The FA Cup final comes up on Saturday 30th May at Wembley. This year’s showpiece finale to the English season has been falsely pigeonholed already a couple of times during the season.
When Steven Gerrard announced his decision to leave Liverpool at the end of the season, the fact the cup final happened to be on the occasion of the Reds legend’s 35th birthday had many subscribing to the theory it was “simply meant to be” for the Anfield men.
Tim Sherwood’s rejuvenated Aston Villa didn’t collect that script and so they duly dumped Gerrard and Liverpool out in the last four.
Thereafter, it has been Arsenal’s trophy to lose.
The holders, a team that have been growing in confidence and performance since the New Year, facing a team that as recently as February they thumped 5-0.
Not so much a Wembley decider, but a coronation for Arsene Wenger and his Gunners side.
Recent events suggest that Villa will not be swept aside as easily as they were in North London during the final knockings of the Paul Lambert era. Sherwood has transformed the fortunes of Villa for one thing.
When they shipped five to Arsenal three months ago, Villa extended their barren run in the league to six games without a goal.
Now Villa stand on a run of six games where they have hit the net a dozen times. They have collected four wins and a draw and fell only to a last-minute defeat at Manchester City in a five-goal skirmish.
Arsenal, meanwhile, showed all of their old frailties in losing at home to Swansea City in the league. So, it looks as though an FA Cup Final punt isn’t going to be as straightforward as we might have anticipated.
Whatever your decision for the big day, there are plenty of enticing cup final offers amongst the best bookmakers, so be sure to get that all-important homework done in good time.
Arsenal’s lethargic performance against Swansea will have delighted Sherwood as he formulates his plan for the final.
Wenger’s team appeared unable to fashion a decent scoring chance against the well-drilled Welsh club. Moving the ball from side-to-side at sedate pace, Arsenal played right into the hands of their visitors and eventually they were forced to pay a hefty price when Bafetimbi Gomis’ late header snatched victory for the plucky underdog.
Swansea got their goal when the pace and trickery of Jefferson Montero allowed him get to the end line to cross for powerful centre-forward Gomis to out-muscle the Arsenal defence and head in.
Let’s briefly think for a moment, what has been the key to Villa’s resurgence in recent weeks? They are scoring more goals, clearly, but why?
Jack Grealish has forced his way into the team and the youngster is providing pace and, yep, trickery on the wings.
In the box, Christian Benteke has rediscovered the ability to finish and the powerful Belgian has been a scourge to Arsenal in the past.
Swansea have shown Villa the prototype for getting at this Arsenal team. Frustrate them in numbers defensively and wait for the chance to make something happen.
It has been Arsenal’s Achilles heel for a long, long time and the defeat to Swansea showed that it is still there, lurking in the background.
The former Tottenham boss Sherwood will be desperate to expose it again on May 30th.