Three things we learned from Arsenal’s FA Cup win vs. Aston Villa

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LONDON — On Saturday Arsenal won a record-breaking 12th FA Cup trophy, as Arsene Wenger delivered back-to-back FA Cups for the north London outfit.

[ RECAP – Arsenal 4-0 Villa ]

Aston Villa failed to turn up for an extremely one-sided final, with the Gunners bossing the game from start to finish. Theo Walcott’s powerful volley just before the broke gave Arsenal a deserved lead, then Alexis Sanchez’s thunderbolt, Per Mertesacker’s header and a late Olivier Giroud flick added sufficient gloss to the scoreline.

[ RELATED: Can Arsenal win PL? ]

Here’s three things we learned from Wembley as the Gunners finished off the 2014-15 season in style.

WALCOTT’S RESURGENCE

It was a big call from Wenger to start Walcott over Oliver Giroud up top, despite his hat trick in the final game of the PL season against West Brom, but it paid off. Big time. In the 40th minute Walcott arrived right on cue as Sanchez’s header fell to the Englishman in the box and he rifled home a left-footed volley. 1-0 to Arsenal and a sea of yellow erupted behind the goal he scored in.

Walcott spent most of the first half in a central position but when he switched with Sanchez and moved out left, Villa couldn’t cope. 16 months since his horrendous knee injury for Arsenal in an FA Cup match vs. Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium, Walcott’s resurgence was poignantly displayed on the biggest stage. Just 26, it seems like his new contract at Arsenal is edging ever closer as he has just one-year remaining on his current deal. on Saturday Walcott had another effort superbly blocked on the line by Kieran Richardson before he put Arsenal ahead and was denied further goals by another block from Jores Okore, then he mistimed his run as Shay Given denied him in the second half. His pace in behind caused Villa all kinds of problems and although many believe he’s better out wide, Walcott’s pace means he can be dangerous anywhere across the frontline in the attacking third. His finishing has improved in recent seasons and his return to form is a welcome sight for Wenger as he now has a plethora of options in attack.

When Walcott was substituted in the 77th minute, Arsenal’s fans serenaded him with the famous chants of “Theo, Theo!” If he carries this form into the offseason and next season, we will be hearing plenty more of that.

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Aston Villa v Arsenal – FA Cup Final

ARSENAL’S DEPTH, 2-4-4 TOO MUCH TO HANDLE

When Arsenal is good, they are really good. Saturday was one of those days as their fluid formation saw them overpower Villa out wide and the Midlands outfit couldn’t grab a stranglehold on proceedings. Villa have played Arsenal three times this season and have scored 12 times without conceding in 4-0, 3-0 and 5-0 drubbings. Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin pushed forward from their respective left back and right back positions and were able to do that at will as Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla sat in front of the back four to shield center backs Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny superbly. With Walcott and Sanchez buzzing around centrally, then Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey popping up in dangerous positions (Ramsey could have scored at least twice in the first half), Villa’s defense was overwhelmed with the overloaded situations that kept cropping up in Arsenal’s favor.

For the final 15 minutes, Giroud and Jack Wilshere came off the bench for Arsenal which showcased their strength in depth. Danny Welbeck was injured. So too Mathieu Debuchy. Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs were unused subs, plus Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on late on. That is some squad. If you look back to their FA Cup victory over Hull City 12 months ago, the Gunners are much stronger overall and are improving as a group as they finished one spot higher this season compared to the last.

If Wenger can add a top class goalkeeper and center forward, plus maybe a box-to-box midfielder, they may become serious challengers for the PL title next season. The strength of their squad is hugely impressive and on days like this we are reminded that Arsenal are a joy to watch when everything clicks into place.

MASSIVE OVERHAUL NEEDED FOR VILLA

Simply put, Villa didn’t show up to Wembley. Tim Sherwood’s side were awful from the first minute and failed to test Arsenal’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny for the entire 90 minutes. Villa’s players looked stiff, tense, nervous. They had no reason to be. Premier League survival had been sealed two weeks ago and they could treat this as a bonus game, a match where they had nothing to lose. They were overrun in midfield as Fabian Delph’s industry often saw him run into dead ends, plus the Villans could hardly connect a pass in the final third with Christian Benteke and Jack Grealish unable to impact the game. At the back, central defenders Jores Okore and Ron Vlaar just couldn’t contain the pace and direct running of Walcott and Sanchez. Benteke lost Mertesacker from a corner on Arsenal’s third goal, with the Belgium striker looking out of sorts as rumors grow of a $45 million release clause in his contract and Liverpool looking to trigger it.

