Good afternoon! One of the greatest days in the football calendar is finally here as Arsenal
take on Aston Villa
in the 2015 FA Cup
final. It is always a special occasion and, with two teams who boast some great history in this competition facing off, hopefully we will be in for another memorable clash at Wembley today. We have a bumper two-hour build-up for you on Sports Mole
before the game itself, so let's get started with a look at Arsenal...
For the Gunners, this is certainly not new ground. This is their second consecutive appearance in the final, and when it comes to experience of the biggest stage, there is no doubt that they have a sizeable advantage over Aston Villa. Wenger's side go into this match as heavy favourites to retain the trophy, and it would be one of the bigger shocks in recent FA Cup final history should they leave Wembley empty handed today.
The pressure is off the Gunners to an extent today as well, certainly compared to last season. While, like the 2014 final, they are expected to win, there isn't quite as much riding on this year's final for Wenger especially. His legacy at Arsenal arguably hung on the result against Hull a year ago, with the prospect of going a decade without silverware hanging over his head. It is unlikely that he would have stayed on as manager had they not won the FA Cup, with his contract still unsigned at that point.
Fast forward to today and there is nowhere near as much speculation regarding Wenger's future thanks to their victory last season. This afternoon's final is not regarded as a make-or-break one for Wenger or the Gunners as a whole, but could still make the difference between an average season and a successful one. There are certainly improvements to be made, but two trophies in two years will appease fans who were starved of silverware for so long.
The 'Wenger out' brigade have had their moments this season, but in general the level of discontent amongst the fans seems to have subsided. Their failure in the Champions League was a low point - not only in exiting to Monaco but also memorably their collapse against Anderlecht in which they squandered a three-goal lead to draw - but there is increased optimism for the future as Wenger looks to build a squad that can challenge on all fronts.
He seems to be on course to do that, with the recent big-money additions of Ozil and Sanchez hinting at more ambition to push for silverware again. However, the Gunners are in need of another big summer this time around if they are to make that leap to Premier League challengers, and even Champions League contenders. A club of their size, with the players they have had in recent years, should not have been waiting the best part of a decade for a serious title bid.
While progress has been shown to some extent, they are still some way from getting back to where they were 10 years ago. Once again they never truly mounted a title challenge this season, ending the campaign 12 points adrift of champions Chelsea. They did finish in third place - one higher than they managed last season - but they finished with four fewer points than in the 2013-14 campaign. An automatic passage into the Champions League group stages is, of course, a plus, but it is hard to tell just yet whether they have truly made progress.
In fairness, they looked at one point to be challenging for a first top-two spot in 10 years, only to falter towards the end of the season. As it was, they finished the league term four points adrift of runners-up Manchester City, but five ahead of Manchester United. The general level of competition in the Premier League continues to edge up, which may explain their lower points tally, but Wenger will not need telling that it will take a lot for his side to bridge the gap to Chelsea.
There is an argument to be made that Arsenal, on form, are the best side in the league. They certainly have the ability to cut teams open when playing at their best, but questions remain over their consistency over a whole season - they often go on long winning streaks but fail to sustain that form for long enough - and their big-game temperament. They showed improvement when it comes to the latter this season, notably in their victory over Man City in January, but they are still a little short.
They were approaching their best in the first half of their final game of the season, racing into a 4-0 lead at half time against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates. Theo Walcott
did his chances of starting this afternoon no harm with a hat-trick, while another FA Cup final hopeful Jack Wilshere weighed in with a truly stunning strike. They were allowed to play by the Baggies - something they won't be expecting this afternoon - but they seemed to have their rhythm back and, on the big pitch at Wembley, that could prove dangerous.
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That was the only victory in their final four games of the league season, however, while they only won two of their last six to see second place slip away from them. They even failed to score in three consecutive home games, although they did make up for lost time in that victory over West Brom. The win against West Brom was important as it will raise belief around the club while, had they allowed their season to peter out, that may not have been the case going into this game.
Crucially for matches such as this one, the Gunners are not in the habit of losing. They have only been beaten once in their last 15 matches in all competitions, while that run stretches to just one in their last 17 counting only domestic matches. Indeed, they have only been beaten twice domestically since New Year's Day and, including extra time, have won 13 of their last 17.
It hasn't been a long journey to Wembley for the Gunners, but it is still relatively unfamiliar surroundings compared to the Emirates. Even so, Arsenal have been impressive on the road recently, winning eight away games in a row before a draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford in their most recent trip. Their last away defeat, and only one since New Year's Day, came across North London against Tottenham back in February, while only champions Chelsea picked up more Premier League points on the road in the season just finished.
Wembley itself has been kind to Arsenal in recent years too. They have won on their last four visits to the stadium, including twice already this season. One of those, of course, came in the semi-final victory over Reading, while they also kicked the 2014-15 campaign off with a impressive 3-0 triumph over Manchester City in the Community Shield here. They will certainly be more familiar with the surroundings than their counterparts today.
