Arsenal lifted the FA cup for the second consecutive year, and created history by becoming the most successful club in the history of the game’s oldest competition. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger became the most successful football manager in the competition in the post- world era.
It was an intriguing 90 minutes of game play at Wembley that should have a resounding impact on football clubs, on managers and most importantly, the metric of success as understood and accepted by the footballing world; silverware. The 4-0 demolition of another very successful club in the history of the competition, Aston Villa may have come as a surprise to some, firstly, for the fact that everyone, including Arsenal fans, had seen a turnover in their game since the appointment of Tim Sherwood and secondly because of the strength of their individual players.
The emergence of young Jack Grealish, a faster and stronger Charles N’Zogbia, the re-emergence of Benteke and the hard work of midfielders Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood were all testimony to the fact that Villa could be a difficult nut to crack in the final.
However, fans from both sides as well as neutral spectators would agree that the game turned out to be a one sided affair and did not evoke the excitement of an FA Cup final. The Gunners were comfortably stronger in every department and were more composed in transition from defense to offence. The omnipresence of Santi Cazorla, the intricate and composed passing from the centre of the pitch to every corner of the field, the constant threat on counters and a stable and solid defence lead Arsenal to a resounding win.
Villa did not seem like a threat for most of the game and although they got a few chances they couldn’t capitalise, as interim keeper Wojciech Szczesny kept them out with his well timed leaps and an extra-ordinary punch in the first half, against a striker who is perhaps one of the best in the air in the league.
I would like to personally admit that I was overjoyed to see Arsenal play this well. However, the final did not replicate the excitement of last year final against Hull. Nevertheless, I would like to, with the little knowledge I have of the game itself, share a few things I thought worked perfectly well for Arsenal.
Having more natural central midfielders, both in the middle of the park and on the flanks worked;
Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Coquelin and partially, Alexis, are all players capable of playing through the middle. Players who are naturally attuned to playing through the middle, ended up covering much more of the pitch than others. For this reason, the five players right behind Walcott, were able to interchange positions; Ramsey coming onto the left, Cazorla on the right Alexis through the middle, Ozil out wide, and the back in the middle again, Walcott on the wing in Arsenal’s half for a few moments; we saw these swaps throughout the game. This confused Villa’s defence, as they were unable to assess how to handle each players individual quality and his ensured better ball position and gradual build up towards goal for the Gunners.
Walcott up front worked perfectly well;
I saw Arsenal effectively playing a 4-5-1 and a 4-3-3 with Ozil as the forward most midfielder of the 3 midfielders. Walcott playing upfront, worked remarkably well ,especially for a game like an FA cup final, where players are usually on their feet and alert for the entire 90 minutes. Ron Vlaar and Jores Okore had one eye on Walcott throughout, for they knew that one quick pass on the counter or on the build up outside of the 18 yard box and the England striker could create a problem, given his quick movement and pace,especially with the likes of Ozil and Cazorla playing right behind him. Walcott playing upfront also forced Villas midfielders to compact their midfield. Arsenal’s quick and unpredictable movement unlocked Villa’s midfield who lacked quick decision making with 5 Arsenal midfielders passing the ball so fast in the middle of the park, and given the anxiety of the Centre Backs with Walcott, Fabian Delph, on a few occasions was left with no choice but to disrupt open play with a few pushes, such as the one on Alexis.
Koscielny cancelled out Benteke
While it took more than one defender to take on the towering Belgian Striker, with Coquelin, Bellerin and Cazorla covering all the space from which he could be a threat, it was Koscielny’s constant intelligent positioning that ensured that the Benteke is left frustrated in front of goal. That along with a few well -timed jumps by Szczesny were enough to deny Benteke every chance of a goal.
Good Defensive Work as a unit
Wenger has throughout pointed out the need for the team to work as a defensive unit. Arsenal’s game at the beginning of last season against Tottenham, which Arsenal won one nil courtesy an Oiliver Giroud finish, was evidence to suggest that this team is capable of doing just that. This match saw several players win the ball with ease on many occasions. Young Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal need special mention on this front. They were exceptional on the flanks.
While the match was not as competitive as some expected, Arsenal and their fans have nothing but several positives from the game, especially for the next season. If they continue to reinvent themselves in this way, game by game, against different teams in different competitions, they will be a force to be reckoned with, completely unstoppable. Such is the quality they are capable of, and the FA cup final was hopefully a glimpse of what this team can do next season.
Can Arsenal build up on this success next season?