2015 FA Cup

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.

Brendan Rodgers: Liverpool lacks big-game mentality

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Liverpool’s season will end without a trophy yet again as the Reds fell out of the FA Cup to Aston Villa today.

Manager Brendan Rodgers was bitterly disappointed following the match, saying his side was “second-best” to a Villa team that guaranteed the most recent trophy won by Liverpool would remain the 2012 League Cup.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool ]

The Reds took the lead on a Philippe Coutinho goal, but Villa equalized within seven minutes and Fabian Delph would score the winner for Tim Sherwood’s side in the second half.

Rodgers said Liverpool looked nervous at points, and lacks the big-game mentality necessary to win crucial matches.

We need now to have the courage and bravery to play better in the big games, because we didn’t play well enough today.

We weren’t quite on it. We looked as if maybe the occasion and the energy got to us a bit today, but that’s what can happen with young players.

We have come up short in a few games and it is something we certainly need to improve. We are a team that is growing, but all these experiences will hopefully help.

We had some chances but I thought they were better than us today to be honest.”

After finishing second in the league last year, Liverpool has certainly had a disappointing season. They were bounced from the Champions League in the group stage, sit outside the top four in the Premier League, and have now been eliminated from the FA Cup by a team towards the bottom of the table.

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Rodgers says his side is growing, but at a club like Liverpool, trophies are the goal every season. Without a shot at bringing home any hardware this campaign, the Reds must put all their focus on a top four finish in the league. Liverpool currently sits in fifth place, seven points behind Manchester City but with a game in hand.

With their next three matches against West Bromwich, Hull City and Queens Park Rangers, Liverpool must improve on the performance today and take all nine points to stay in the top-four hunt.

Arsenal 2-1 Reading: Alexis helps Gunners clinch FA Cup final berth

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Alexis Sanchez scored off a Mesut Ozil feed to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead, but Garath McCleary equalized to send Reading into unlikely extra time in Saturday’s FA Cup final.

But Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici allowed a poor Alexis shot through his legs in the 105th minute, allowing the Gunners’ forward a brace and his team a reprieve in a 2-1 win.

Arsenal will face the winner of Sunday’s semifinal between Liverpool and Aston Villa.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

After a brief bit of possession from Reading in the opening minute or two, Arsenal went on the attack. Danny Welbeck was stopped in tight, while Alexis skied one over the net and Mertesacker was saved by Federici at the doorstep.

Obita tested Szczesny at the other end in the ninth minute, but the Gunners keeper got low to gobble up the shot.

Chalobah worked a good chance in Arsenal’s end as the game entered the 28th minute, but misfired wide.

Alexis then put Arsenal up off a Mesut Ozil pass shortly before halftime.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Reading equalized in the 54th minute, as Pavel Pogrebniak’s intra-box cross looped over defender Kieran Gibbs, to be finished by McCleary.

Arsenal had 71 percent possession as late as the 80th minute, but the score remained deadlocked at one. Tw late chances went twice denied by a diving Federici.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker (Gabriel, 63′), Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin (Walcott, 101′), Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck (Giroud, 72′).

Goal: Alexis 2 (40′, 105′)

Reading: Federici, Gunter, Obita, Pearce, Hector, Williams, Chalobah (Cox, 105′), McCleary, Robson-Kanu (Karacan, 90′), Mackie, Pogrebnyak (Aiyegbeni, 111′).

Goal: McCleary (54′)