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Preview: FA Cup final: Arsenal vs. Aston Villa

Sports Mole looks ahead to the 2015 FA Cup final, as holders Arsenal aim to become the first 12-time winners of the competition against Aston Villa at Wembley.

Two of England's most historic clubs will go head to head in the final of the oldest cup competition in world football this Saturday as Arsenal and Aston Villa compete for FA Cup glory at Wembley.

The competition has seen a number of notable shocks already this season, and Villa will be looking to provide one more to prevent holders Arsenal from retaining the trophy.



Arsenal

Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal lifts the trophy in celebration alongside Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014© Getty Images

History could be made by the Gunners this weekend as they look to become the most successful team in the long and illustrious story of the FA Cup.

Last year's success not only ended a nine-year trophy drought for the club as Aaron Ramsey's extra-time strike secured a comeback victory over Hull City, it also took them level with Manchester United as 11-time winners of the competition.

One more victory this weekend would see them become the first team to lift the famous cup 12 times, in addition to becoming the first side to retain it since Chelsea five years ago.

There is a personal goal on the line for manager Arsene Wenger too. He would overtake Sir Alex Ferguson as the competition's most successful manager of the modern era with what would be a sixth FA Cup winners' medal on Saturday.

Villa boast a claim to that title too, with George Ramsay winning six during his time in charge of the club between 1887 and 1920, but although Wenger has played down the significance of reaching that landmark, it would certainly be another memorable achievement during what has been a successful, if sometimes tumultuous, 19-year spell at the club.

The success of his managerial reign will not rest on this Saturday, but the success of Arsenal's season may do. The Gunners improved on last term's fourth-place finish in the Premier League, but they ended the campaign four points worse off and once again failed to launch a serious title bid.

Another FA Cup triumph will appease the 'Wenger out' brigade once again, but progress has been slow in recent years and a fresh assault on the league title is sorely needed.

They ended the season with just one win from their final four games, but that came in style at the Emirates as they scored four goals in the first half on their way to a comfortable victory over West Bromwich Albion.

They were less convincing in their semi-final win over Reading, needing an Adam Federici error in extra time to progress, but including penalties, the Gunners have now won 11 FA Cup games on the bounce, last losing back in February 2013.

Recent form in FA Cup: WWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): DWLDDW



Aston Villa

Tim Sherwood manager of Aston Villa celebrates as Christian Benteke of Aston Villa scores their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers at Villa Park on April 7, 2015© Getty Images

For Aston Villa, Saturday has been a long time coming. It will be their first appearance in an FA Cup final for 15 years, and their trophy drought stretches back even further to 19.

You have to go back to 1957, 58 years ago, for the last time they lifted this particular piece of silverware, although in the entire history of the cup only three teams have won it more often.

Villa's heyday came a long time ago, however, and the current crop of players will be desperate to write their own names into the history books on Saturday.

Tim Sherwood achieved his primary goal of keeping the club in the division, injecting plenty of passion and heart along the way, but FA Cup glory would likely top even Premier League survival.

It would turn a troublesome, worrying season into a memorable one for the Villans, in addition to raising optimism that they won't be put through the rigours of another relegation battle next term.

They don't come into the match in great form, however, with their league campaign tailing off after their survival was secured. An embarrassing 6-1 defeat to Southampton was followed up by a final-day loss at the hands of already-relegated Burnley, but those results will be long forgotten should they triumph in the capital.

They go into the match as underdogs, but that will not be a new scenario for Sherwood. Indeed, it may be one that he relishes, having toppled Liverpool and ended Steven Gerrard's dreams of a fairytale goodbye in the semi-finals.

It has not been an easy route to the showpiece for the Villans, who have had to overcome three Premier League teams already, in addition to a Bournemouth side that will be joining them in the top flight next season.

Much like Hull last term, Villa now find themselves just one match away from European football next season having only narrowly survived in the Premier League less than a week ago. Victory over Arsenal would see Sherwood's side qualify for the 2015-16 Europa League at the expense of Southampton.

Recent form in the FA Cup: LWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WLWWLL



Team News

Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck reacts after a missed chance on February 15, 2014© Getty Images

Arsenal will be without Danny Welbeck, scorer of the winning goal in the quarter-final victory over former club Manchester United, due to a knee injury.

That leaves Wenger with one less decision to make up front, although he will likely still need to choose between first-choice striker Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, who dazzled with a hat-trick on the final day of the season.

Wojciech Szczesny is expected to continue his role as the cup goalkeeper ahead of David Ospina, although Wenger refused to categorically confirm that the Pole would retain his spot.

Jack Wilshere is another who impressed on a rare start against West Brom, while fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a cameo appearance off the bench and is in line to feature.

Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy are nearing fitness themselves, but it is unlikely that they will feature having been absent since November and January respectively.

Villa, meanwhile, could be without cup goalkeeper Shay Given due to a groin injury, which would mean that Brad Guzan makes his first appearance in this season's competition.

Kieran Richardson was also absent against Burnley on the final day of the league season, but he is hopeful of recovering in time to start this weekend. Nathan Baker made his first start since January against the Clarets and will be pushing for another ahead of Jores Okore at Wembley.

Semi-final heroes Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph will both start in midfield alongside Tom Cleverley, who will play the final match of his loan spell with the club.

Up front, Sherwood is likely to opt for Gabriel Agbonlahor partnering in-demand Christian Benteke, who has again been heavily linked with a move away and could also be playing his last Villa game.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Given; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Richardson; Cleverley, Westwood, Delph, Grealish; Agbonlahor, Benteke



Head To Head

These two sides have featured in 28 and won 18 FA Cup finals between them, but they have never met each other in the showpiece of this competition.

They last met in the FA Cup in the 2011-12 fourth round, when the Gunners came from two goals behind to win 3-2, just as they did in last season's final against Hull.

Arsenal also had the better of things when these two met in the Premier League this season, winning 3-0 at Villa Park in September before going two better in a 5-0 triumph at the Emirates in February


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa

Expect Villa to give this one everything. It is not every year they have the chance to win silverware and, with Sherwood at the helm, you can be sure that they will be suitably pumped up for the occasion. However, their final two league results are perhaps a sign of how much the relegation battle took out of them, and Arsenal can be deadly against a tired opponent. The Gunners returned to form on the final day of the season and, while they won't have things quite so much their way in this one, they should still have the quality to retain the trophy.



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Danny Welbeck of Arsenal celebrates with teammates Hector Bellerin and Mesut Ozil of Arsenal after scoring his team's second goal during the FA Cup Quarter Final match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on March 9, 201
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