Sherwood completed the job he was brought in to do in February: keep Villa in the PL. But the showpiece FA Cup final showcased how much of a job he has on his hands to rebuild Villa over the summer. Sherwood won’t have much cash to spend and if he doesn’t get creative or offload Benteke to raise the cash to bring in new signings, another relegation battle lies ahead on this showing. It was an awful day for Villa at Wembley.

LAFC’s Adama Diomande voluntarily enters MLS’s health program

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande has entered Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

MLS announced Diomande’s voluntary decision Friday.

Diomande won’t play for LAFC at least until the program’s doctors complete their evaluation and he is cleared by program officials.

The 29-year-old Norwegian scorer has eight goals and seven assists in 25 appearances this season, including 15 starts. He has played a valuable complementary offensive role alongside MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Report: Netherlands FA to meet with Sergiño Dest ]

Diomande is in his second MLS season after joining LAFC from Hull City. He also previously played under LAFC coach Bob Bradley in Norway.

LAFC (19-4-7) has clinched the Western Conference title, and it leads the overall MLS table by seven points despite a four-game winless streak.

Premier League Preview: Newcastle v. Brighton

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  • Early-season relegation battlers meet on Saturday
  • 18th-place Newcastle to host 16th-place Brighton
  • Brighton won at Newcastle, drew at home last season

Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion, a pair of Premier League sides with just two wins from the first five weeks of the season between them, will meet at St. James’ Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for what could prove to be a retrospective relegation six-pointer when May rolls around.

Each side replaced its manager — Steve Bruce for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle; Graham Potter for Chris Hughton at Bright — in the summer and neither of the new bosses has had a particularly enjoyable start to the 2019-20 campaign. Brighton won on the opening day of the season, but have taken just two points from the following four games. Newcastle lost their first two games, won their third, and have drawn and lost again since. It’s the kind of form that’ll see both sides stuck in the high-teens of the PL table if they don’t find their footing in the coming weeks.

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Things are particularly worrying for Newcastle, who didn’t they’d be without Benitez until the end of June and didn’t appoint Bruce until mid-July. Key players had already left the club and reinforcements for few and far between. Forward Joelinton joined for $50 million and is one of four players with a single goal scored thus far.

Last week was nearly fruitful for the Seagulls, until the conceded a stoppage-time equalizer and settle for a point at home against Burnley. Summer signing Neal Maupay bagged his second goal for Brighton earlier in the game, giving Potter a potential trump card over a handful of other relegation-threatened sides without a consistent goalscorer.

Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle: OUT – Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeune (knee), Dwight Gayle (calf); QUESTIONABLE – DeAndre Yedlin (groin)

Brighton: OUT – Leandro Trossard (groin), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Ezequiel Schelotto (knee)


Projected lineups

Newcastle: Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu – Joelinton

Brighton: Ryan – Duffy, Dunk, Webster – March, Stephens, Propper, Burn – Gross, Maupay, Murray


What they’re saying

Joelinton, on Andy Carroll: “It’s always great to have experienced players in the group, and he’s one of them. He can help the club, he can help the young players. Andy Carroll has scored a lot of goals in the Premier League, and it’s great to be playing alongside him. He’s a calm guy. I still haven’t spoken to him a lot because my English isn’t great! But every day he’s trying to help. He’ll help me before the games, he’ll give me positional advice and suggest what I’ve done both good and bad.”

Graham Potter, on the trip to Newcastle: “Newcastle away is a tough game just like all the others. We don’t target particular matches — it’s about what we need to do to get a positive result. They have an experienced manager who I came across last year and he’s someone I have a lot of respect for. They have good quality players and we know it can be a hostile environment, it’s a big club and we know we have to play well to get something.  Steve has a lot of games under his belt – he’s had a lot of success and he’ll understand the challenge that lies ahead.


Prediction

Newcastle haven’t scored multiple goals in a game yet this season, and they’ve conceded twice as many as they’ve scored (four). It’s hard to trust them to be anything resembling consistent from game to game. It wouldn’t be surprising if they battled to a boring 0-0 draw, or conceding three times before halftime. It’ll probably be closer to the former, a 1-1 stalemate.

AC Milan announces internal anti-racism task force

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan has announced it will establish an internal task force to address racism in Italian football.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

The club says the task force will be supported by “an external consultancy” and “develop a program of activities to increase awareness, monitor and address racist behavior on social media and in the stadium, and drive the adoption of global best practices on diversity and inclusion.”

The move comes after reports of racist chants directed at Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who is black, during a match at Hellas Verona last weekend.

Milan says the anti-racism initiative will be launched during Saturday’s derby against Inter Milan.

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Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist chants in a match at Cagliari this month.

Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis, who is South African, says: “Italian football needs to wake up and take a strong stance against racist behaviors. AC Milan will take a leadership position on this issue. . We believe that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to address this issue.”

Slow start dooms Southampton again: ‘We lost the game in first half’

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.