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.
Here’s three things we learned from Wembley as the Gunners finished off the 2014-15 season in style.
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.
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.
Arsenal dominated from start to finish as they hoisted their second straight FA Cup trophy with a swarming 4-0 win at Wembley Stadium over Aston Villa.
Theo Walcott opened the scoring just before halftime to validate a dominant first 45 as an Alexis Sanchez screamer and Per Mertesacker header rounded things out in the second half.
Both sides showed an ability to get forward early on. After a few rash Villa tackles that earned Tom Cleverley a yellow and should have brought another for Benteke, the first real chance came to Arsenal as an Aelexis Sanchez cross reached Laurent Koscielny’s head, but 39-year-old Shay Given made an impressive save to keep it out. Then Aaron Ramsey nearly got a sliding chance on a Hector Bellerin cross but Jores Okore made a sliding 16th-minute stop.
The chances put Arsenal clearly in control, and it continued. Ramsey had another look but fired over on 20 minutes, and then Walcott had a point-blank shot blocked by Kieran Richardson. There were a few more half-chances over the next few minutes for the Gunners, but Aston Villa managed to weather the storm through the half-hour mark, albeit earning two more yellow cards in the process.
Arsenal finally broke through via Walcott after missing so many opportunities, and they grabbed the lead five minutes before halftime. A cross into the box fell to the head of Sanchez, and the Chilean pinged it back for the trailing Walcott who hammered a thumping drive into the back of the net.
Aston Villa came out of the halftime break with slightly more vigor than they showed in the first 45, but were still forced to defend a healthy amount. Just five minutes in, they’d strike again. Alexis Sanchez ran through the midfield and unleashed an absolute thunderbolt from a long way out, and the ball swerved its way into the back of the net to put the Gunners 2-0 up.
The second goal threw Villa on their heels yet again, and Arsenal powered forward as Cazorla tested Given yet again as the Irish goalkeeper saved again, but he would be powerless to stop Arsenal’s third. As the Gunners ramped up the pressure, Per Mertesacker beat Benteke in the air to head home a corner for Arsenal’s 3-0 lead. A fourth from Olivier Giroud just before the final whistle put the cherry on top.
The 4-0 scoreline is the largest margin of victory for an FA Cup final since 1994, and it gives Arsene Wenger his sixth FA Cup trophy, level with George Ramsay for the most all-time. With Arsenal’s win, Aston Villa fails to qualify for European play, with seventh-placed Southampton filling the final Europa League place instead. The win gives Arsenal three English trophies in the last two years after a previous stretch of nine years without a trophy.
The final game of the season for Premier League teams will run its course today as Arsenal and Aston Villa battle for the FA Cup from Wembley Stadium at 12:30pm ET.
European qualification is on the line, as Villa will earn themselves a Europa League berth should they win, while Southampton would take their place if the Gunners should triumph to defend their title. Arsenal hasn’t lost an FA Cup match since falling to Blackburn in the Round of 16 in February 2013.
Both teams have submitted mildly surprising lineups. Theo Walcott retains his striker position after bagging a hat-trick from the head of the attack on the final Premier League day against West Brom. That places Olivier Giroud on the bench to start the game. Wojciech Szczesny gets the start in goal, having been replaced by David Ospina in Premier League play but still retaining his Cup role between the sticks.
Last year’s hero Aaron Ramsey is in the lineup as well, and will support the Gunners midfield alongside attacking-minded Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Santi Cazorla. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also fit enough for a bench role after making his return from injury with 13 minutes of playing time against West Brom.
Aston Villa also has its cup goalkeeper in, with 39-year-old Shay Given minding the net as he has all season in FA Cup play. Given also replaced the struggling Brad Guzan for three of the club’s final four Premier League matches of the season. The American goalkeeper is on the bench.
Kieran Richardson and Jores Okore both return to the Villa lineup after minor injuries, while Gabriel Agbonlahor must settle for a spot on the bench as manager Tim Sherwood favors an extra midfielder. 19-year-old Jack Grealish is in the lineup after setting up goals in each of Villa’s last two FA Cup matches, including an assist on Fabian Delph’s winning goal against Liverpool in the semifinals.
All week at ProSoccerTalk we are reviewing the dramatic 2014-15 Premier League season. From dishing out awards to looking back at the highs and lows in the 380 games as 20 teams battled it out, we’ll have every angle covered.
For the full archive of our review content, just hit the link above. Without further ado, here’s a list of youngsters under 25 who may or may not have made their Premier League debut this season, but certainly highlighted their names.
10. Bojan Krkic, Stoke City, 24 — A couple of the names on our list made their hey elsewhere before making English debuts, but “Little Bojan” was really starting to feel at home in the Premier League before an injury in February.
9. Ryan Mason, Tottenham Hotspur, 23 — Has a long way to go, but his vision and creativity in passing can be worth the price of admission.
8. Matthew James, Leicester City, 23 — His versatility is wonderful, and the former Manchester United product is showing the club can still churn out youngsters (even if they wind up somewhere else).
7. Eliaquim Mangala, Manchester City, 24 — The big man from France cost City some big dough and certainly needs to mature in his discipline, but could be a good figure at the Etihad moving forward.
6. Eric Dier, Tottenham Hotspur, 21 — Lots of young English players come to the Premier League via Portugal, right? Dier came up via Sporting CP and almost immediately paid dividends at White Hart Lane.
5. Jores Okore, Aston Villa, 22 (left) — The young Dane got in the mix a bit last year, but broke through this year. His growth wasn’t spoken about too much as Villans wondered where the goals were hiding.
4. Sadio Mane, Southampton, 23 — When you score the fastest hat trick in PL history, and the quickest one in England’s top flight since World War II, you make the list. When those goals are three of 10, you rise to fourth.
3. Emre Can, Liverpool, 21 — Gifted and looking very little like a 21-year-old, could be the cream of the Reds’ summer transfer crop. Now can he thrive even more with Steven Gerrard gone? We think yes.
2. Danny Ings, Burnley, 22 — Cooled off considerably, but will be back in the Premier League, or at another top-flight side, by the time next season arrives on NBC.
1. Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea, 23 (right) — The Belgian was well-known due to his World Cup and La Liga displays, but left few questions once he won the job from Petr Cech. Well, except that one asked by Charlie Adam from his own half…