The omens look good for them to make it five on the bounce too. The last three times that Arsenal have played a team from the second tier of English football in the semi-finals of this competition, they have gone on to lift the trophy. Reading were the victims this time around, while they edged past Wigan on penalties last season. They also beat a team from the second tier on their way to their 1998 triumph, a result that saw them clinch the double.
Villa are the team looking to buck that trend today, and it is a huge occasion for the club to be here at Wembley. Arsenal may have suffered a nine-year drought until last season, but they are relatively regular visitors to stages like this. For Villa, a club with such a great history, modern times have not been so kind. This is their first appearance in the FA Cup final for 15 years, when they were beaten by Chelsea and a Roberto Di Matteo strike in the last final at the old Wembley.
Indeed, it has been 19 years since Villa picked up a trophy of any kind, lifting the League Cup in 1996 courtesy of a 3-0 triumph over Leeds United. The last time they won this particular piece of silverware was way back in 1957 - 58 years ago - when Manchester United's Busby Babes were beaten 2-1 a year before the tragic Munich air disaster. That is too long a wait for a club with such a rich history in the competition.
's current crop of players have the chance to write their own names in the history books tonight, though, and it is an opportunity that they will be desperate to take. For many of them, this is the biggest stage that they would have ever played on, and even those familiar with Wembley, such as Fabian Delph, will find it a different experience today than playing for his country. They did, of course, have a taster in the semi-finals, but this is another step up.
Victory today would certainly cap off a tumultuous season for the club and, like Arsenal, it could turn an average campaign into a memorable one. Ultimately, Premier League survival was the number one priority for the Villans this season - particularly by the time Sherwood came in - and they achieved that. The FA Cup could be viewed by some, therefore, as a bit of a bonus, but it should be seen as much more than that for these players.
It is hard to describe Villa's season as a successful one without picking up silverware today. They were probably expecting a relegation battle and to have avoided the drop will be the major thing ticked off their list for the year. However, they have just about kept their heads above water this season, ending the campaign in the final safe position in the league table, and fans will want more than that.
Optimism that they can set their sights a little higher is probably greater now than it was a few months ago, when Lambert's reign was beginning to wind down. In truth. his exit had been in the offing for some time and in many ways it was surprising that the Scot lasted as long as he did. Sherwood brought about a mini revival, and his passion and drive on the sidelines was there for all to see. It transferred to the players as well, and that could be an important factor this afternoon.
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The improvement Villa have made under Sherwood is there for all to see. Before he arrived, Villa had managed just seven wins all season from their 28 games under Paul Lambert. Sherwood, meanwhile, has won the same amount in just 15 games at the helm, including victories over the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton. His side also ran Manchester City close at the Etihad, so they have a track record of upsetting the bigger teams since Sherwood came in. Arsenal will be wary of that today.
Sherwood is something of an all-or-nothing character, and that is reflected in his results too. His side don't often play for draws, with just one coming in his 15 games with Villa. That means that his tally of seven victories is matched by seven defeats, and should he play a similar way today then it could very much go either way. Villa have the ability and pace to hurt Arsenal on the break, but an open game will favour the Gunners so Sherwood may have to curb his usual instincts a little here.
The main problem for Villa today, and throughout the season, is likely to be putting the ball in the back of the net. Despite Benteke hitting form towards the end of the season, Villa still only managed 31 Premier League goals all season - only relegated Burnley had fewer. Things weren't much better at the other end either in truth, with only QPR and Newcastle leaking more goals than Villa's 57 throughout the campaign.
You don't need me to tell you that failing to score at one end and conceding at the other is a losing formula, and it is somewhat surprising that Villa even survived this season considering that only bottom-of-the-table QPR lost more matches - the Villans were beaten 20 times from their 38 outings. Priority number one for them today is simply to avoid defeat.
Despite that rather concerning record, Villa ended this season with exactly the same number of points that they ended last season - 38. Usually the 40-point mark is the barometer for safety, but this season Villa were safe with two games to spare and ended the campaign three points clear of the relegation zone. They did finish two places lower than 2013-14, and progress will be the order of the day next term, but it isn't like they have drastically regressed this season.
Even if you didn't know the story of the season, you could probably tell when Villa were confirmed as being safe by their results in the final two matches of the season. It seemed to be a case of very much job done and relax before the FA Cup final, particularly when they found themselves 5-0 down to Southampton at half time in their penultimate match of the campaign. They went on to lose that one 6-1 - a display Sherwood was rightly furious with - while the final day brought with it a 1-0 loss at the hands of already-relegated Burnley. Not exactly ideal preparation for the biggest game the club has had in decades.
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They did, however, win four of their last seven outings in all competitions, which helped them to Premier League survival and today's showpiece occasion. It would have been interesting to hear whether Sherwood would have preferred Premier League survival or success in the FA Cup considering the amount of time the club has been waiting to reach this stage. Before safety was confirmed, the former probably would have been the answer, but success today could top even their survival.
