Arsenal ooze class in securing back-to-back FA Cups. But how can they challenge for the Premier League next season?

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LONDON — For the second-straight season Arsenal lifted the FA Cup trophy at Wembley Stadium as the Gunners continue to edge their way into the conversation for the Premier League title next season.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned ]

Arsene Wenger’s men battered Aston Villa 4-0 at Wembley – the biggest victory in an FA Cup final since Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Everton in 1994 – and from start to finish they oozed class with Man of the Match Santi Cazorla controlling the tempo and the pacey duo of Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott ripping Villa’s shaky defense to pieces.

A record 12th FA Cup win will be lauded, as it should, and it has capped off yet another fine second half to the season for the Gunners. Wenger’s men have lost just two of their final 24 League and FA Cup games of the season on their way to adding a second-straight FA Cup to the trophy cabinet.

Speaking after the match, Wenger was delighted that his side cruised to victory and believes they’ve made progress this season.

“We feel we have made progress since the start of the season. That is for sure,” Wenger said. “The way we play and the way we manage our games. In our togetherness as well. Our certainty about our football. We finish third, we won the cup. Since January I think we have made a huge number of points. It is a good platform to do better next season. But  in England it is not like in any other country, you have six teams who can win the Premier League. I know people don’t accept that but it is the reality.”

Wenger made a big decision to bring in Theo Walcott  to start ahead of Olivier Giroud up top but the Englishman — who was injured from January 2014 to January 2015 after tearing his ACL in an FA Cup third-round match against rivals Tottenham — was pivotal in unlocking Villa’s defense just before half time with a powerful volley to open the scoring.

“I had many big decisions to make before the game day because I had to leave big players out of the squad. Difficult decisions. I just tried to find a good balance in the team,” Wenger said. “Walcott was on a high because he scored a hat trick last week. He just came back into good form. Giroud has given a lot to the team since January. But in recent games I felt he was a bit jaded.”

[ RELATED: Full PL season reviews ]

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Aston Villa v Arsenal – FA Cup Final

Saturday’s success — which was made certain with a thunderbolt from Alexis Sanchez, a header from Per Mertesacker and a late Giroud flick —  was the Frenchman’s six FA Cup crown which puts him at the top of the list alongside George Ramsay as the most successful managers in the competitions long and illustrious history. Wenger’s tactics were spot on at Wembley, as Arsenal’s plan to play pacey attackers against Villa’s pedestrian backline delivered a sublime attacking display with the Villans failing to gain any foothold whatsoever in the game.

“I thought the pace would be a problem for them because they play high,” Wenger said. “We had combined pace of Sanchez and Walcott. It was for us to dominate the midfield to use our strikers. If you manage to dominate the midfield we would be dangerous.”

Wenger’s next aim will be to challenge for the Premier League. The Gunners haven’t won the PL since 2004 and a decade on from their last success they now seem to be mounting a legitimate challenge to Manchester City and Manchester United to try and snatch the crown away from Chelsea next season.

“I think of course we can push on. Why not?” Wenger asked. “We have won the Premier League in the past when we had the potential to do it. That’s what we want to do again.”

How can they do it?

Well, when you look at the strength of Arsenal’s squad on Saturday, it was quite stunning. Danny Welbeck, Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta was injured. Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gabriel and Jack Wilshere were on the bench. Calum Chambers and Tomas Rosickey weren’t even in the squad. Yeah, the Gunners are stacked. Asked if he plans to strengthen this summer, Wenger was jovial but revealed a lot of thought will go into the next additions.

“I am not in a buying mood tonight. I will buy a drink for my players,” Wenger joked. “We will see what is going on in the transfer market but we have a good base and we have some time now because we don’t play a qualifier in the Champions League. We have a good confidence level. Let’s show that we can be intelligent over the summer.”

Being intelligent for Arsenal means buying a top class goalkeeper, a star center forward and perhaps a powerful box-to-box midfielder in the mold of Paul Pogba. Wenger confirmed he is happy with his midfielders and said he isn’t interested in Juventus hard man Arturo Vidal, but the Gunners are now in a sound financial situation where they can go out and add one or two world class talents each summer to augment their sturdy squad. That’s all they need, two or three intelligent buys to push them onto the next level.

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Aston Villa v Arsenal – FA Cup Final

Giroud, who flicked home his 19th goal of the season in the final minute, agrees with Wenger that the aim must be to win the title next season.

“The Premier League title is the target. Hopefully we will be there,” Giroud said. “Without the injuries and if we keep this squad with one or two more players then we will have a good chance to challenge for the title.”

So does Walcott, who has only got one-year left on his current deal but Wenger is desperate for the 26-year-old England international to stick around.

“The Premier League has to be the next target for us,” Walcott said. “That’s two FA Cup wins now but this is one of the best squads we have had at Arsenal so we should be achieving more. We need to start well in the Premier League next year.”

