FFT's Joe Brewin was at Wembley for a glittering - and record-breaking - Arsenal FA Cup victory...
It’s games like this that make Arsenal fans angry.
Of course, moaning is the exact opposite of what they’ll be doing after seeing their side lift a record 12th FA Cup at Wembley, but in the days to come they might wonder why they can’t enjoy displays like this more often.
Arsene Wenger’s were magnificent, steam-rollering a helpless Aston Villa side who were powerless to avoid this resounding defeat and who should have been buried by half-time.
Before this game all eight FA Cup finals at the new Wembley had been won by a one-goal margin, but the Gunners made history in more ways than one by easing to victory through strikes from Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla.
- This was Arsenal's 19th FA Cup final, a record for any team, and they have now won 12 FA Cup finals - more than anyone else.
- Olivier Giroud has scored eight and assisted four goals in his 14 FA Cup appearances, and has scored in each of his last four games against Villa.
- Arsene Wenger has now won the FA Cup as many times as George Ramsay (6).
- Arsenal have won 23 and lost just three of the last 35 matches in all competitions against Aston Villa. All three of those defeats came at the Emirates.
- 17 of the last 22 FA Cup finals have seen only one team find the net.
Walcott was forced to make do with his sofa for last year’s final after rupturing his ACL in the north London derby, watching his team-mates’ celebrations via the medium of FaceTime with Carl Jenkinson.
This was a very different team to the one that made life hard against Hull last year - only five players remained from that starting XI, with Wojciech Szczesny, Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Walcott and Sanchez included.
Last time Szczesny was rested; Bellerin was a mere under-21; Coquelin was sulking from his home in Laval; Monreal watched on from the bench and Sanchez was preparing for his last-ever Barcelona appearance.
The Chilean discussed this week how watching Arsenal’s old FA Cup wins had inspired him before his first final experience, and it showed in a man-of-the-match display in which he tormented Villa’s backline with a dazzling display of daring class. His swerving drive five minutes after half-time was the dagger through the heart for Tim Sherwood’s side, and set Arsenal on their way to victory.
The Gunners were at their mercurial best in the first half, denied only by a combination of Shay Given and some last-ditch defending, with Mesut Ozil, Sanchez and Cazorla linking beautifully and causing chaos.
While the Gunners set to work targeting Shay Given’s goal, Villa offered only hopefuls diagonals in the direction of Christian Benteke.
Given was playing in his first FA Cup final since 1998, and kept things level after 15 minutes when he acrobatically pawed away Laurent Koscielny’s close-range header. Aaron Ramsey - last year’s match-winning goal hero - went close twice in the next five minutes but first directed Hector Bellerin’s cross wide, before blazing over with the goal at his mercy after bustling past Ron Vlaar.
Arsenal went closer yet four minutes later when Kieran Richardson (looking more like a cartel disciple than former England international with a questionable top-knot) was forced into a brilliant block to deny Walcott.
Gunners fans may well have harked back to 2001 when they pulled apart Liverpool without reward until Freddie Ljungberg’s 72nd-minute opener. But you know the rest: Michael Owen netted twice, and the Gunners ceded the trophy.
Not this time. Five minutes before the break Wenger’s men got their breakthrough when Walcott thumped home a loose ball inside the box following Sanchez’s knockdown into space. If his hat-trick on the final day of the season against West Brom was relief, this one was euphoric for the 26-year-old.
It’s been a long way back for the England man since then - only two weeks ago was this site was signalling a crucial crossroads for Walcott - but he’s finally hit his stride at the right time.
Alexis on fire
It proved Villa’s undoing, as they were put to the sword straight after the restart when Sanchez struck a piledriver past Given from 30 yards out.
Arsenal’s Chilean terrier thougt he’d nicked another when he fumbled home a rebound with his head six minutes later, but Walcott was correctly adjudged offside. Cazorla was next to test Given with a low drive Villa’s Irish shot-stopper palmed away well, but the Gunners’ incessant pressure told just after the hour mark.
Cazorla was involved again, swinging in the corner from which Per Mertesacker headed home his second goal of the campaign to send Sherwood slumping back into his chair and cap a difficult afternoon for Villa.
By the time substitute Olivier Giroud netted the fourth in injury time there was barely a cheer - this one had long been won, and quite how so.