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.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

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Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

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The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.

Report: Former Chelsea great Clarke set to be new Scotland manager

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The Scotland FA is set to appoint a former Chelsea star as its new men’s national team manager.

Former Chelsea midfielder, and West Bromwich Albion and Reading manager Steve Clarke is reportedly in talks with the Scotland FA to take over the national team. Clarke has a difficult job ahead, with Scotland already having lost, 3-0, at Kazakhstan in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.

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Although Scotland finished top of their group in Level C of the UEFA Nations League and earned promotion to League B, the team’s play was very up and down under Alex McLeish, back in the job after a one-year spell in 2017. McLeish eventually lost the federation’s support after the 3-0 defeat at Kazakhstan, ranked then 117th in the world, made Scotland look like Europe’s whipping boy. Though Scotland saved some face with a 2-0 win over San Marino, the damage was done.

Clarke, after disappointing tenures at West Bromwich and Reading in his first full managerial roles, has since found success in Scotland. He’s led Kilmarnock this season to third place in the table and a spot in the Europa League, an impressive feat considering the club’s budget is dwarfed by Celtic and Rangers. Aberdeen have impressed, while both Hibernian and Hearts of Midlothain have also recently spent big on new signings, yet Kilmarnock finished above them this season.

Clarke, who only played a half dozen times for Scotland during his playing career, will now have to galvanize the squad ahead of two crucial qualifications in June and quickly imprint his tactical ideas and plan in a short amount of time. During his time at Chelsea, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1987 and 1998. He was also assistant coach under Jose Mourinho and played a key role in some of their most successful seasons.