If they are to emerge victorious, though, they will need to show more than they have done on their travels for the majority of the season. They have lost nine of their last 11 games away from Villa Park and have only won three of their last 17, and just five all season. Their most recent away game was that drubbing at the hands of Southampton, although their last victory on the road came in the capital against a North London outfit when they beat Spurs.
Of course, there isn't just silverware on the line for Villa this afternoon. While the trophy is the main prize on offer, victory for Sherwood's side would see them qualify for next season's Europa League. Being back in Europe would be a major achievement for the club, who of course have a European Cup winners' medal to their name, but it would also bring about new rigours next season that the current squad may find it difficult to deal with. Victory today would require heavy investment in the summer if they are to build a squad big enough and good enough to hold their own on the continent.
TEAM NEWS! The teams are in for both sides, and the headline news if that Theo Walcott starts for Arsenal ahead of Giroud. Ramsey, Koscielny and Monreal come back into the side having missed out against West Brom, while Szczesny continues as the cup keeper ahead of Ospina. As for Villa, there is no place for Agbonlahor ion the side, while Okore is preferred to Baker. Grealish gets a start, while cup goalkeeper Shay Given and left-back Kieran Richardson have overcome injuries to start. Full teams for both sides coming right up...
ARSENAL STARTING XI: Szczesny; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis; Walcott
ARSENAL SUBS: Ospina, Gibbs, Gabriel, Flamini, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud
ASTON VILLA STARTING XI: Given; Hutton, Vlaar, Okore, Richardson; Westwood, Delph, Cleverley, Grealish, N'Zogbia; Benteke
ASTON VILLA SUBS: Guzan, Bacuna, Sinclair, Agbonlahor, Cole, Sanchez, Baker
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, the big news is a start for Walcott following his hat-trick against West Brom. It really was a fine performance from the winger, playing in a central striking role, and it is enough to earn himself a spot ahead of Giroud this afternoon. I said after the game that three goals should make you undroppable, but I still expected Giroud to start this afternoon. It is a slight surprise that Wenger has gone for Walcott, but he certainly deserves his chance.
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It would have been very harsh on Walcott to be dropped for this game, particularly considering Giroud's recent woes in front of goal. He has not scored in his last eight outings in all competitions, last finding the net in the 4-1 victory over Liverpool at the start of April. That follows a run of 10 goals in 10 games too, which makes it all the more baffling. Walcott has a tendency to blow hot and cold at times, but if he is on form then he can be a real handful.
Championship correspondent Pascal Lemesre on that team news:
"I have to say I'm really surprised to see Walcott get the start. Arsenal should see more of the ball, tiring Villa out and I thought that Walcott would be perfect as a pacey impact sub against Villa's big centre-backs. No surprises elsewhere from Wenger, but Wilshere will be gutted to miss out after his rocket against West Brom last Sunday. As for Villa, it must have been a tough call for Sherwood between Agbonlahor and N'Zogbia down the right. Grealish was always going to start after his showing in the semi against Liverpool, but Agbonlahor would have worried the Arsenal backline more with his pace. Surely we'll see him at some point."
As Pascal says, elsewhere it is pretty much as expected from the Gunners, with Ramsey returning to the trio behind the striker. Wilshere flourished in that role against West Brom, capping a superb display with a world-class strike, but he was always unlikely to start this afternoon given his injury troubles in recent season. Ramsey, who of course scored the extra-time winner in last season's final, has had his own injury problems, but is more established in the starting lineup than Wilshere.
It is a very talented trio behind the striker, with Ozil beginning to find his best form for the club and Sanchez having enjoyed a magnificent debut campaign. The Chilean has arguably been the signing of the season in English football having netted 24 goals in all competitions, including two in the semi-final of the FA Cup. He will be looking to cap off his year in style this afternoon, but he has failed to score in any of his last four outings so will need to end that mini drought.
Coquelin, who has emerged as such a key figure for Arsenal in 2015 following his return from loan, partners the deep-lying playmaker Cazorla in midfield, with the latter also scoring in last season's final with a superb free kick that gave the Gunners a crucial route back into the match. Coquelin in particular will be important against the likes of Grealish and Delph this afternoon, and if he can do his job then it will allow those in front of him to weave their own brand of magic.
There are two changes at the back from the side that beat West Brom on the final day of the league season, with Monreal and Koscielny - another scorer in the final a year ago - returning. Gibbs and Gabriel drop to the bench as a result, but that won't come as much of a surprise to either. Bellerin may not have been expecting to be in this position at the start of the season, but he has really stepped up since the injury to Debuchy and the Frenchman will find it tough to get his place back next season now. Between the sticks, meanwhile, Szczesny replaces Ospina to continue his run of games in this competition.
