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

1 Comment

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.

source:
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.

Xhaka slams “bulls***” criticism of Arsenal

Leave a comment

Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Ronaldo not ready for retirement: ‘Age is just a number’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cristiano Ronaldo reassured Juventus supporters and his legions of fans worldwide that at 34 he’s not ready for retirement yet.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

“Age is just a number. It does not mean that at 34, 35, 36 you are at the end of your career,” Ronaldo said at a news conference ahead of Juventus’ Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday. “I can show that with my performances, how I play, the way I play, the way I still feel good, sharp, thinking about the game, more mature. This makes the difference.”

In the second season of a four-year deal at Juventus, Ronaldo had sparked concern among his fans when he said in an interview published a few weeks ago that he was starting to enjoy seeing himself “outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?”

Ronaldo recently scored his 700th goal as a professional while on international duty with Portugal and has been nominated for a record sixth Ballon d’Or award – which would break his tie of five with Lionel Messi.

But Ronaldo said he’s more interested in winning a treble with Juventus.

“We want to win Serie A, we want to win the Cup, the Champions League,” he said. “Juventus should think big. … We are going to try to win all the trophies, we know it will be difficult, especially the league and the Champions League, but I think it is possible. Everything is possible.

“In terms of individual, I have nothing to say as this is individual. It is not the most important thing,” Ronaldo added. “The most important is the collective awards. If you win the collective awards you have more chance to win the individual awards. … The Golden Ball is for me in second place.”

While retirement may not be on Ronaldo’s mind yet, family time is a big part of his life now.

“To win games, to score goals, to enjoy myself, to arrive home and see my kids happy and say, `Congratulations daddy for scoring a goal.’ That makes me happy,” he said. “This is my motivation to come to train, for the games, to entertain people and the fans with my passion.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Carragher apologizes to Evra over Suarez t-shirts

Leave a comment

Jamie Carragher has apologized to Patrice Evra after Liverpool wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez in 2011.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The day after Suarez was banned for eight games by the English Football Association, who found him guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool’s players put on t-shirts with Suarez on the front and back during their warm up in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic.

Carragher and Evra were both analysts for our partners at Sky Sports in the UK on Monday Night Football for the clash between Sheffield United and Arsenal, and discussed the current problems with racism in the game.

“There is no doubt we made a massive mistake; that was obvious,” Carragher said.

Liverpool’s former vice-captain asked Evra how he felt regarding the situation with Suarez, and the former Man United, Juventus and Monaco left back revealed his disgust at the way the situation was handled.

“When I saw it I was like, this is ridiculous. This is unbelievable,” Evra said. You put your own club in danger when you do those things. You always have to support your player because he is from your team but this was after the ban. If it was before and we were waiting for the sanction, I would understand. What message do you send to the world? Supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words.”

Click play on the video above for the full discussion between Carragher and Evra.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”