Now, without the rigmarole of having to play in a UEFA Champions League playoff match in August for just the second time in five seasons, they can approach next season knowing they’re already in the UCL group stages and can offer that to potential signings over the summer. Wenger’s men have notoriously been slow starters but with the strength of their current squad and the togetherness he referred to, the north Londoners are in a very good place.

The big question now is that after a season of progress in terms of their PL league position from fourth to third, can Arsenal gel over the offseason and add key players who can help them go to the next level.

“That’s what we want to show next season. We don’t know how good the other teams will be,” Wenger said. “It is about consistency at the top level and we have shown signs of consistency. In the past as well when we won leagues we showed consistency. We are the only ones who didn’t lose for 49 games. Nobody else has done it. When you have a good confidence level and quality, you can be consistent.”

As for Villa, it was a bad day at the office for Tim Sherwood’s side who failed to register a single shot on target as Arsenal blew past them at Wembley.

“They have outstanding, world class footballers and we couldn’t nullify their threat. We couldn’t impose ourselves on them either… They deserved to win the game. No question about that,” said a dejected Sherwood. “It was quite obvious that they had their own way today and dominated the football match.”

Sherwood kept Villa in the PL, his main aim when taking over the Midlands club in February, but is under no illusions as to the challenge ahead of him this summer as he confirmed a number of players have already been told they can move on and find new clubs.

“The team has scrapped relegation for the last four seasons which is not good enough for a club like Aston Villa. We need to change some of their mentalities because some of the players are used to losing football matches and that is not a good habit to have,” Sherwood added.

For Arsenal, the opposite is true. Can they now bottle up their scorching second half of the season and unleash it from the start of the 2015-16 season?

If Wenger can keep his players fit, keep his massive squad happy and add a few key additions, Arsenal will go very close to winning it all next season. Progress is the key word at Arsenal during the 2014-15 season.

La Liga: Real Madrid shocked by Mallorca; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann send Barca top

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

Eibar 0-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi goal – check; Luis Suarez goal – check; Antoine Griezmann goal – check; clean sheet – check. If there exists a perfect recipe for a Barcelona victory this season, the Blaugrana put it to good use en route to a fourth straight La Liga victory and top spot in the league table on Saturday.

Griezmann opened the scoring in the 13th minute, followed by Messi in the 58th and Suarez in the 66th. Marc-Andre ter Stegen didn’t have to make a single save as Eibar managed just five shots in the game.

Mallorca 1-0 Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s unbeaten start to the season was snapped at eight games on Saturday, when Los Blancos went to Mallorca and suffered a hugely underwhelming 1-0 defeat. Zinedine Zidane’s side — already without the likes of Gareth Bale (calf), Luka Modric (bruise), Toni Kroos (adductor) and Marco Ascensio (knee), among others — finished the game with 10 men after Alvaro Odriozola earned his second yellow card in the 74th minute. The defeat sees Madrid fall off the top spot, now sitting second behind Barca.

Lago Junior scored the game’s only goal in the 7th minute and Mallorca held on for 83 more, allowing just four shots on target (12 in total). The early goal was Mallorca’s only shot on target over 90 minutes.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Valencia

Atleti coughed up a late lead and settled for a 1-1 draw with Valencia, but the worst news of the day comes in the form of an injury suffered by Joao Felix. The 19-year-old’s ankle buckled underneath him late in the second half. Atleti finished with 10 men after their $140-million superstar was forced off.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Leganes

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Alaves v. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad v. Real Betis — 8 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Villarreal — 10 a.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Sevilla v. Levante — 3 p.m. ET

Haringey Borough abandon FA Cup qualifier after racist abuse

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LONDON (AP) An FA Cup qualifier between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town was abandoned Saturday when the home team walked off the field after one of its players was racially abused.

[ MORE: Analyzing a day of VAR drama in the Premier League ]

Haringey, a London-based non-league club, walked off in the 64th minute after claims its Cameroonian goalkeeper Valery Pajetat had been targeted by racial abuse by visiting fans minutes earlier, when Yeovil took a 1-0 lead from a penalty.

Haringey manager Tom Loizou told BBC Radio 5 Live that defender Coby Rowe was also racially abused, and that “there was no way I could let him continue.”

The match at Coles Park Stadium was in the fourth qualifying round for the FA Cup, with the winner advancing to the first round of the tournament.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

“The abuse a few of my players got was disgusting,” Loizou said. “Yeovil’s players and manager were different class. Their team tried to calm their supporters down, they tried their best and they supported us. They said, ‘If you’re walking off, we’re walking off with you.’ I took the decision to take my team off and I don’t want Yeovil Town to get punished for it. If we get thrown out of the FA Cup and they go through, there is no hard feelings there.”

The incident comes four days after England’s European Championship qualifier in Bulgaria was stopped twice in the first half as home fans hurled racial abuse at England’s black players. However, England decided to play on and won 6-0.

