Days like this one are rare for an Arsenal fan. From the opening whistle to the final one, there was absolutely no doubt or fear among the players. They knocked the ball around the pitch with complete confidence and had smiles on their faces as they raced towards the corner flag with each successive goal. And as a fan, it made for the most enjoyable 90 minutes I’ve experienced in recent years. Another year. Another trophy.
4-0 was a completely deserved scoreline for Arsenal. Not a player on the team played a poor match. It took some time to find the opening goal through Theo Walcott, but Aston Villa never looked like they were a threat. And once Alexis Sanchez sealed the deal with an absolute firecracker early in the second half, it was a full-on party. Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud added to the tally, but this game was about the whole rather than the parts.
The passing through the midfield was slick. The flicks were seamless and easy, and nearly every cross-field pass found its mark. I’m not sure Arsenal played a more complete game all year. Arsene Wenger gambled with selections of Theo Walcott and Wojciech Szczesny, but both contributed mightily to the win.
I struggle to name a man of the match because there were so many players on top of their game. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny, even Wojciech Szczensy all deserve it, and I easily could have added more names to that list. But more importantly, they all leave with winner’s medals and a giant trophy that can now call the Emirates home.
There could not be a better way to go into the summer than coming off of a high like this. For never has this group of players showed so much potential. Money can be spent this summer to complete the team, but it doesn’t have to make it. This is a special group of players and the talent is palpable in the final third. This is a team that not only can challenge in England but also has the potential to make a run in Europe. It will take many months of performances like this one. But with a few top-class signings, this team can turn heads next year.
For many of these players, it’s been more than a year since they’ve had a proper rest with national team obligations. So apart from Sanchez, who has to participate in the Copa America, everyone should be back in July ready to go. There won’t be any World Cup hangover that derails a season before it starts. And more importantly, players like Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere can work on getting healthy.
So as this season comes to a close, be thankful for yet another triumphant end to what was a frustrating season at times. Be thankful that this group of players has finally become healthy. Be thankful for Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil. And be ready for a fun 2015-2016 season. A trophy sure help morale.
Player Ratings (1-10)
Theo Walcott – 7.5/10 – Walcott justified Wenger’s selection with a magnificently struck goal late in the first half. He’d been in and out of play, but had already been a part of a couple of chances at that point. Anybody watching his celebration could see this is a man who wants to stay. He might have added a second with a series of chances once the game was decided, but on the whole, it was a performance that showed just how bright a future he still has.
Alexis Sanchez – 9/10 – Sanchez’s goal was a thing of absolute beauty, the strike dancing from left to right as it cut through the air. He worked ever so hard with what little energy he has left in the tank. And in addition to his goal, he played a crucial part in the opener, winning the header over Richardson which he sent across goal towards Walcott.
Mesut Özil – 8.5/10 – Özil silenced those who say he hasn’t shown up to the big games with a wonderful performance. All his movements were graceful, and he was involved in setting up chance after chance. Sure, he may drift or float or whatever you want to call it, but almost every pass puts his teammates in a better position. Surely all doubts about Arsenal’s record signing will be forever gone.
Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Ramsey played a typical Ramsey game. Combative in the midfield with a lot of late runs into the box, he seemed to be everywhere. He didn’t provide much cover for Bellerin on the right, but thankfully, that was hardly needed.
Santi Cazorla – 9/10 – Cazorla hit some brilliant cross-field balls and showed off his touch with some slick passing in tight spaces. He was orchestrating nearly everything. Cazorla has found a home further back on the pitch in a more Pirlo-like role this year and has adapted his game beautifully. And his set-pieces were top-class today.
Francis Coquelin – 8.5/10 – Not normally lauded for his passing, Coquelin played a great ball to Walcott that set up the opening goal. It was fitting that he was the player who received Walcott’s biggest hug after the goal. For Coquelin changed this team for the better in December. His bite in midfield was fully on display once again, although he was lucky not to have given away a late free kick to Agbonlahor.
Nacho Monreal – 7/10 – Assured in the back, Monreal had another high-quality game typical of his season. On the ball, he had energy, driving up the pitch and bombing down the left, and it was his cross that found Sanchez at the back post in the lead up to the first goal.
Laurent Koscielny – 8.5/10 – Koscielny was at his best today, cleaning everything up that came his way with interceptions and vital off-balance clearances. And he was winning headers on both sides of the pitch too.
Per Mertesacker – 7.5/10 – After what felt like a year of unsuccessful corners, Mertesacker finally knocked one in for Arsenal’s third, dropping off of Benteke to head home. Defensively, he wasn’t as involved as Koscielny was, but he too was composed and quick to the ball when needed.
Hector Bellerin – 7/10 – Bellerin was relatively quiet, but had a solid all-around game. Left isolated against Grealish, he was never really beaten. It was an incredibly calm display from the young Spaniard in his first Wembley start.
Wojciech Szczesny – 8/10 – Commanding and confident. Those are the only two words needed to describe Szczesny’s performance. The latter adjective is often cited as a negative for the goalkeeper, but today his confidence helped him control the game. He was quick to punch, and one particular soaring hit above Benteke was particularly un-Ospina-like. He may have whiffed on one or two, but on the whole he was excellent.
Olivier Giroud (77th) – 7.5/10 – Desperately unlucky not to start (although it was the decision I wanted) Giroud got a redeeming late goal with another clever flick at the near post. I wonder if he stays at the club should another striker be brought in.
Jack Wilshere (77th) – 7/10 – He made a couple of impressive, determined runs through the midfield, and will think himself unlucky not to have started. A summer of rest is on the cards so he can be fit and firing come next season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (90th) – 7.5/10 – He didn’t see much of the ball, but got himself an assist in only three minutes of action. He will be glad to have gotten a late run-out.