ENGLISH football draws to a close on Saturday with the FA Cup Final. Who is Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) backing?
Arsenal v Aston Villa | Saturday 17:30 | BBC One
“I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes”. Yes, many of you will be aware that’s one of the lines to the monster hit ‘Love Is All Around’ for The Troggs and Wet Wet Wet and that line seems to sum up exactly how I feel about this FA Cup Final. I have real belief that Aston Villa will lift the trophy on Saturday.
In the same way that Barry Glendenning gets pointers from his guts (see The Guardian’s excellent Football Weekly podcast), my head’s been sending me signals for the last few weeks that this will be Villa’s day. I even blurted it out to a pack of Gooners at The Emirates last Sunday. That mark on my face? Ah that’s just a black eye.
Oh well I better start making a case then eh? Let’s start with the Midland club. Slag him off all you want but Tim Sherwood has made a huge difference to the club.
Where they once resembled a sweaty-palmed boy approaching a girl for the first time, they now look like studs who pull most Saturday nights. They look bold and brash and that’s down to self-aggrandising Sherwood. He believes, so they should too.
Since he walked into the club in mid-February he’s won half of his 16 matches in charge. Local rivals West Brom were beaten twice in four days, Liverpool were outclassed in the semi-finals, his old club Spurs were beaten at White Hart Lane and Manchester City given a real fright in a 3-2 loss last month. When it comes to the big games, his side rise to the challenge.
I’ve heard a few people reference the fact they lost their last two games very poorly (a 6-1 loss to Southampton and 1-0 defeat at Burnley) but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I expected it and if it helps me get a bigger price on them then beers on me.
You see almost all medium-smaller clubs that qualify for the FA Cup Final see a drop off in league form as the big day approaches. Proof? Voila! With two wins out of five since the semi finals Villa have probably done better than I expected.
This side will be hungry. It could be a defining day for their careers and Sherwood will demand everything from his charges as he seeks to put his own name up in lights.
Will the hunger be as strong from the Arsenal players? I can’t see that. They won this competition just 12 months ago and revelled in the glory of that.
Even if they lose on Saturday the season can be seen as a slight step up from 2013/14. They finished third and an air of positivity reigns over The Emirates.
As we’ve seen with Man City this season and in 2012/13 it’s incredibly hard to defend titles of any sort. To achieve that you need guts, resolve and mental stamina. Not qualities I associate with Arsenal. Yes, I know they successfully defended the trophy in 2003, but they were a different beast back then.
Sitting at the epicentre of why I’m taking on Arsenal on Saturday though is their weak performances in these big-stage matches. Some felt that may be cured after ending their nine year trophy drought last year but games against Reading and Monaco this season prove otherwise.
Before ending the drought last May they blew it against subsequently relegated Birmingham in the 2011 League Cup Final and fell apart against lowly Bradford as things got tasty in the 2013 League Cup. Would you want them in the trenches next to you? Not at all!
I wouldn’t mind Sherwood next to me in the trenches. He’d stop me crying. He’d make me laugh. He’d make me cringe and he’d keep my mind active. Lying in that trench I’d look up to him and think, “You’re the kind of guy who’d motivate a pack of slightly above average players to win an FA Cup Final”.
Arsenal v Aston Villa – Aston Villa to win the trophy (29/10 Boylesports)
Arsenal v Aston Villa – Both Teams To Score (Evens Coral)
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