KARACHI: Arsene Wenger had been focused on ‘finishing the job’ — for the club, its players, the fans. The FA Cup final between Arsenal and Aston Villa was more than just a search for another trophy; Saturday evening at the Wembley was going to be history in the making. The stage was set. The choreographers, the performers, the spectators, the props; all there ready to play their respective parts.
And come the final whistle, it was history that was made amidst a blistering atmosphere. Four goals to Villa’s none. Four different goalscorers and four assists from the supporting cast. The men in yellow had been set ablaze and the deed was done. But it wasn’t because it was a great final for which the day will be reminisced; it will be remembered because it was a great performance, for one choreographer dramatised the display to perfection and nailed home a legendary status.
Now amongst the English football managerial legends, Wenger’s sixth FA Cup success with the Gunners has taken him level with the most important man in Villa’s history — George Ramsey. But the power hungry manager did a lot more. Saturday’s win has now made Arsenal FA Cup’s most celebrated team with a record 12th title. That is history. And that takes some genius, of which Wenger has plenty.
In a week wracked with trying to come up with the perfect line-up, Wenger had a tough call to make. Olivier Giroud had been starting for most of the season but the Frenchman decided to put his faith in Theo Walcott, probably because of the 26-year-old’s hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the Premier League season. That decision paid dividend when the England international scored the opening goal as Sanchez rose above Villa’s centre-halves and headed the ball in the path of Walcott, who netted it past Shay Given with a blistering volley.
And then more from the supporting cast. Man of the match Santi Cazorla gave a near-perfect display of footballing intelligence to run the entire show, especially in the first-half as he passed and probed and took control of the midfield, keeping Arsenal on the front foot. Mesut Ozil also helped create chances and was much better with Walcott and Alexis Sanchez making runs ahead of him than he is with the more static Giroud up front.
But from all the performers, it was Sanchez who truly gunned Arsenal to victory, against a side that seemed a shadow of itself – one that had beat Liverpool at Wembley in the semi-finals. He scrapped for every ball against Villa as if they were still a goal down, as if they were hanging by a thread.
Shortly after the restart, the Chilean produced one of the finest goals in FA Cup final history. Thirty yards out, he made a yard for himself with a drop of the shoulder and let the ball rip with a thunderbolt strike that whipped into the roof of the net. The crowd went wild. His smile and the ensuing triumphant jump in the air said it all. Sanchez has been directly involved in five goals in six cup appearances this season: four goals and one assist.
From there on, it really was game over for Tim Sherwood’s side, who seemed unable to string any meaningful passes together. Arsenal’s teamwork was crushing and it was a simple header from Per Mertesacker, who was being marked by a flustered Christian Benteke — a Villa threat which had failed to materialise — courtesy of a whipped corner from Cazorla, that gave the Gunners their third goal.
Sherwood’s arms were flinging in the air, pleading with his side to fight back, just a little. Frustrated. Exasperated. Almost devoid of hope. It was now just a matter of waiting to celebrate, or shed tears as the outcome had already been determined. There was no coming back from this. Villa last won in 1957. It still wasn’t their year yet.
Except Arsenal wanted more even if they didn’t need it because as all great performances go, one must finish with a bang — to nail in the final humiliation. Substitute Giroud, in the 93rd minute, flicked the ball into the bottom right after being setup by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, right before the final whistle.
Four goals to Villa’s none.
Wenger has announced his forever aching ambition to succeed. Arsenal justified themselves. A great end to the season: a third-place finish in the Premier League, direct qualification for the Champions League and FA Cup silverware. Hearts, minds and glory were all won that evening.
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