Arsenal: Why the Gunners’ FA Cup Final victory bodes well for next season

Arsenal's FA Cup triumph could be a springboard to greater things next season. Source: Getty Images.
Arsenal's FA Cup triumph could be a springboard to greater things next season. Source: Getty Images. /

Arsenal comprehensively defeated Aston Villa 4-0 to lift their second consecutive FA Cup title. And tactical expert Ryan Wrenn believes this could be the springboard for a success next season

Arsenal put down a marker for their Premier League ambitions next season with a masterful 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup final Saturday.

It wasn’t an entirely surprising victory. The Gunners had been slowly making a claim for the best team in the Premier League for much of the latter half of the season. Only an uneven first half of the season kept them from earning a top two finish for the first time since 2004/05. On the basis of their form since the New Year, in particular Saturday’s win, it doesn’t feel especially bold to predict that 2015/16 might see Arsenal’s return to the top of the Premier League table.

We covered Arsenal’s renaissance a bit last week in the FA Cup tactical preview. The introduction of a proper defensive midfielder in Francis Coquelin dramatically changed Arsenal’s set up. His unexpected talents in the role provided Arsenal a remedy to two ailments that have crippled the team in recent seasons: the lack of cover ahead of the defense and the option of a Plan B. The space so often left open behind by Arsene Wenger’s characteristic high press is now more than capably covered by the Frenchman. More importantly, his presence in the squad adds a new dimension to Arsenal’s game. When they’ve needed to crowd a midfield or play reactively, Coquelin’s defensive shielding of the backline and seamless transitioning from defense to attack has proven vital.

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As it happens, each of the qualities Coquelin represents played a role in Saturday’s win. It would be a stretch to call him the best player on the pitch – that honor goes to his teammate Alexis Sanchez – but his efforts in midfield were nonetheless crucial. With the help of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, he unsettled Villa’s midfield, denying them avenues through which to play balls out wide or over the top. It wasn’t exactly a flashy job and, indeed, Arsenal’s backline deserves immense credit for marking Christian Benteke, Villa’s primary threat, out of the game. Wenger realized that it wouldn’t be enough to simply keep tabs on the Belgian striker though. Benteke’s game is reliant on the close proximity of his midfield and their ability to stretch play, opening up gaps through which he can score.

The real task Wenger had of his midfield was to keep Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverley busy. Doing so meant that the players wide of Benteke, Jack Grealish on the left and Charles N’Zogbia on the right, might as well have stayed home. With their distribution sources from midfield shut off and the fullbacks too concerned with last-ditch defending Arsenal’s onslaught to contribute, they were invisible for almost the entire game.

Balanced as much as possible with those defensive efforts, of course, was contributions to the attack. Ramsey pushed forward and overloaded Villa’s left with Héctor Bellerín, Cazorla calmly distributed to the players in front of him and Coquelin provided the distinctly un-Arsenal long ball to Theo Walcott that helped set up the first goal. Wenger suddenly has something more than simply a Plan B: he has a side that can effortlessly transition from one style of play to another and back again.

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3 talking points from Arsenal's victory at Goodison Park
3 talking points from Arsenal's victory at Goodison Park /

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  • In many ways it as exactly the opposite game Arsenal teams from recent seasons would have played. Those teams went out to win the game in the first twenty minutes, often leaving themselves vulnerable to counterattacks or simple mistakes. This Arsenal team was primarily concerned with not losing the game in the first half. Wenger and many of the players on the pitch no doubt keenly remember going 2-0 down to Hull City in last season’s final and having to claw their way to an eventual victory in extra time. While not exactly shutting up shop or parking the bus – they were unfortunate to be only 1-0 up at the break – their primary focus was to establish a presence in defense from which to build attacks. Once that line was drawn, there seemed to be little-stopping Arsenal from running up the score.

    Arsenal’s goals, all four of them, were remarkable in their own way, particularly Sanchez’s 25 yard strike. It was the play between the goals that stands out however. Arsenal classically passed the ball around in Villa’s 18 yard box in equal measure with darting, quick transitions that began in a midfield with Coquelin at its base. Arsenal had been suggesting this level of play all season, but had rarely achieved it. That it came at the expense of an admittedly poor Aston Villa makes no matter. This final felt at once like the most important game of this and next season for Arsenal.