After reaching their second consecutive FA Cup final, holders Arsenal are overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy once more when they face Aston Villa at the Wembley showpiece in May.
Many expected the Gunners to have to overcome Liverpool in the final, however Tim Sherwood’s side threw a huge spanner in the works by ending Steven Gerrard’s fairytale with a deserved 2-1 victory in their semi-final last weekend.
And while it was clear Liverpool weren’t at their best, Villa’s performance showed that they have every intention of winning the competition and certainly have the quality and team spirit to cause another upset and over the Arsenal next month.
Having overcome their biggest test at Old Trafford in the quarter-final, Arsene Wenger’s side survived a real scare as Championship side Reading took them to extra time with the scores level at one-one after ninety minutes.
Despite dominating for the most part, Reading certainly had their chances and caused Arsenal plenty of problems with their energy and physicality. It took a howler from Reading keeper Adam Federici to ensure the match didn’t go to penalties, which given their lowly position in the Championship must provide Villa with great confidence.
With no disrespect to Reading, Villa are a class above them in terms of quality and certainly have enough ability in their squad to cause Arsenal plenty of problems.
The Gunners finally put an end to their long wait for a trophy by winning the competition last year, but again it wasn’t a formality despite the level of their opponents. They needed a penalty shoot out to overcome Wigan; also playing in the Championship at the time, before coming back from two-nil down to beat Hull in extra time to win the final.
For whatever reason they have struggled to assert their superiority in games of this magnitude at Wembley, although the fact they always come out on top in the end is a huge plus point for the Londoners.
It will however be a worry for their fans that all Wigan, Reading and Hull were all very much in their respective ties, and having been past 90 minutes in all three of those games will given a rejuvenated Villa side plenty of confidence.
Since Tim Sherwood’s arrival, the Villain’s have seen an upturn in fortunes with some impressive results coming off the back of a new attacking minded style of play that was lacking under Paul Lambert.
Sunday’s victory over Liverpool saw the likes of Cristian Benteke, Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph cause the Reds numerous problems on the break, something they will be looking to exploit once again when they face Arsenal. Their pace and power in attack will certainly trouble the Gunners, and in Christian Benteke they have the Premier League’s form striker that can prove to be the match winner.
Their energy all over the pitch was another big plus point for Villa, who seemed far fitter than Liverpool during the semi-final. Delph, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Westwood were the key men in the middle of the park and the improvement Sherwood has made to the fitness of the squad could have a telling impact the longer the tie goes on for.
While Villa and Arsenal can no concentrate on finishing the league strongly, their meeting next month will certainly be one both have their eye on over the coming weeks. For Villa there’s still plenty of work to be done in order to secure their Premier League status, but they should take plenty of heart from their win over Liverpool and should have enough on recent form to pick up the necessary points.
They will go into the final with nothing to lose, and with all the pressure once again on Arsenal they really do look like dangerous opponents. It might appear straightforward, but Arsenal’s second successive FA Cup is by no means a formality.