As for Villa, their danger man will of course be Benteke, who could well be playing his final game for the club. Speculation has linked him away from Villa Park for the last few transfer windows, but this summer there seems to be even more than usual, with a figure of £30m repeatedly cropping up. He can certainly be a handful to defend against and, on form, is unplayable at times. Don't be surprised to see Villa play a number of high balls up to him today, despite the presence of Mertesacker back there - Benteke has more more aerial duels (188) than any other Premier League player this season.
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He is in superb form going into this match as well. He couldn't get a goal against Burnley on the final day but has found the back of the net 12 times in his last 12 outings for the club. He also managed three in two games against Arsenal last season, including giving them a torrid time on the opening day of the campaign when Villa won 3-1 at the Emirates. If he can put in another display like that, Villa have a very real chance today.
The worrying thing for Villa, both today and should Benteke leave, is the lack of goalscoring support they have for him. N'Zogbia has, rather surprisingly, been preferred to Agbonlahor today, with the latter only having managed six goals in all competitions this season. The midfielders pop up with one or two here and there, but there is no doubt that the vast majority of the goalscoring burden lies on Benteke's shoulders.
He won't be the only man Arsenal need to worry about this afternoon, though. Young Jack Grealish has sparked excitement with his performances since breaking into the team, particularly in the semi-final against Liverpool. He is very much one for the future, but if he can make his mark at Wembley again then Arsenal could find it difficult to contain him. The same applies to Delph, who scored the goal that helped Villa reach this stage and has been one of the club's standout performers throughout a troublesome season.
Also in midfielder is Cleverley, who weighed in with some vital goals during the Premier League run-in. As it stands, this is his final game for the club as his loan is due to expire at the end of the campaign, but it looks like Villa may try to sign him on a permanent basis and it is unlikely that Manchester United would stand in the way. He hasn't exactly shone throughout his loan spell, but he has certainly improved under Sherwood.
At the back there are a number of changes from Sherwood, with Given recovering from a groin injury to continue his role as cup goalkeeper ahead of Guzan. Jed Steer actually played the last league game of the season, but Given was always going to start if he was fit enough. Hutton is handed a somewhat surprising recall ahead of Bacuna at right-back, while Okore has overcome a knee injury to displace Baker in the side. At left-back, meanwhile, Richardson is also deemed fit enough to start.
Those are the teams for this grand old occasion, then, and hopefully they will provide plenty of entertainment on what is one of the biggest days of the English football calendar. It hasn't always been the case in recent years, it must be said, with all eight FA Cup finals at the new Wembley being decided by a one-goal margin and many of them not exactly going down as classics. Last season's game was a welcome exception, however, as Arsenal and Hull put on a good show.
The Gunners, of course, won that match 3-2 after extra time, but Hull made a blistering start to stun Wenger's side. They were two goals to the good inside eight minutes and it could have been three but for a goalline clearance from Gibbs. That surely would have been game over, and perhaps Wenger out of Arsenal, but the Gunners fought back. Goals from Cazorla and Koscielny forced extra time, where Ramsey poked home the winner to end a nine-year trophy drought for his side.
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As a result, Arsenal come into this match looking to become the first side to retain the FA Cup since Chelsea managed it in 2010. Only seven teams have ever managed to win the FA Cup two seasons in a row which, considering that this is the 134th year of the tournament, proves just how tough it is. Arsenal have, in fact, done it once before in 2001-02 and 2002-03, and another win today would see them become only the fourth side in history to retain it more than once. Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers both did it in the 1800s, while the only team to manage it since then was Spurs in the early 1980s.
The Gunners are on the verge of history, then, and that is true in more ways than one. Should they win today then they would become the most successful team in the competition's long history, picking up a record 12th title. They are already making a record by appearing in their 19th final, and they are currently level with Manchester United on five triumphs in the FA Cup, so one more would put them out in front alone.
Continuing the Arsenal vs. Manchester United rivalry, Arsene Wenger
could also claim a personal landmark of his own this afternoon. His tally of five winners' medals as manager is level that of Sir Alex Ferguson as the most by a manager in the modern era, and he could overtake his long-time adversary today. Aston Villa's own George Ramsay did win six as a manager between 1887-1920, so Wenger wouldn't be entirely out on his own, but it would certainly be some feat for the Frenchman to achieve.
The Gunners needed extra time to beat Reading in the semi-finals of this season competition, with Sanchez scoring twice either side of a McCleary equaliser. The main story lay between the sticks for the Royals, however, with Adam Federici's error gifting Arsenal a place in today's final. It was a heartbreaking moment for the keeper, but it was enough to send the Gunners through as they held out for the remainder of the extra 30 minutes.
Arsenal have also had to beat Hull, in a repeat of last season's final, Brighton, Middlesbrough and Manchester United to reach this stage, with the latter victory coming courtesy of a Danny Welbeck winner against his former club. It has not been the easiest passage through to this stage, which should prepare for what is likely to be another tough afternoon today, but it could also have been a lot harder for the Gunners.
