Arsenal thump Aston Villa to claim second consecutive FA Cup title
After ending their nine-year trophy drought last season, silverware is perhaps once again becoming a way of life at Arsenal. The Gunners thumped Aston Villa 4-0 on Saturday, the highest margin since 1994 and the heydays of Eric Cantona, to claim the FA Cup title.
With the win, the Gunners repeated as FA Cup holders, and set a new mark for FA Cup wins all-time with 12.
Half of the 12 successes have come under Arsene Wenger, who pulled level with the Aston Villa manager of a century again, George Ramsey, as the manager who has won the Cup the most often. If it lacked the sense of the spectacular of last season, it was only because of the ease with which Arsenal won, dominating Villa from first to last.
But perhaps more than records, the most significant aspect of Saturday's victory was the sense of Arsenal's returning familiarity with success: It's a club that has lived on the promise of jam tomorrow for almost a decade. Successive FA Cups may come to be seen as the foundations of something greater.
"I've been here for a long time and this is one of the best squads that I've been part of," Theo Walcott said after Arsenal's FA Cup victory. "We should be achieving much more. But I believe now that's two FA Cups, the Premier League is the next big target."
This, after all, is a young side. Arsenal's two key performers on Saturday were Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin, who are 26 and 24, respectively. The nucleus of a team that could challenge for the league title is there.
It was a victory so complete, so lacking in drama, that it was difficult to focus on the here and now. This was too simple a win to live long in the folk memory of Wembley, even if Alexis Sanchez's superb goal, Arsenal's second, is recollected as one of the great FA Cup final goals. The contrast to the agonized 3-2 win over Hull City in last year's final could hardly have been greater.
Villa, so impressive in the semifinal win over Liverpool, were overawed and outclassed, devoid of the punchiness that has characterized them since Tim Sherwood took over on Valentine's Day. They had dreamed of a first Cup win since 1957, and Jack Grealish — man of the match in the semi — might have repeated the feat of his great, great grandfather Billy Garraty in winning the competition with the club, but he was peripheral, involved only fleetingly and never decisively.
Shay Given, at 39, started for Villa and so became the man with the longest gap between his first (1998) and last Cup finals. At a touch under 6-foot, there has always been a doubt as to whether he is tall enough to command his box in the way goalkeepers must in the modern game, but his reflexes and excellence on his line have never been in question. He demonstrated that capacity after 15 minutes, diving to his right as his feet went to the left to punch away Lauren Koscielny's header.
That was part of a sustained spell of early Arsenal pressure in which Aaron Ramsey twice went close, sliding a low Hector Bellerin cross just wide and then wastefully jabbing over after a Sanchez ball into the box had ricocheted kindly for him. Walcott, selected ahead of Olivier Giroud after his hat trick against West Bromwich Albion last weekend, was then denied by a remarkable block from Kieran Richardson as a Sanchez cross was deflected into his path 6 yards out.
With Arsenal's pressing exemplary and Villa a little ponderous on the ball, Wenger's side dominated possession, while the high line Villa tried to hold meant they were also vulnerable to through-balls: The worst of both worlds.
Tim Sherwood had said his players had come to be themselves. For the team that finished 17th in the Premier League, that might not have been the best idea. In the semifinal, Villa had snapped and harried in midfield, unsettling Liverpool; here, they were overrun. It seemed just a matter of time before Arsenal scored — which, as has been proven on countless occasions this season, is when they are at their most vulnerable.
Not this time, though: Five minutes before halftime, Nacho Monreal crossed from the left, Alexis Sanchez headed back across goal and Walcott got over the bouncing ball to lash in a left-foot shot. Five minutes after halftime, Sanchez hit a brilliant swerving shot from 25 yards that kissed the bar on its way in, and the game was done.
In the royal box, Prince William, the president of the Football Association and supposedly a Villa fan, glumly looked on. A Per Mertesacker header from a Santi Cazorla corner made it three just after the hour. From then on, at least until Giroud turned in an Oxlade-Chamberlain cross in injury-time, the game was played at half-pace, merely the prelude to the presentation. Arsenal's hope is that it becomes the prelude to much greater things in the future.
"It was amazing. Any win is fantastic," Walcott added. "The manner we did it today was great, we played great football and kept a clean sheet. We always knew if we kept a clean sheet we were going to score goals and win the game. I've got to thank the manager for having the faith in me and picking me as well. This team is blessed and there's got to be many more next year."