FA Cup history beckons for Wenger

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‘I don’t know,’ he admitted, as he prepared for this evening’s FA Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium.

‘I am not a collection man. I am always focused on what’s next. I think the guys who come and clean the house come and take them.’

He was joking, of course, but over the past 19 years as manager of this club he has mopped up three Barclays Premier League titles, five FA Cups and five victories in the Community Shield.

Wenger remains true to English football and its rich heritage, respecting the traditions and the core values of the FA Cup as he closes in on a record-equalling sixth victory as a manager.

He is aware of George Ramsay’s achievements, the man who won the FA Cup with Aston Villa six times between 1887 and 1920.

‘It is not as easy as it looks to win it,’ added Wenger. Arsenal are overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy again, with Santi Cazorla expected to use his deep-lying midfield position as a springboard for those remorseless attacks.

This week Aston Villa’s manager Tim Sherwood has been working on an idea to muzzle Cazorla, to keep the little creator’s influence on the game to a bare minimum.

With Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and last year’s match-winner Aaron Ramsey waiting to get on the receiving end of those through-balls, Sherwood knows that his team could still be swamped.

‘There might be a little tactical adjustment, but my work is done here in the week,’ admitted Sherwood. ‘You can make some changes and talk to the players at half-time, but that’s why it’s so frustrating, because you can’t do any more.’

Whatever the outcome, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph will be getting through some mileage in the centre of Villa’s midfield. Sherwood is aware of the scale of the task to convince a team who conceded eight goals without reply against Arsenal in the Premier League this season that they can win at Wembley.

Those defeats, 3-0 at Villa Park, 5-0 at the Emirates, were on Paul Lambert’s watch. But Villa’s players must also forget their last two results, a 6-1 loss at Southampton and a 1-0 defeat at home to relegated Burnley on the final day of the Premier League season.

Sherwood knows that Wenger’s team can freeze, as they did in their defeat against Chelsea in the 2009 FA Cup semi-final at this stadium.

In last season’s final they were 2-0 down inside the opening eight minutes against Hull City before they came back to win a thrilling game in extra-time.

Last month, against Championship side Reading, they needed another 30 minutes to win after Garath McCleary scored a dramatic equaliser for the Royals. Arsenal occasionally show vulnerabilities and inevitably there will be a little anxiety about the prospect of winning the FA Cup for a record 12th time. ‘If we go behind we know the game is not dead,’ added Sherwood. ‘We’ve made chances in every game we’ve played this season. This is a huge club, bigger than I thought, and a huge attraction.

‘It’s been in the doldrums for many years and this is a great chance to show everyone what we’re all about.’ The memories of Villa’s last great team, the side that won the League Cup under Ron Atkinson in 1994 and Brian Little in 1996, are fading.

Wembley has always been a stage for the big-name players to sparkle, to bring those match-winning qualities to one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums on the biggest day of the domestic calendar.

In the semi-final Villa impressed, snatching the ball from Liverpool and relying on the creative talent of young Jack Grealish and the presence of Christian Benteke during their compelling victory.

‘My little girl went to the semi-final and said, “I hope you lose because then you can take me swimming the next day”,’ added Sherwood. ‘My missus isn’t a big football fan — she had booked a holiday abroad before the Cup final.’

They have returned early, with the whole Sherwood clan taking their seats to see if Villa can win their first piece of silverware in this competition since 1957. Villa fans will return to Wembley for their first shot at the FA Cup since Roberto di Matteo scored Chelsea’s winner at the old stadium in 2000. Arsenal are formidable opposition, finishing a whopping 37 points ahead of Villa in the table and qualifying automatically for the Champions League.

Sherwood, an Arsenal fan growing up, is a huge admirer of Wenger, avidly watching his progress since his arrival in English football in 1996.

‘You have to be careful what you wish for because for me he has done a tremendous job,’ he added. ‘If you line up the chairman and director of every club they would all want a Wenger. Manchester City and Chelsea might be an exception because they have gazillions to keep throwing at it.

‘If you want a sustainable business and someone to run it, Arsene Wenger is great model of that.’

Sherwood has done brilliantly to take Aston Villa to the final, and a winner’s medal would mean everything to him, but Arsenal will shade this 2-1, maybe with extra-time again, because they have too many match-winners.– Daily Mail

Original source: FA Cup history beckons for Wenger

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