It’s FA Cup final time and Arsenal are looking to win a record 12th trophy in their record-breaking 19th final.
Here’s all they need to know to make it happen:
|Home Ground||Villa Park (42,640)|
|Record Signing||Darren Bent – £18m in 2010 (on loan at Derby)|
|Ex Gunners||Philippe Senderos|
|Top Scorer||Christian Benteke (15)|
|Top Assister||Leandro Bacuna (6)|
|Most Yellow Cards||Ciaran Clark (10) Alan Hutton (10)|
|Star Player||Christian Benteke|
|Biggest Liability||Kieran Richardson|
Style of play
Looking at the Aston Villa squad prior to February’s 5-0 smashing, it was hard to understand quite why they had been struggling so much to score, but the attacking trio of Agbonlahor, Weimann and Benteke had been relatively anonymous. Consequently, Alexis Sanchez alone had more goals than the entire Aston Villa squad.
Tim Sherwood’s arrival has seemingly given the players a freedom and confidence to go out and attack games. We’ve seen the Sherwood “all or nothing” strategy before at Tottenham – it was perhaps their downfall as it drove an inconsistency of results that saw the prompt arrival of another St Totteringham’s Day.
At Villa however, where points were becoming critical, the full on approach has seen them score goals at a rate of 1.46 per game compared to 0.48 per game under Paul Lambert. Some difference. Even with the Sherwood revival, by the season’s end only Burnley had less goals (28) than Villa’s 31, but at the rate they are scoring under the new manager, they would have 55 goals instead – more than every other side up to Spurs in 5th (I had to double check my maths on this one, such was my amazement at the stat!).
It’s a good job – their defence is still pretty leaky – only QPR (73) and Newcastle (63) conceded more goals than Villa’s 57 – so the attack first approach is paying dividends.
Christian Benteke has been key to its success, repaying his manager’s confidence with 12 of his 15 goals this season coming under Sherwood despite playing 5 more goals under Lambert.
The restoration of Leandro Bacuna to the team has also played its part, with the 23 year old Dutchman picking up five of his six assists after Sherwood’s arrival too, as well as the opening goal in their 2-1 FA Cup defeat of Leicester in his first game in charge.
On Saturday, Arsenal must be patient as Villa’s biggest strength with the pace in their side is the counter attack. The vast array of fit and in form attacking talent at Arsene Wenger’s disposal means that if we can keep the defence tight, the rest should follow.
And of course, it’s always nice to beat an ex-Spurs manager, albeit one who gave us as much comedy gold as Sherwood!
Season so far
Since our last meeting with Aston Villa – a 5-0 thrashing at the Emirates – quite a lot has changed. Not least that Tim Sherwood has taken over as manager.
Paul Lambert lasted just two further games following our demolition job, a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea and an altogether more damaging 2-0 reverse against relegation rivals Hull. Enter the comedy villain of Tottenham fame.
Since Sherwood’s arrival, Villa have had significantly more success, taking 16 points from 13 games (1.23 points per game) compared to 22 from 25 games (0.88 points per game) under Lambert. A 40% improvement. At that rate of points collection, Villa would have finished the season with 47 points, which would have lifted them above last weekend’s opponents West Brom into 13th place.
It’s unlikely they would have capitulated quite so meekly to Burnley on the final day had they not already been guaranteed to stay in the Premier League, but with the FA Cup Final to focus on that game paled into insignificance. It also continued Sherwood’s record of just one draw (a thrilling 3-3 with QPR with Villa equalising late on) compared to seven under Lambert.
The maths speaks for itself – you get more points for winning one and losing one than drawing both.
In truth, Sherwood’s secret has been to beat teams around them – Leicester, West Brom and Sunderland were all early scalps to settle some nerves – and also capitalise on the lacklustre finishes of Everton and West Ham. And of course, the mandatory revenge stuffing of Spurs. Until the final day, the only team in the bottom half Sherwood had lost to was Newcastle.
Correspondingly results against the top half teams have been less impressive – indeed, Spurs are the only top half team to have dropped points against Villa in the League. The cup is a different matter altogether.
En route to the final, Villa have disposed of Blackpool, eventual Championship winners Bournemouth, Leicester, West Brom, and of course Liverpool.
That win ruined the Gerrard fairytale and perhaps started Liverpool’s ignominious end to the season, going down 2-1 at Wembley. Villa came from behind in that game to set up Saturday’s showpiece final, and demonstrated that league position means nothing when it comes to knockout matches.
And that’s the mentality which will need to pervade the Arsenal squad as they approach the game – whatever the league form and meetings between the two sides, a cup game is a one-off and all that matters is the performance on the day. Add that it is the final game of the season and there can be no holding back.
A repeat of the meeting on February 1st would be nice to minimise Gooner stress levels on Saturday, but at the end of the day any win will do.
Arsenal’s last 5 results against Aston Villa: DWLWW
|League||01/02/2015||(H)||W 5-0||Arsenal: Giroud (8) Ozil (56) Walcott (63) Cazorla (75pen) Bellerin (90)Aston Villa: –|
|League||20/09/2014||(A)||W 3-0||Arsenal: Ozil (33) Welbeck (34) Cissokho OG (36)Aston Villa: –|
|League||13/01/2014||(A)||W 2-1||Arsenal: Wilshere (34) Giroud (35)Aston Villa: Benteke (76)|
|League||17/08/2013||(H)||L 1-3||Arsenal: Giroud (6)Aston Villa: Benteke (22, 61) Luna (85)|
|League||23/02/2013||(H)||W 2-1||Arsenal: Cazorla (6, 85)Aston Villa: Weimann (68)|
Record for Arsenal v Aston Villa (N):
Overall record between the two clubs:
Aston Villa’s last 5 results: WLLWD
|League||Man City||(A)||L 2-3||Cleverley, Sanchez|
|League||Everton||(H)||W 3-2||Benteke (2), Cleverley|
|League||West Ham||(H)||W 1-0||Cleverley|