As for Villa, they have already upset the odds at Wembley once this season, beating Liverpool 2-1 in the semi-final to spoil any hope of a fairytale ending for Steven Gerrard in English football. They showed plenty of character to come from behind against the Reds, with Benteke cancelling out Coutinho's opener within six minutes and Delph getting the winner in the second half, but Liverpool also played poorly and Villa will need to up their game again if they are to come away with another victory here.
Liverpool were the third Premier League team in a row dispatched by the Villans, while they have also beaten Bournemouth - who will join them in the top flight next season - along the way. They began with an unconvincing 1-0 victory over troubles Blackpool, but soon hit their stride with wins over the Cherries, Leicester and local rivals West Brom before the triumph over Liverpool.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes away from kickoff at Wembley, which means that it is time for a prediction! Villa will give this one everything and, with Sherwood at the helm, they are bound to be pumped up for it. Arsenal have the superior quality, however, and with less pressure on their shoulders this time around should be able to use the size of the Wembley pitch to their advantage. The Gunners are favourites to retain the trophy, and I'm going to back them too. I'll plump for a 2-1 win for Wenger's side.
Championship correspondent Pascal Lemesre's prediction:
"I'm going to have to agree with my good friend Barney and back the Gunners to win a record 12th FA Cup. Clearly they have more talent on paper and Alexis Sanchez
in particular has already shone at the national stadium this season. Villa will be no pushovers and Sherwood is sure to have them fired up. I think they'll get on the scoresheet at some point, but Arsenal will prove too strong over 90 minutes. Wenger's men to come through 3-1."
Arsenal have certainly had the upper hand over Villa in the league this season, winning both matches at an aggregate score of 8-0. Their first meeting was in September as the Gunners ran out 3-0 victors, with Ozil on the scoresheet, and the German found the net again in a 5-0 drubbing at the Emirates. In fact, Villa are the only team that Ozil has scored against both home and away since his move in 2013.
These two sides have met 10 times in the FA Cup before, although this is their first ever meeting in the final. Villa have only won three of those 10 meetings, the last of which came in 2012 when Arsenal came from two goals down to win 3-2, with all of their goals coming in seven second-half minutes. Villa haven't beaten Arsenal in this competition since 1974, when they won a replay at Villa Park 2-0 to reach the fifth round.
In all, Villa have only won three of the last 34 meetings between these two sides, losing 22 in that time. They have a rich FA Cup history, though, with only three teams having lifted the trophy more often than the Villans' seven titles. Their heyday came more than 100 years ago, however, with six of those seven triumphs coming under George Ramsay between 1887-1920. In all, these two have featured in 28 finals between them, winning 18 of those.
We're edging ever closer to kickoff now, so just before we start let me push you in the direction of Sports Mole
's interview with former Aston Villa midfielder Andy Townsend. You can find out what he had to say about today's game here
KICKOFF: Here we go then! Aston Villa get us underway in the final match of the 2014-15 season as they and Arsenal battle for FA Cup glory. Jonathan Moss is the man in the middle amongst a superb atmosphere inside Wembley.
Quick start to the game, with Arsenal seeing most of the ball in the early stages. The Gunners almost get in behind early as Cazorla spreads a pass out wide, but Ramsey's knockdown finds Walcott in an offside position.
At the other end Delph pings a beauty of a pass out to Hutton, who in turn sees his cross blocked. The ball loops towards the near post, and Szczesny just needs to get across and gather it to ensure that it doesn't creep in.
Wembley really is a cauldron of noise at the moment, and both sets of fans have had minor things to shout about so far. Both teams are looking to play at a higo temp, which has made for an absorbing opening few minutes here.
Threatening play from Arsenal as Sanchez slides a clever pass into Cazorla, who fizzes a low cross into the box. Hutton is well placed at the front post and gets an important interception to put it behind for a corner.
CHANCE! The first real sight of goal today falls the way of Arsenal as Koscielny loses his marker Vlaar from a corner. In the end it is Benteke who is forced to try to cover the Frenchman, but Koscielny has a yard on him and gets a free header to the ball. His effort is disappointing, however, and he glances it wide of the far post.
Arsenal are growing increasingly menacing right now. The movement they have in the final third must be a nightmare for the Villa defenders, with each one of their attackers constantly giving and going. Cazorla is also growing into the game, and he wins a free kick off a poor Benteke tackle here to give Arsenal a free kick in a dangerous crossing position...
...it is disappointing from Ozil as his clipped cross into the box was comfortably cleared. Waste of a good position there.
Villa get an increasingly rare chance to break forward as Benteke works it out to the left for Richardson in space. He waits for Benteke to get into the box before hanging a cross up towards the back post, but Szczesny does really well to come out and punch it clear.
YELLOW CARD! The first card of the 2015 FA Cup final is shown to Tom Cleverley for a cynical trip on Monreal. No doubt about that one.
