Arsenal won the 2015 FA Cup in convincing fashion at Wembley on Saturday after beating Aston Villa 4-0 in a game just as one-sided as the scoreline suggests. Goals from Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Per Mertasacker and Olivier Giroud delivered a record 12th FA Cup win for the North London club and made Arsenal, who also won last year, the first team to successfully defend the Cup since 2010, when Chelsea won.
Arsenal quickly imposed their will on the game, an early flurry of corner kicks keeping Aston Villa penned in their half as the Gunners used their creativity and pace to good effect. Yet, for all their superiority and early dominance, it took Arsenal 42 minutes to score, Walcott volleying home after a cross from Nacho Monreal was headed on by Sanchez. The second goal arrived shortly after the interval when Sanchez — who scored twice in the semi final to get Arsenal to the final — checked back on to his right foot and fired a spectacular 30 yard shot past Villa goalkeeper Shay Given and into the roof of the net. Any hopes of a Villa comeback were soon snuffed out when Mertasacker headed home a third goal from a corner kick, and Giroud’s late fourth was just icing on the cake.
The final proved a bridge too far for Aston Villa, who had managed to turn around a troubled season — after the February arrival of manager Tim Sherwood — to book a place in the final after putting on an impressive performance to see off Liverpool in the semi final. Their best players, captain Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke, scored the decisive goals in that semi final, but they were no match for Arsenal who dominated from start to finish.
It’s quite the turn-around in fortunes for Arsenal, who endured a torrid eight-year spell without a trophy prior to last season’s FA Cup win. That drought coincided with a spell during which Arsenal seemed to hold the line on spending on top players and saw a succession of their best players depart for greener pastures.
Thus, Arsenal, a club that had won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups in a golden spell between 2001 and 2005; a club that won the Premier League title — its last in 2004 — without losing a single match; a club that World Cup winners like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira called home, suddenly became one that saw key players departing to seek honors elsewhere. Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Matthieu Flamini, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, and Robin van Persie all left Arsenal during that time, leaving fans to wonder what might have been had they all stayed.
Arsenal have loosened the purse strings in recent times though, and now, with two consecutive cup wins and a succession of quality arrivals at the Emirates the good times seem to have returned to Arsenal. The last three seasons have seen the arrivals of German World Cup winners Per Mertasacker and Mesut Ozil (bought from Real Madrid for 40 million pounds), Spain’s Santi Cazorla and Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez (35 million pounds, from Barcelona). It’s that kind of quality, combined with Arsene Wenger’s penchant for unearthing young talent (Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Cocquelin) and hidden pearls (Koscielny, Giroud) that have brought silverware back to the Emirates.
The turnaround means Arsenal will only see expectations increase now. As Walcott told the BBC after the final.
“The Premier League has to be the next target for us. That’s two FA Cup wins now but this is one of the best squads we have had at Arsenal so we should be achieving more.”
Manager Wenger, marking his 19th year with Arsenal, became the first post-war manager to win the FA Cup six times — adding to previous wins in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2014 — and he is also looking to push on next season, as he also told the BBC.
“Of course I think we can push on. Why not? We have won the league in the past when we have had potential to do it and that’s what we want to do again.”
If Arsenal can hang on to their best players — Wenger thinks they can — and add even more quality, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t stay competitive in the years ahead.
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)