FA Cup final: five key player battles between Arsenal and Aston Villa
The eagerly anticipated FA Cup final showdown between holders Arsenal and plucky underdogs Aston Villa (11/2 with Coral to win over 90 minutes) is now tantalisingly close.
So, with that in mind, as part of our countdown to the sensational showpiece, Coral experts cast an eye over five potential key player battles that could shape the world’s most beloved cup final.
Here are the head-to-heads we reckon could turn the clash…
Wojciech Szczesny v Christian Benteke
Polish custodian Szczesny, relegated to being a cup keeper with Arsenal favouring David Ospina for league exploits of late, will surely find his big-game mettle tested by in-form forward Christian Benteke.
The powerful Belgian frontman needs only a sniff of goal to punish opponents and, having struck 11 in as many of his last games, is a tempting 15/8 to find a way through the Gunners’ defences. Such an illustrious final is a fantastic way for the striker to put himself in the shop window, so the sometimes shaky Szczesny (21/20 to keep what would be a ninth clean sheet across all competitions this season) must stand tall, especially at set pieces.
Hector Bellerin v Jack Grealish
Young Grealish has been a revelation recently, and it is partly due to the youngster’s brave and daring performance on the Wembley semi-final stage against Liverpool, that Villa are now challenging Arsenal for their crown.
With England boss Roy Hodgson undoubtedly watching, the tricky talent will be aiming to impress in the most important duel of his career to date, but will face another highly-rated Spanish starlet in Bellerin.
The flying full back has pace to burn and, having kept more high-profile names in his pocket this campaign, to successfully secure the full back berth, will not expect to be phased by Grealish’s guile.
Aaron Ramsey v Fabian Delph
Ramsey’s dramatic goal famously won the FA Cup for the Gunners against Hull City, and the Welshman with the wicked shot is 13/2 to close the scoring again against the Villans, though Delph will be doing his best to shackle the all-action midfield man.
This clash in the middle of the park could be the most crucial, as Delph (8/1 in the anytime market), likely playing just ahead of partner Ashley Westwood, has been the driving force in Villa’s engine room and provides significant attacking threat himself, with well-timed runs from deep.
Alexis Sanchez v Leandro Bacuna
Flying Dutchman Bacuna has impressed under Tim Sherwood as a right back, but it is not the 23-year-old’s natural position. Often a force going forward, Bacuna will have to focus more on defensive duties if he is to contend with the scintillating Sanchez.
The tenacious Chile international could well have a field day, with his threat likely to keep Bacuna pegged back. Will Sherwood be brave and urge the young-gun to attack anyway?
As Coral experts contemplated, Walcott (11/2 to fire home first) could have earned a starting spot at Wembley following his tremendous hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion.
Should he spearhead the Gunners’ assault, Vlaar, not known for his searing pace, could find himself in trouble after somewhat of a subpar season. Still, the Dutch defender has big-game experience in spades and knows how to step up and be strong when it counts.