CHANCE! Huge chance for Arsenal to take the lead, but Koscielny is denied by a superb stop! Cazorla plays the resulting free kick quickly down the left channel for Sanchez, who clips a cross of his own into the middle. Koscielny is in space and gets a firm head on the ball, but Given pulls off a brilliant save to deny the defender goals in back-to-back finals.
CLOSE! Villa are finding it tough right now. This time it is Bellerin's pace that causes problem down the right, getting a bit of luck to beat Richardson on his way inside before slipping a low pass into the box. Ramsey slides in and gets a foot to it, but he can only put it into the side-netting.
Arsenal will be happy with this opening 20 minutes or so. They have set the tempo here and are looking dangerous almost every time they come forward. Cazorla is running the show at the moment, and Villa need to stop him from pulling the strings.
CHANCE! Another big chance for Arsenal to break the deadlock! Delph loses the ball in midfield and Ozil carries it forward before lifting a pass into the box. It is behind Ramsey, but he gets a lucky bounce of Vlaar, whose failed clearance bounces into the Welshman's path. Ramsey hits the bouncing ball, but can't keep his effort down.
Ozil is beginning to have a big say on this match as well. He has caught a Villa midfielder in possession twice in quick succession now, and each time has been quick to burst into life and move forward. He wasn't too involved in the early stages, but is growing into this one.
CHANCE! Oh my word, what a magnificent piece of defending this is from Richardson! Arsenal play some move lovely football to get in behind Villa, with Cazorla and Ozil again involved. Ozil plays the ball in low towards Walcott who looks to have a simple finish, but Richardson throws himself in the way of the effort from point-blank range to keep the scores goalless. Walcott probably should have scored, but take nothing away from Richardson there.
Championship correspondent Pascal Lemesre:
"He might be sporting the worst haircut in FA Cup final history, but that was some block by Richardson. Arsenal are all over the men in claret and blue, but the longer they go without breaking the deadlock, the more nervous they're going to get. With Benteke the battering ram up top and the pace of N'Zogbia, Grealish and Delph, Villa will hope to have more of an impact on the counter-attack."
I'd like to throw Jack Grealish's hat in the ring for a contender to that worst haircut in FA Cup final crown, although we haven't seen much of the Villa youngster so far as Arsenal have enjoyed 62% possession.
SAVE! Another shooting chance for Arsenal as Walcott slips a pass in to Bellerin, but his effort takes a touch off Vlaar and falls kindly into the arms of Given. Villa are just about hanging on right now.
Delph has been heavily involved for Villa so far, but on a couple of occasions he has been caught in possession. He is really trying to take this game by the scruff of its neck, but that is so hard to do against Arsenal when they are playing like this.
Szczesny seems to have made the decision to come for everything here, which is risky. This is one of the occasions that he should have stayed on his line, coming out to punch a Delph cross aimed for Benteke. The Belgian striker wins the header, but can't turn it goalwards.
YELLOW CARD! Dreadful challenge from Hutton as he flies into a rash tackle on Sanchez. It was not bad enough for a red card, but no doubt that it deserved a yellow.
This time it is Given who has an unsure moment when coming for a ball, failing to claim it despite getting hands to it. Vlaar hoofs it away to clear the danger, but that wasn't convincing from the veteran keeper.
Better from Villa as they break forward down the left flank, with the ball played in towards Benteke in the box. He flicks it on towards Grealish, who has the ball taken off his toes by a last-gasp clearance.
YELLOW CARD! Delph, who was lucky to get away without a yellow card earlier, picks one up here for pulling back Ozil.
Villa have stemmed the tide a little here, with Arsenal not looking quite as threatening in the last five minutes or so. Wenger has switched Sanchez with Walcott, putting the Chilean down the middle and Walcott against the booked Hutton down the left.
GOAL! Arsenal 1-0 Aston Villa (Theo Walcott)
That switch pays immediate dividends! Walcott breaks the deadlock in the 2015 FA Cup final, playing a part in the build-up before applying a fine finish. The winger cuts inside before playing an incisive pass down the left channel for Monreal, who stands a cross into the middle. Sanchez rises well but can only knock his header back across goal, where Walcott is racing in to hammer a beautiful volley past Given at the near post.
That is four goals in two games for Walcott, then, and his starting place has again been justified. Wenger deserves credit for that tactical change, with both Walcott and Sanchez involved from their new roles, but take nothing away from a lovely finish. What have Villa got in response now?
Arsenal certainly deserve this lead. They have been comfortably the better side in this opening 45 minutes and Villa have spent most of their time containing the Gunners rather than being able to play their own game. It hasn't been entirely one-way traffic, but this has been Arsenal's final so far.
There will be two minutes of added time at the end of this first half, which has flown by.
HALF TIME: Arsenal 1-0 Aston Villa
Well, that was a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes of football! Arsenal lead at the end of a high-tempo first half at Wembley, and in truth they perhaps should be further ahead. For Villa, improvement is needed in the second half if they are to end their 58-year wait for an FA Cup triumph.
