It's been a couple of rough weeks for Aston Villa. Losing two games in terrible fashion wasn't the way anyone wanted to end league portion of the campaign with a massive match on the horizon. Avoiding relegation was important because it was the only thing that really mattered this year. Sure we all saw the FA Cup as a bonus this year. Now that it's drawn closer, Villa fans would be heartbroken if Tim Sherwood returns to B6 without a shiny new piece of silverware.
Therefore, Sherwood needs to change his tactic. Jores Okore will miss the match. Even with the Dane's good speed, Villa's backline has been suicidally high lately. Against Southampton it was exposed. Badly.
The last week of the year is a bad indicator of form when both teams' futures have been decided. A cup final is a totally different atmosphere. Arsenal are much better than Southampton, and when Villa played the Saints, they were still playing for their Premier League future.
It worked against Liverpool, but against Southampton the high backline failed miserably. Arsenal's top player in the 4-1 rout of the Baggies? Theo Walcott. A man as pacy as Gabby Agbonlahor, Walcott is a great player when healthy. The Englishman was joined in attack by Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez. That's a trio that would strike fear in the best defenders across the continent. Olivier Giroud offers a different type of player that Arsène Wenger could utilise.
Either way, anyone supporting the Claret and Blues will be hoping Brad Guzan is back to his best. Benched after the worst error of his career against Manchester City, Brad may wind up getting to play in the final after all -- despite Shay Given doing the goalkeeping during the cup. We all know how frustrating it was for Guzan to miss out last time, and understandably so.
Where is Matt Lowton? The player won the penalty that changed the season in Sherwood's first victory with the club. Draw that game, and Villa might have been relegated. He's very right-footed, but was supplying quality balls from the left wing. A new left back should be the top transfer priority, but Timmy needs to work with what's available. Kieran Richardson was playing in that position when Villa were winning. If it's best for team chemistry, put him in. Lowton hasn't even been in the squad, so he seems unlikely to play. Could it be Alan Hutton again?
He was an early candidate for Aston Villa Player of the Season, but Hutton's year has quickly gone downhill. After missing three matches with injury, he was part of the side that leaked six to Ronald Koeman's Saints. Leandro Bacuna has been playing there as of late, and will most likely continue to do so.
So Nathan Baker partners Vlaar in defence, and we pray he doesn't get injured. If somebody goes down in central defence, expect to see Carlos Sánchez come in. Midfield will be where this match is won. Everyone must make smart passes and avoid turning the ball over in the wrong areas of the pitch.
The trio of Ashley Westwood, Tom Cleverley and Fabian Delph is really looking like a great building block for the club. Add in Jack Grealish playing behind two strikers, and you've got England's midfield at the 2018 World Cup. But should Sherwood use both Benteke and Agbonlahor up top, his midfield may be overwhelmed.
At times, Arsenal's passing can be mesmerising. Some games, they struggle to put moves of more than five passes together. Often times the crowd at the Emirates Stadium can become frustrated with the team and turn against it. But, with each team only receiving an allocation of 22,500 tickets, don't expect to hear too much from the Gooners in attendance. I bring this up because last year, Arsenal were rattled coming out of the blocks. Hull City scored twice in the opening eight minutes. But, Wenger's men kept their cool and were able to overcome the deficit and eventually win after extra time 3-2.
Here's to hoping that Sherwood's men can either score more than the Tigers, or find a way to park the bus.
David Ospina; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Gabriel Paulista, Kieran Gibbs; Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez; Olivier Giroud.
Aston Villa (4-3-2-1):
Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker, Kieran Richardson; Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Charles N'Zogbia, Jack Grealish; Christian Benteke.
Throughout the FA Cup final week, we're raising money for the Villa Rockets Powerchair Football club. With your help we can reach £5,000 and get them a new powerchair! Read about the club and our effort here, or simply click here to donate and help us reach our goal! And remember, if you donate any amount, you can enter to win a free Fabian Delph t-shirt from The Art of Football!