Can the Villains stick up the Gunners?

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-29 5:03:01

Tim Sherwood hopes to shock Wenger in the FA Cup

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez during a training session ahead of the FA Cup final in London on Wednesday. Photo: IC

Despite what the Premier League might have you believe, two of the biggest clubs in England will walk out on to Wembley's pitch to do battle for the 134th FA Cup final on Saturday.

Aston Villa, the fifth most successful club in English football, take on Arsenal, the team with the third-highest number of trophies. In this tournament, the Birmingham side have lifted the famous trophy seven times while the Gunners have managed the feat a record-equaling 11 times.

Silver polish has not been in demand at Villa over the last few years. The last time they won the FA Cup was in 1957 and their last appearance in a final was 15 years ago in the final match played at the old Wembley stadium. To put this into perspective, Aston Villa have lifted the European Cup more recently than they have the world's oldest cup competition.

This contrasts with their opponents, whose most recent success in the competition was just last year. ­Arsene Wenger ended the North Londoners' nine-year trophy drought with his fifth FA Cup as manager. If the Frenchman leads his side to victory this year then he will eclipse the achievement of his great rival Sir Alex Ferguson and pull away from Jose Mourinho in the competition. In fact, only one other man will have lifted the cup six times as manager and that is Aston Villa's George Ramsey between 1884 and 1926.


The current man in the dugout at Villa Park is less illustrious but Tim Sherwood would love to guide the Villains to his first title as a manager. The Londoner played for and managed Arsenal's great rivals Tottenham Hotspur so it might mean even more to a man whose passion constantly shines through on the touchline. It's a passion that has guided Villa to safety since his arrival in February. It's also led his team to the unexpected delight of a Wembley final. 

No one is more delighted than the players. Involved in a relegation dogfight under Paul Lambert, they have thrived under Sherwood, securing their Premier League place well before the final day and going on a cup run that has taken them all the way to the final. Notably, Christian Benteke has rediscovered the form that linked him to the biggest clubs in Europe before faltering under the Scot, while 18-year-old local lad Jack Grealish was man of the match in the semifinal against Liverpool. These two may have taken the headlines but Villa's young, mostly homegrown squad has really responded to the new manager, not least midfielder Fabian Delph, who scored the goal that took the side to Wembley.

No one predicted Villa would come through that semifinal game so all of the pressure is on Arsenal. They have the burden of expectation as reigning cup holders, the unreasonable demands of the Emirates faithful on Wenger to win and the fact that the club's players are all internationals and assembled at no small cost.

Will this give Villa the opportunity to throw off the shackles and play without the weight of expectation? Yes. Does that freedom automatically equate to victory? Not based on any of the usual methods of predicting results.

Form guide

Based on the league placing of both clubs this season, the game will finish in Arsenal's favor. Villa finished 17th and Arsenal finished third. There were 37 points between them. More often than not, the highest-placed league team wins the tie, even when they are both from the same division.

Based on results between the teams this season, the game will finish in Arsenal's favor. The Gunners won 3-0 on their trip to Villa Park and 5-0 at the Emirates.

Based on both teams' history in the cup, the game will finish in Arsenal's favor. This final is Arsenal's 19th, another FA Cup record, and they have lifted the majority of them. Aston Villa's post-war record in the cup is played two, winning one and losing the other.

All signs clearly point to the trophy once again making the short trip across North London but stranger things have happened. Only three years ago we watched Wigan Athletic's smash-and-grab victory over Manchester City, a result that seems as unbelievable today as it did then. That might have been the most recent upset but many big-name favorites have fallen in the final.

These shocks are a big part of the joy of knockout football. Much of the tradition of the FA Cup has been lost - the 3 pm kickoff time of cup final day, naming rights, and finalists allocated fewer tickets - but there is always much history to be made. The Villains are 90 minutes from making a getaway with their first positive news in decades.

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