Walcott got the only goal of the first half, and it was some finish from the attacker. He helped in the build-up too, sending a fine pass inside the full-back for the overlapping Monreal. His cross was nodded back across goal by Sanchez into the path of Walcott, who lashed his volley past Given. It was superb technique from Walcott, who has justified Wenger's decision to go for him ahead of Giroud.
The Gunners have created a host of other chances too, with Koscielny having two clear headers that he should have done better with. The first saw him get a yard on his marker from a corner, only to glance his header wide of the far post when he should have done better given the space he had created. The second was an even better chance as he planted a firm header towards goal from close range, only for Given to pull off a remarkable save.
Walcott himself could have had another, and in truth this was a better chance than his goal. Ozil cut the ball across the face for the attacker, who looked to have a simple finish from close range, with Given taken out of the equation by the cross. However, Richardson threw himself in the way of the effort with a sublime block.
Championship correspondent Pascal Lemesre:
"The Gunners deservedly lead at the break and what a fine, controlled finish it was from Walcott. Wenger's decision to start him over Giroud has been justified, but should Arsenal be further ahead? They've had several good chances and have only taken one of them. Villa have been below-par, but that's mainly because of how well Arsenal have restricted them. Coquelin has been completely dominant in the middle of the park. Surely Sherwood's side can only get better? They're fortunate to only be one down."
Ramsey has had a couple of decent sights of goal himself, with Arsenal dominating in terms of chances throughout. Villa have struggled to create anything of note in terms of chances, with the likes of N'Zogbia and Grealish failing to impose themselves on the occasion. Benteke has looked a little more threatening, but his moments have been few and far between.
KICKOFF: Arsenal get us back underway for the second half, with just 45 minutes separating them from a record 12th FA Cup crown. No changes for either side, but it may not be long before we see one for Villa.
SAVE! Okore is a lucky boy here as he clumsily staggers into a challenge on Ramsey inside the box. A less honest player may have gone down, but the thought didn't even cross Ramsey's mind before he fires a deflected effort into the arms of Given at the near post.
A hint of an opening for Villa at the other end as the ball break to Grealish on the byline, but Arsenal are quick to crowd bodies around him and clear what little danger there was.
GOAL! Arsenal 2-0 Aston Villa (Alexis Sanchez)
He's been Arsenal's star of the season, and Sanchez has capped off his magnificent debut campaign with an absolute scorcher! The Chilean cuts inside onto his right foot before lashing a thunderous strike in off the underside of the crossbar. It is actually fairly central, but the movement on the ball leaves Given no chance. What a goal that is, and what a time to get it. Villa have a mountain to climb now.
YELLOW CARD! Villa look to the dark arts to contain Sanchez as Westwood trips the Chilean very late. No doubt about that being a booking.
ASTON VILLA SUB: A change was needed for Villa, and Sherwood turns to Gabriel Agbonlahor in an attempt to bring that about. He replaces the ineffectual N'Zogbia.
Championship correspondent Pascal Lemesre:
"WOOOOOOFFFF! What a hit from Alexis! His goal against Liverpool earlier this season was similar, but that was even better from the marvellous Chilean. It's the worst possible start to the second half for Villa and they now have a mountain to climb if they are to end their 58-year wait for the Cup."
Arsenal have the ball in the back of the net again, but the flag is up against Walcott. Ramsey fizzed the ball into the Englishman, whose close-range effort is stopped by a truly unbelievable stop from Given. It is almost a shame it doesn't count just for the quality of that save, but Given is happier this way as Sanchez tucked home the rebound.
CHANCE! Arsenal are really in the mood here. Again they come forward, with Ramsey and Cazorla heavily involved in the latest flowing move. The latter finds himself in space inside the box, but his low effort towards the near post is kept out by Given.
Arsenal's big names have all turned up today. Sanchez, Ozil, Ramsey and Cazorla have all been brilliant, while Coquelin has played an understated but equally impressive role so far. It has been a superb team performance from the Gunners.
CHANCE! Another big chance for Arsenal to grab a third! A Villa attack breaks down and Arsenal are immediately on the front foot, with Coquelin finding Ozil and Ozil threading an early pass through for Walcott. He looks to have got the better of Okore with his pace, but the Villa defender recovers to make the block.
GOAL! Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa (Per Mertesacker)
Game over. Arsenal move into a three-goal lead, and this one is the easiest of the lot. Benteke has struggled in the opposition box and his own this afternoon, and again he loses his man here. Mertesacker is unmarked as he rises in the box to head - or rather shoulder - Cazorla's corner past a statuesque Given. The FA Cup dream is turning into a nightmare for Sherwood and his players.
Sherwood looks distraught on the sidelines now. He has been prowling up and down throughout the match but has now sunk into his seat, almost personifying Villa being dealt the fatal blow there. There is no way back for the Villans now - they haven't threatened to score once today, yet alone three times.
