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Arsenal destroyed Aston Villa on the Wembley turf on Saturday evening, beating their Premier League rivals 4-0 on the way to lifting the FA Cup.
The Gunners clicked in minute one and Villa, conversely, failed to get out of the blocks. They managed just two shots—both blocked—in reply to Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud goals.
Arsene Wenger’s tactical duel with Tim Sherwood was short-lived and rather one-sided, but here, Bleacher Report runs through the key decisions and moves throughout the game.
Walcott Opening Space
The big news ahead of kick-off was Walcott being announced as the starting striker for Arsenal, retaining his place ahead of Giroud after smashing a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion.
He endured a slightly frustrating day in front of goal despite bagging one, though that’s due to some superlative blocks and saves from Shay Given and Kieran Richardson. His main asset was his pace; Villa’s back line were terrified of him, and they dropped off at every opportunity, frightened to stand up and leave space behind.
That left the Villa midfield with vast swathes of space to cover, and it also left Ashley Westwood largely one-on-one with Mesut Ozil in those planes. What came next was predictable: Ozil had one of those games, and he tore Villa to shreds by linking play, jinking past challenges and playing passes most can’t.
His early darts into the left-hand channel were killers, forcing Jores Okore to step out frequently and try to block the passes. Any he missed—and there were a few—saw Arsenal racing into space to take advantage.
Santi Cazorla ventured forward from central midfield, and Alexis Sanchez saw plenty of the ball coming in from the left. Arsenal’s play outside the box was slick and decisive, with every move amounting to a shot or chance blocked.
Attacking Villa’s Right
Arsenal chose a side to focus on early, and it happened to be Villa’s right. There were concerns heading into the game over the left—Richardson was barely fit, after all—but the opposite flank immediately showed alarming signs of collapsing.
There were some suggestions on Twitter that Villa “let Arsenal play,” but that simply wasn’t true.
Villa tried to stop the combination play on their right side early but ended up continually fouling Alexis and Co., giving away numerous free-kicks. Alan Hutton and Tom Cleverley were booked early on, and from that point they could no longer step in to challenge firmly, else risk being sent off.
Nacho Monreal emerged as a brilliant out-ball for the switch, his first touch sublime on the day, and inside of him a combination of Alexis, Ozil and Cazorla wrecked the channel. Okore did well to limit the damage in truth, whereas Cleverley and Westwood were all at sea.
The Gunners used the width well, hit the bylines and flummoxed their markers with interchanges. Villa’s midfield were blowing hard, exasperated and exhausted, by the 20th minute.
The N’Zogbia Problem
There were moments in which Villa had the chance to counter-attack in the first half, but every move fell to pieces when the ball reached Charles N’Zogbia.
The claret and blue outfit nearly always recovered the ball on the right side due to Arsenal attacking them there, and N’Zogbia was perfectly placed, as a loose forward, to receive the first pass out, turn and run. That’s his bread and butter—the thing he’s made a name for himself doing—but since his Achilles’ injury he’s lost some burst, and confidence issues have affected his decision-making too.
Too often the Frenchman dithered and hesitated, ruining the chance for Villa to stream forward. Him filling the space Cazorla and Monreal left was the clearest route to goal, but he fluffed his lines every time. With the opposite side of the pitch on lockdown due to the magnificent Francis Coquelin, it was vital N’Zogbia provided some spark.
N’Zogbia lasted just eight minutes of the second half before being hooked, and although his replacement, Gabby Agbonlahor, is a more natural goal threat, he’s not an improvement when it comes to linking play and his effect was minimal.
Villa lost the left, the centre and the right, with Alexis’ golazo proving that even if Villa did have the heart to haul themselves back into it, they certainly didn’t have the world-class firepower. Christian Benteke looked marginalised and lost up front as the supply dried up; Coquelin shackled Fabian Delph, Jack Grealish struggled with the occasion and Agbonlahor proved little better than N’Zogbia.
Meanwhile, Ozil was running the show, Aaron Ramsey was drifting and showing his athleticism and Cazorla dictating; the difference between the two midfield sets was night and day in terms of performance.
As Villa searched for a way back in, they became more and more stretched, and it’s a wonder only one late counter-attacking goal was scored. Ozil was slicing Okore and Ron Vlaar open in transitions, with Walcott’s runs causing all sorts of issues on the shoulder once again.
A sound beating from start to finish. Villa never really stood a chance.