Arsenal were brilliant yesterday, smashing Aston Villa 4-0 at Wembley in the F.A. Cup Final. Arsenal are now the 4th team in the history of the F.A. Cup to successfully defend the trophy, an outstanding achievement. Of course we have done it twice.
This was also a totally different match to last year’s final vs. Hull, where Arsenal looked nervous and edgy throughout the first half, going 2 goals behind in the opening 15 minutes, before starting the famous comeback with Cazorla’s free-kick after about 30 minutes into the match, followed by Koscielny’s equaliser in the 2nd half and Ramsey’s winner in the final minutes.
It was a mostly expected line-up for Arsenal, the only notable replacement being Theo Walcott up front in place of Olivier Giroud, most likely as Walcott scored a hat-trick in the last match while Giroud hadn’t scored for at least 4 matches. As expected, Wojciech Szczesny started in goal instead of David Ospina. This time, Arsenal made it easier on us fans after the opening 20 minutes, which was a similarly cagey scenario to last season but with the key difference being no goals scored by either Arsenal or Villa. Gooners are no strangers to slow starts – it’s one of Arsenal’s biggest faults this past season. However, Arsenal started to take control of the match and Villa seemed to retreat to positions outside their penalty area, apart from Grealish who remained high up the pitch. Szczesny was in commanding form throughout the match and made no notable errors, so perhaps this time out of the starting eleven has adjusted his attitude – it probably also helped that he finally distanced himself from his father’s comments about him and Arsenal.
Theo Walcott scored just before the end of the first half, beating Shay Given and the Villa defence after a superb assist from the effervescent Alexis Sanchez. However, Shay Given didn’t make an error like Adam Federici did for Reading in the semi-final – it was clear to me in the replay that both Okore and Vlaar wandered into Given’s line of sight when he was trying to set himself for the shot, unlike the usual nonsense spouting from Stewart Robson in the commentary box (I’m definitely NOT a fan of his).
Villa tried to rally in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, with Agbonlahor coming on for N’Zogbia, until that screamer from Alexis made it 2-0. I don’t think any goalkeeper in the Premier League (or possibly any league anywhere) could have stopped that shot, an absolute blaster from 20 yards out that hit the crossbar and flew in. Villa looked notably deflated after that goal, one that can truly be called world-class and a match-winner. A short time later, with Villa and Arsenal battling in midfield, where Coquelin was having a brilliant match, Arsenal won a corner and Per Mertesacker popped up and made it 3-0, the Villa defence being absent and the ball was simply out of Shay Given’s reach as Given was caught standing flat-footed. A few minutes later, Westwood and the excellent Richardson (who had made a number of fine blocks in the Villa defence) were replaced by Carlos Sanchez and Leandro Bacuna, where Tim Sherwood was trying to throw on some attacking intent, with Bacuna being more likley to run forward than Richardson or Hutton.
Following that third goal, Arsenal simply shut up shop. Agbonlahor had a late penalty shout following a challenge from Coquelin, but fortune smiled on Coquelin as Jon Moss, the match referee, waved play on – this was fortunate as the replay showed that Coquelin fouled Agbonlahor, but that contact was made outside the box while Agbonlahor was appealing for a penalty. By now, some changes has been made and Wilshere has entered the fray in place of Ozil, who had a solid match. Giroud had come on for Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain come on for Alexis, who seemed upset to be leaving the pitch but did wave to the fans before taking his seat. Arsenal’s final goal was simply due to an Aston Villa defence that had completely given up, Giroud finishing a toe-poke past Given after an excellent low-ball across the box from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Now that the League and Cup season has concluded (I don’t really care about the Champions League Final, other than hoping Juventus win over Barcelona, simply so the wonderous Andrea Pirlo can collect another UCL Winners’ Medal), I will be focusing on a series of off-season articles on other club’s performances from the 2014-2015 season from the perspective of a Gooner, citing where those clubs could improve. I’ll be starting with the 3 relegated clubs of Burnley, Queens Park Rangers and Hull City and finishing with the other Champions League Group Stage and Qualifying Stage teams of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
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The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.