Villa just haven't played their own game today. Credit must go to Arsenal for that, for Villa themselves will be hugely disappointed with such a display on the biggest game the club has had for a number of years. It could get even worse too if Arsenal remain in the mood here.
ASTON VILLA SUB: Richardson's FA Cup final is over as he is replaced by Leandro Bacuna. Richardson made one brilliant block in this game, but in general has struggled to shackle Arsenal's midfielders.
Villa have 20 minutes left to endure here. They have been comfortably second best throughout this match and can have no complaints about the scoreline - indeed it could be worse for the Villans.
ASTON VILLA SUB: Sherwood makes his third and final change as Carlos Sanchez replaces Westwood for the final 20 minutes or so.
Arsenal are just controlling the ball at the moment, not particularly going in search of a fourth goal but keeping a close control over the game. They are just probing for a hole in the defence now rather than really pushing for anything more.
Szczesny has not had anything to do today in terms of shots. He has come for a few crosses with mixed fortunes, but Villa have not looked like scoring past him once. Arsenal were rightly big favourites going into this match, but they can't have expected to run out such comfortable winners here.
CHANCE! This really is a shocker from Walcott! Arsenal break quickly as Ramsey plays the ball around the last defender for Walcott, who looks to open his body and curl one into the far corner. He gets it all wrong and puts his effort a long way wide, but I'm sure he can be forgiven for that.
That is Walcott's last action of the match as he and Ozil depart to be replaced by Olivier Giroud
and Jack Wilshere.
Okore hasn't always looked convincing today, but he has made a few good tackles and blocks. This time he stops Ramsey inside the box, taking a risk by going to ground but making a strong challenge.
PENALTY CLAIM! Huge penalty shout for Villa! Agbonlahor charges forward from midfield and Coquelin is struggling to get back before going to ground with a needless sliding challenge from behind. The initial contact is right on the edge of the box, so the call between free kick and penalty is a tough one, but Jonathan Moss - who in fairness has had a good game before this - gives nothing.
YELLOW CARD! Agbonlahor goes into the book two minutes after that incident for his continued protests to Jonathan Moss. He has a point as he should have at least a free kick, but he needs to keep a lid on his frustration here.
Vlaar goes down following a tangle with Giroud on the byline and stays down, which is a concern for Villa given that they have already made all of their subs. It's not too serious, however, and the Dutch defender is soon back on his feet.
PENALTY CLAIM! Another Villa penalty shout for Moss to deal with as Grealish keeps the ball in on the byline before being tugged down by Bellerin. The ball looked to be beyond the Villa youngster, which may have influenced Moss as he again shakes his head.
Bacuna dribbles his way into his own box rather than clearing the ball, which just invites pressure from the Arsenal attackers. He just about escapes by giving the ball to Okore, who wins a foul off Giroud.
ARSENAL SUB: The Gunners make their third change of the afternoon and it is Sanchez who receives a standing ovation to cap off a memorable season. He is replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal have three minutes of stoppage time to see out before being crowned FA Cup champions for a record 12th time.
GOAL! Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa (Olivier Giroud)
Just to cap off a perfect day for the Gunners, Giroud ends his goal drought with the last kick. Wilshere drops the ball back for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who drills a low ball into an unmarked Giroud to flick home from close range. The centre-backs fell asleep there, and they were duly punished by the Frenchman.
FULL TIME: Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa
ARSENAL WIN THE 2015 FA CUP!
Arsenal make history as the most successful team in the 134-year history of the FA Cup, lifting their 12th title and second in a row courtesy of a thumping 4-0 victory over Aston Villa. It was a magnificent display from the Gunners, who simply blew Villa away on their way to the trophy.
Walcott is on the field and admits that it is a "dream" for him to have won the FA Cup following his recent injury woes. Not only did he win the cup, but he also scored in the final, breaking the deadlock with the sweetest of volleys. His goal was added to by a screamer from Sanchez, a header from Mertesacker and a late tap-in from Giroud. Sanchez's was undoubtedly the pick of the bunch as he lashed a swerving strike past Given from 30 yards.
Championship correspondent Pascal Lemesre:
"What a display that was from the Gunners. Whether it be the aerial dominance of Mertesacker, the energy of Coquelin, the wizardry of Sanchez or the willingness of Walcott, Arsenal were fantastic from front to back. Villa weren't at their best, but you have to credit Arsenal for limiting their chances so well. Back-to-back FA Cups for the North London side, but they have to build on this and make a real push for the Premier League next year now."
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you for joining Sports Mole
for a memorable FA Cup final as Arsenal win the famous old trophy for a 12th time courtesy of a 4-0 hammering of Aston Villa. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction, analysis and player ratings. Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole throughout the season too, and with the English campaign now over be sure to have your say in our awards here
. The winners will be announced next week. Until then, it is goodbye from me!