Arsenal v Aston Villa
Live on BBC 1
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal are looking to become the first team to successfully defend the FA Cup since Chelsea in 2010, and after a strong finish to the season which saw them lose just one of their last ten league games, they can be confident against an Aston Villa side that survived relegation by just one place.
Finishing 12 points off the top of the table, Wenger knows there is some improving to do ahead of next season if they are to have a serious tilt at the trophy in 2015/16, but those issues are for another day. The task ahead is lift that FA Cup again, and the Frenchman at the helm knows his side are better, man for man.
He’ll also be keen to avoid the drama of last season where his team went 0-2 down inside eight minutes against Hull, only to emerge victorious after extra time. Tim Sherwood is a prime motivator and Arsenal must be ready to face down pumped up, determined opposition. Mental toughness is the name of the game in a cup final, and there are still question marks over this Arsenal side on that front.
Danny Welbeck is likely to miss this game with a knee injury.
Tim Sherwood was tasked with keeping a misfiring, goal-shy, unconfident Aston Villa in the Premier League this year, and he’s achieved that. Although they only finished one place above the drop zone, the Midlanders were safe before the final day and this FA Cup final is a bonus for fans who weren’t expecting to have much to crow about halfway through the season.
It’ll be a fairly difficult task to get past Arsenal here; Wigan aside, there’s not really been an upset in the cup final since Everton in 1995, and although Hull came close last year it’s telling that the Gunners were able to let their quality shine through eventually.
The performances of Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph will be key, as will the way Villa deal with Arsenal’s movement – if they can frustrate the north Londoners and make it tough for them, Sherwood knows he has the quality to hurt them at the back.
Shay Given is unlikely to feature due to a groin injury and Kieran Richardson may join long-term absentees Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd on the sidelines, also.
Arsenal are predictably short to win this game inside 90 minutes, and currently trade at [1.57]. I’m often put off backing short-priced favourites in big finals – there are too many variables that come along with the pressure of playing in this type of game. Aston Villa are out at [7.0] and the The Draw trades at [4.5], which looks to me to be the value bet of the three outcomes.
I like The Draw because, unlike last year, I can’t see there being a goal too early which means the price will come in and present a trading opportunity. I don’t tend to back draws in football matches, but can see the attraction here.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Interestingly, Overs trades shorter than Unders here – [1.89] against [2.08] – and that must be partly down to the 6-1 defeat that Villa suffered a couple of weeks ago and Arsenal’s heavy 4-1 defeat of West Brom on the final day of the league season.
In addition to this, the last three meetings between these sides have all had at least three goals in them. Arsenal also won them all, most recently dishing out a 5-0 drubbing back in February.
But cup finals can be cagey affairs and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see this be settled by just the odd goal.
Opta tell us that Christian Benteke has scored three goals in his last three appearances against Arsenal, and his new-found form under Tim Sherwood means he is well worth an interest at around [3.7] to score any time. The big Belgian also has 13 goals in his last 14 games and rates as the in-form striker in this cup final.
Another player worth looking at is Theo Walcott. He should play at least a part after his hat-trick last week and Arsene Wenger will surely be sorely tempted to start the pacey forward in light of Olivier Giroud’s current goal drought and Danny Welbeck’s injury. Walcott should be available at around the same price as Benteke.
Half with Most Goals
Based on the theory that these teams will be wary of making mistakes early on, I am going to back the second half to have most goals in this game at around [2.2]. I feel that Arsenal’s quality with probably win out late-on in this game, and so it makes sense to predict more goals after the break.
Back Christian Benteke in To Score market at [3.7]
Back Theo Walcott in To Score market at [3.7]
Back Second Half in Half With Most Goals market at [2.2]