LONDON (AFP) - Arsenal retained the FA Cup in majestic style as their 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa in Saturday’s final made history for the Gunners and their manager Arsene Wenger.
Wenger’s side swept Villa aside with a swashbuckling display sparked by Theo Walcott’s first half opener and illuminated by a sublime strike from Alexis Sanchez to double their lead after the interval.
Per Mertesacker and substitute Olivier Giroud also got on the scoresheet for the rampant north Londoners to seal Arsenal’s second trophy in 12 months with the biggest margin of victory in an FA Cup final since 1994.
It was a suitably memorable performance on a historic day which saw Wenger become the first manager in the post-War period to win the competition six times, a tally matched by only George Ramsey, who won the last of his with Villa in 1920.
There was another significant slice of history for Arsenal as they lifted the famous old trophy for the 12th time, moving them ahead of Manchester United as the most successful club in the competition.
Wenger insisted this week that he doesn’t know where he keeps his medals, but he now has a ninth major honour of his 19-year reign at Arsenal to add to the collection.
Arsenal had conceded twice in a disastrous opening eight minutes against Hull in last year’s final.
But there was no sign of such a fraught start this time as Arsenal quickly established their smooth passing rhythm to pen Villa deep inside their own half.
Sanchez was at the heart of all their best moments and he worked space to clip a cross towards Laurent Koscielny, whose header forced a fine one-handed save from Shay Given.
Aaron Ramsey should have scored when a fortunate deflection presented him with a clear sight of goal just inside the penalty area, yet the Arsenal midfielder couldn’t hit the target with a rushed effort.
Villa, appearing in their first FA Cup final since 2000, seemed completely bewildered by the speed and movement of Arsenal’s attacks.
They were prised open when Mesut Ozil’s ball in the six-yard box was met by Walcott with a lunging volley that looked goalbound until Kieran Richardson threw himself into a last-ditch block.
- Inspired switch -
Walcott had been preferred to Giroud in the central striker’s role that he has spent years telling Wenger he could thrive in, but the Arsenal boss responded to that miss by shifting the winger to the left flank and moving Sanchez into the middle.
It proved an inspired switch as the pair combined to break the deadlock in the 40th minute.
Once again, a blur of Arsenal passes went unchecked by the bedraggled Villa rearguard before Nacho Monreal lofted a cross that was bravely headed back across goal by Sanchez.
With Villa’s defenders too slow to react to the danger, Walcott pounced, arriving unmarked from the left to lash a ferocious left-foot shot past Given.
Walcott’s seventh goal of an injury-ruined season was no more than Arsenal deserved and, with their confidence now sky-high, they took just five minutes after half-time to press home their advantage.
While Walcott has been a bit-part player for most of the campaign, Sanchez has established himself as Arsenal’s creative fulcrum in the nine months since he arrived from Barcelona and he capped his debut season with a stunning effort in the 50th minute.
Seizing possession in a wide position 25 yards from goal, a typically deft drop of the shoulder send two Villa defenders the wrong way, buying time and space for Sanchez to unleash a superb, swerving shot that flashed over the flat-footed Given into the roof of the net.
Villa, so vibrant since Tim Sherwood took over late in the season, looked traumatised by Arsenal’s scintillating display.
Mertesacker compounded their misery in the 62nd minute when the Gunners defender guided a corner into the net via his shoulder before Giroud’s clever flicked finish in stoppage-time underlines the class divide between the teams.