FA Cup final: Villa duo Sherwood and Benteke out to stop Arsenal
Holders Arsenal have beaten 2015 FA Cup final opponents Aston Villa by an aggregate scoreline of 8-0 from their two Premier League meetings, so it’s hardly surprising to learn Coral make them odds-on 3/10 favourites to retain the trophy and 8/15 to win in 90 minutes.
Former Spurs head coach Tim Sherwood was not in charge of the Villans (9/4 to lift the cup) for either of those encounters, though, and the West Midlands outfit have cause for optimism again under his refreshing management.
Upsetting Liverpool in the semi-finals also held at Wembley notwithstanding, Villa are 11/2 outsiders to stun the Gunners and win in normal time. A draw at 3/1, meanwhile, will mean extra time (Arsenal 8/1 for victory there and 20/1 to lose it in 120 minutes) and possibly penalties (both clubs rated equal 14/1 shots for spot kick shoot-out glory).
We’ll come to the plethora of guileful Gunners that have queued up to score against the Villans already this season later, but there is one player opposing these firm favourites who is bang in-form.
Christian Benteke has scored a dozen goals in as many outings prior to this year’s FA Cup final, and Ashley Westwood – another who signed for Villa on the same day as the big Belgian frontman – thinks this return to his lethal best is cause for concern.
“I’m sure they’ll be having sleepless nights about him,” said Westwood, a Wembley winner in the League Two play-off final with Crewe Alexandra three years ago, in regard to Arsenal’s back four and Benteke.
“Christian is a real handful for anyone. He’s back to his best now, bullying defenders. They won’t want to play against him.
“I think he’s back to full fitness now. He was struggling with his Achilles early on and people didn’t see that, they just expected him to walk back in and fire in the goals.”
Rejuvenated Benteke is a 15/8 anytime chance, but if he’s worth backing then it’s surely to score net and Villa to be victorious. Coral can oblige here by offering punters a tasty 10/1 enhanced matchday special wincast with Sherwood’s side doing the business in 90 minutes and his star striker scoring (max stake £20).
If the prospect of being up to £200 better off doesn’t appeal, then there’s the safer anytime price outlined above, or odds of 13/2 for Benteke to grab the opener.
Other Villa threats could be on-loan Tom Cleverley, who has finally figured out where the goal is. He is a 6/1 anytime chance alongside now permanent acquisition Scott Sinclair, who once hit a Wembley hat-trick in the Championship play-off final.
Sherwood’s joker in the pack is young talent Jack Grealish. When taking to this hallowed turf in the semis, the occasion did the exact opposite of overawe this teenager, whose international future remains unresolved.
Grealish, a 5/1 anytime shout here, relished running at Liverpool, and his head-to-head up against Spanish starlet Hector Bellerin is undoubtedly one of this year’s FA Cup final key battles.
For all the precocious and exuberant youth on show in Villans ranks, the Gunners know they can win this cup at Wembley, but came from behind to nick it in extra time against Hull City last season.
This makes a unique 5/1 special on Arsenal going behind in 90 minutes but to lift the trophy once more (again max stake £20) an intriguing punt to consider. Another in this category is backing both Benteke and Olivier Giroud to net in normal time at a superb 7/1.
France centre forward Giroud has three in as many matches against Villa, and is thus an even-money anytime chance. Theo Walcott gave Gunners gaffer Arsene Wenger something to think about when selecting the striker spot for this encounter, after he hit a hat-trick on the final day of the Premier League season against West Bromwich Albion.
While another treble is a fanciful 28/1 chance, Walcott, who has in his previous five fixtures when facing the Villans, is well worth considering at safer odds of 8/1 for two goals or more, because his searing pace may given Ron Vlaar and company problems.
Alexis Sanchez, like Benteke, features in a 90 minutes wincast, enhanced to 5/2 (once again max stake of £20), and is yet another attacking problem for Sherwood to solve with makeshift full back Leandro Bacuna looking vulnerable.
Goals from midfield are always possible with Arsenal, and their own best of British duo Aaron Ramsey (15/8 anytime) and Jack Wilshere (superb at 5/1 after his stunning strike against the Baggies last time out) may be prudent punts.
For once, though, nobody can be on Mesut Ozil’s back. The criticism of this World Cup winner, with his native Germany last summer, is he doesn’t score enough. Ozil has netted both home and away against the Villans, so is an awesome shout at 11/4 to do so again anytime.
Like Ramsey, who grabbed the winner in last year’s final, Santi Cazorla has already had a major impact at Wembley for Arsenal before. The Spaniard is a tasty 10/3 to take another chance here.
Coral betting tip: Backing Arsenal to come from behind to scoop silverware at 5/1 (max stake £20) looks a fascinating prospect for punters!