BY: Craig Simpkin
The traditional curtain closer for the English football season takes place on Saturday (May 30) as 90,000 Arsenal and Aston Villa fans descend on Wembley for the final of the FA Cup.
The Gunners will be looking to become a 12-time champion, which would see them draw clear as the club to win the most FA Cups in history. The Villains have lifted the famous trophy on seven occasions themselves, although the last of those came way back in 1957.
Arsenal will be looking to retain the trophy that put an end to their silverware drought last season; that 3-2 win over Hull City decided in a nail-biting period of extra time.
And victory at Wembley would cap a decent season for Arsene Wenger’s men, who finished third in the Premier League and look a side reinvigorated by the introduction of Alexis Sanchez and the much improved Francis Coquelin.
For Aston Villa, this cup final is the cherry on the cake of a season during which they looked doomed for relegation throughout; that is until the timely appointment of Tim Sherwood as manager. He reintroduced the Villains to the notion of winning, and whilst their form may have stalled towards the end of the season they were already safe before the dreaded Survival Sunday.
But they won’t be heading to the capital just to make up the numbers.
Who will lift the trophy?
It should be a closer game than the bookmakers predict, with some offering odds as short as 8/15 on Arsenal retaining the trophy – with Villa as long as 11/2.
It’s true: Villa have only beaten Arsenal three times in their past 15 meetings, and were soundly beaten 0-3 and 0-5 in their two encounters so far this season.
But the FA Cup is a one-off, showpiece occasion, and there are so many factors that go into deciding a winner.
There could well be a lack of confidence amongst the Villa players however, after they lost their last two games: a 1-6 thumping by Southampton and a 0-1 defeat to already-relegated Burnley. It will depend on how well Sherwood can alter their mindset as to whether they can get a foothold in this game or not.
The form of Christian Benteke has been a silver lining for Villa fans. The Belgian has scored nine goals in his past nine games, and can be backed from 2/1 to score anytime in this match. That looks tantalising value.
But it’s fair to say that Arsenal are the big favourites, and they should dominate possession – leading to the creation of a host of chances. If they can shackle the dangerous Benteke then they will firmly fancy their chances of defending their FA Cup crown.
Their main man this season has been Alexis Sanchez, with 24 goals and countless assists in all competitions, but it’s Olivier Giroud who catches the eye in the goalscorer markets – the Frenchman notching 19 so far this season. The ‘Arsenal to win/Giroud to score anytime’ double can be backed from 13/10, and this looks like the best bet on a day that should be a fantastic advert for English football.