis Sanchez and the technically gifted Mesut Ozil.
Giroud does come under criticism for the occasional poor touch and for missing chances but with Arsenal more than likely to have the lion’s share of possession on Saturday he is the best player to put against the likes of Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker and Jores Okore.
There’s no doubt Theo Walcott will have a role to play on the wing, he has the pace to turn the likes of Alan Hutton and Leandro Bacuna inside out, furthermore if this game goes to extra time Walcott’s pace and energy could be the difference.
For Aston Villa the man capturing all the headlines is Christian Benteke. In his current vein of form any defence would struggle to cope with the powerful forward.
The key on Saturday is to get Benteke in the right positions. Arsene Wenger will look to load up midfield and dominate possession. If Villa don’t have the ball they can’t utilise Benteke. Set-pieces will be key while Fabian Delph and Jack Grealish need to provide strong service to their lead striker. The Belgian striker has played 99 matches and scored 49 goals for Villa so a goal at Wembley on Saturday is certainly in the script.
Gabby Agbonlahor has had fitness concerns in recent weeks but if he plays on Saturday, Arsenal’s job could be a lot harder. Per Mertesacker would struggle against the electric striker, Agbonlahor’s pace could pull the Arsenal centre halves out of position and give Benteke the space and time he needs.
Fabian Delph has been a stand out performer for the Birmingham club this year and under the guidance of Tim Sherwood has shown his international ability. Going forward Delph is more than capable of beating a player and providing passes that lead to goals.
On Saturday it will be Delph’s ability to break up play and stop Arsenal from moving forward from midfield that will be crucial. Given space Sanchez can hurt any team, Delph will have his work cut out for sure.
Sanchez has been mentioned a couple of times and his performance in the semi-final against Reading demonstrates why he will be key this weekend. When Arsenal aren’t performing, Sanchez still produces displays that get his team across the line. His skill in the space between the opponent's defence and midfield is undisputed and even with the smallest window to score he can find the net.
Aaron Ramsey has been linked to Barcelona this week, whether he joins Messi, Neymar and Co. next season will be firmly at the back of his mind though. His ability as a distributor and as a leader in the Arsenal squad will be critical on Saturday.
If Arsenal slip to a two goal deficit as they did in last year’s final, I would back Tim Sherwood to lock the game down. Ramsey has to keep a cool head in the middle of the park and set the tempo for side along with Santi Cazorla.
This season Arsenal have had Wojciech Szczesny, Damian Martinez and David Ospina at different periods. As of late Ospina has made the shirt his own with a strong set of performances since he came into the side.
Concerns will be raised however as at just 6ft in stature he could struggle if up against Christian Benteke in set piece situations. Mertesacker will have to be a rock at the heart of the Arsenal defence and give the Colombian as much protection as he can.
Aston Villa’s goalkeeping situation is slightly different. Brad Guzan has been favoured in goal for the Premier League campaign while Shay Given has taken over in the FA Cup.
Experience will be key in this match as many of Villa’s players will not have performed in a fixture like this ever before. Given’s history at clubs like Newcastle and Manchester City will make him well prepared for this match. The calming influence of the Republic of Ireland stopper will be invaluable at Wembley.
Who do you think will win and where do you think the game will be won and lost?
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