In a statement on Twitter, the football anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out praised the “swift and decisive action” taken by the Haringey manager Tom Loizou and his players.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund beats leaders Gladbach; Bayern draws

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Another Saturday in the Bundesliga, another nutty set of results allowing a side the chance to claim the top of the league on Sunday.

David Wagner, Weston McKennie and Schalke are the ones licking their lips this time, knowing that a win at Hoffenheim will boost them into first.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased” for Pulisic ]

Wolfsburg remains unbeaten with a draw, and dropped points for Borussia Monchengladbach, RB Leipzig, and Bayern Munich means an absurd nine teams are within two points of the top of the table.

Nine!

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

Gladbach’s stay atop the league could last just one match day, as Thorgan Hazard set up Marco Reus for a 58th minute goal and a place one point back of the top.

Werder Bremen 1-1 Hertha Berlin

Josh Sargent’s 7th minute goal didn’t stand up, thanks to Hertha’s electric Dodi Lukebakio scoring with 20 minutes to play. Watch the American striker’s goal, here.

Augsburg 2-2 Bayern Munich

The champions’ stumbles continued, with first minute concession providing a test. Bayern’s red hot pair delivered a lead, with Robert Lewandowski answering in the 14th minute, and Serge Gnabry supplying a 49th minute lead.

Stoppage time was the downfall, though, as Alfred Finnbogason helped himself to the equalizer with all kinds of questions for the Bayern defense.

Elsewhere

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Union Berlin 2-0 Freiburg
Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-0 Mainz
RB Leipzig 1-1 Wolfsburg
Koln v. Paderborn — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Hoffenheim v. Schalke — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Mönchengladbach 8 5 1 2 15 7 8 2-1-1 3-0-1 16
 VfL Wolfsburg 8 4 4 0 11 5 6 2-2-0 2-2-0 16
 Bayern Munich 8 4 3 1 22 10 12 2-1-1 2-2-0 15
 Borussia Dortmund 8 4 3 1 20 11 9 3-1-0 1-2-1 15
 RB Leipzig 8 4 3 1 16 8 8 1-2-1 3-1-0 15
 FC Schalke 04 7 4 2 1 14 7 7 2-1-1 2-1-0 14
 SC Freiburg 8 4 2 2 15 9 6 1-2-1 3-0-1 14
 Eintracht Frankfurt 8 4 2 2 14 10 4 3-2-0 1-0-2 14
 Bayer Leverkusen 8 4 2 2 12 11 1 2-2-0 2-0-2 14
 Hertha BSC Berlin 8 3 2 3 13 13 0 2-0-1 1-2-2 11
 Werder Bremen 8 2 3 3 13 17 -4 1-1-2 1-2-1 9
 1899 Hoffenheim 7 2 2 3 6 11 -5 1-0-2 1-2-1 8
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 8 2 1 5 10 14 -4 1-1-2 1-0-3 7
 1. FC Union Berlin 8 2 1 5 8 13 -5 2-0-3 0-1-2 7
 FC Augsburg 8 1 3 4 10 21 -11 1-2-1 0-1-3 6
 FSV Mainz 05 8 2 0 6 7 18 -11 1-0-2 1-0-4 6
 1. FC Köln 7 1 1 5 5 16 -11 0-0-3 1-1-2 4
 SC Paderborn 7 0 1 6 9 19 -10 0-0-4 0-1-2 1

Brilliant Barco assist helps Atlanta outlast New England

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The game in 200 words (or less): Highly-favored at home, the reigning champions needed their goalkeeper to keep them alive against a New England Revolution side that only made the postseason via MLS’ decision to let almost everyone make it. Yes, Atlanta United dodged a bullet as Brad Guzan made six saves and Ezequiel Barco’s slick pass set up Franco Escobar for a brilliant winner with about 20 minutes to play. New England fought to the very death, but couldn’t take advantage of the absence of Miles Robinson.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased” for Pulisic ]

Soon-to-retire Michael Parkhurst appeared to dislocate his shoulder late in a challenge with Cristian Penilla, and needed a lot of help to get off the field. Hopefully that wasn’t the last we see of him.

Atlanta will host either Philadelphia or the New York Red Bulls on Thursday evening.

Three things we learned

1. Guzan overcomes blip to stand tall: The longtime USMNT backup made a major error and nearly allowed New England in front but was otherwise sensational over 90 minutes in Georgia.

2. Martinez off, and Martinez off: While Frank De Boer opted to keep Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez out of the Starting XI, it was his star striker who nearly made him pay for the decision. Josef Martinez was not on his game, and lashed a should-be winner from his office over the goal in the first half before being stopped on by Turner on a 1v1 as the match neared stoppage time.

3. Barco makes the difference: Who knows if the 20-year-old Argentine will ever fully deliver on his promise, but the plays he made to set up Escobar’s goal was sensational. After dancing around a pair of defenders, he cut a shot pass between two defenders for the on-running Escobar to blast past Matt Turner.

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Man of the match: Barco

Goalscorers: Escobar (70′)