Arsenal and Aston Villa face off this Saturday evening in the 134th FA Cup final, with the Gunners aiming to become the competition's record winners, whilst the Villains look to end an almost 20 year wait for trophy success.
England's oldest and most traditional cup competition will be contested by two of English football's most prestigious clubs in this years' showpiece and season ending event. Arsenal, with 11 FA Cup triumphs to date alongside Manchester United, can stand alone on 12 as the competitions record winners with victory this weekend, whilst Aston Villa could register a first FA Cup title since their last, 58 years ago.
The North London and West Midlands outfits break new ground with this final clash, as the furthest the two sides have met previously in the competition is at the quarter-final stages, with the Gunners leading the clubs' FA Cup history by seven wins to the Villains' three.
Arsene Wenger will be aiming to secure his sixth FA Cup success within his tenure in North London, and has guided his team to automatic Champions League qualification through the Premier League, as the Gunners now look to retain the crown they won last season, following a pulsating 3-2 victory over Hull City after extra-time; a result which ended a nine year trophy drought.
Boss, Wenger, spoke earlier in the week, highlighting that although a huge weight was lifted off the club just over a year ago, the pressure remains high for the North Londoners to succeed this weekend; the Frenchman said; “I cannot measure the pressure on me, but personally I am always the same when I go to big game like this - I just want to do it.
“Maybe last year the expectation level was more demanding - the demand was absolute last year. But we have our own demands inside the group here and we have high expectation for our game on Saturday and we want to do it.”
Recently installed Aston Villa boss, Tim Sherwood, has reinvigorated the Midlands club after Paul Lamberts' tenure came to a stagnate and ineffective end, and with a relegation fight safely negotiated, the Villains can kick start a new era at the club with a first trophy since their 2-1, League Cup victory against Manchester United in 1996 at the old Wembley.
The new Wembley will play host to Arsenal for a seventh time since its construction, as Aston Villa appear at the new home of England international football for a third time. The Gunners, after FA Cup semi-final and League Cup final losses, are on a four-game winning run at the modern Wembley, as Villa look for their first success at the capitals premier stadium, with likewise FA Cup semi-final and League Cup final defeats since its opening in 2007.
The Gunners come into the weekend's final on the back of a thumping victory against fellow West Midlands outfit, West Bromwich Albion. A Theo Walcott hat-trick and Jack Wilshere's goal-of-the-season strike ensured Arsenal diminished recent non-scoring worries although, with only two league victories in their last six, the North Londoners will need to restore form of nine consecutive wins throughout March and April.
Aston Villa head into Saturday's season finale in less than ideal form, following a crushing 6-1 loss at Southampton, and last weekend's defeat at Villa Park to already relegated, Burnley. Having won four of five, including their FA Cup semi-final, before their latest double of defeats, the Villains may well point to having their minds already on this weekend's showpiece event, with Premier League survival all but assured a fortnight ago.
After opening their FA Cup quest in a rematch of last season’s final against Hull, the Gunners progressed past Championship sides Brighton & Hove Albion and Middlesbrough before their standout performance in this year’s competition.
The North Londoners had an unenviable trip to Old Trafford at the quarter-final stage, however an impressive performance and goals through Nacho Monreal and, fittingly, Danny Welbeck, secured a 2-1 win and a fourth trip to Wembley in a year for a semi-final against Championship outfit, Reading.
For the second year in a row Arsenal made the most of a semi-final tie against lower league opposition, as a resolute Royals side took the Gunners all the way to extra-time, where 'keeper Adam Federici desperately watched an Alexis Sanchez effort slip agonisingly into his net, resulting in a 2-1 victory for the Wenger's team.
The Villains first jaunt away from Birmingham en route to the weekend's final was last month’s trip to Wembley against Liverpool in their semi-final.
Championship sides at the time, Blackpool and Bournemouth, and then Midlands Premier League rivals, Leicester City and West Brom, were despatched at Villa Park, as they headed to North London as underdogs against Brendan Rodgers' Reds.
Predictably the Merseysiders shot ahead through Phillipe Coutinho, however a more determined Villa side, under the stewardship of Sherwood, flipped the script and goals through Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph ensured a first FA Cup final in 15 years for the Claret and Blues.
Benteke will lead the line for Aston Villa on Saturday and, with 12 goals in his last 12 games, the Villains' top-scorer on 15, will likely cause the Gunners defence problems at Wembley like he has in previously. Teammate, Ashley Westwood, spoke earlier in the week about how he expects the Belgium international to trouble the North Londoners backline.
The midfielder said; "he's back to his best now, bullying defenders and I'm sure they'll have sleepless nights, they won't want to be playing against him.
"We know how good we are, if we play like we can do we can match anyone. We've got internationals throughout the team, Fabs (Fabian Delph) and Clevs (Tom Cleverley) are on form, Christian is a real handful for anyone, I'm sure they'll be having sleepless nights about him."
Elsewhere going forward in Sherwood's team, Scott Sinclair, who made his loan deal permanent last week, may start having scored twice for Villa on their road to the final, as the former Swansea and Manchester City wingman looks to restore form of old. Exciting youngster, Jack Grealish, could also get the nod in the starting XI as a potential wildcard to threaten the North Londoners defence of their crown.
England international, Delph, will look to support his side at either end, as the Midlands outfit will need to improve on recent defensive displays against an imposing Arsenal frontline.
Brad Guzan could find him himself restored between the sticks for Villa if Shay Given is unable to shake off a recent groin injury, whilst rumoured transfer-target, Ron Vlaar and either, Nathan Baker or Jores Okore, will be tasked with stifling the Gunners attacking threats at the heart of the Villains defence.
Arsenal boss, Wenger, will have to continue without Danny Welbeck, for the season ender this weekend, as the quarter-final hero remains troubled through injury. However, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all available once again, although unlikely to start due to match fitness.
Polish 'keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, may well be making his final appearance for the Gunners as he will continue his status as 'cup goalkeeper', whilst Monreal and Laurent Koscielny, after being rested last weekend, will likely return to a familiar backline at present, including captain, Per Mertesacker and young Spaniard, Hector Bellerin.
Englishmen Walcott and Wilshere did themselves no harm in Arsenal's previous fixture against West Brom with impressive displays, however Wenger could continue to employ them from the bench and stay loyal to 18 goal, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla given their form over the whole season.
Top FA Cup scorer, with three, and overall scorer, on 24, Alexis will undoubtedly be the Gunners' go-to man, as the Chilean looks to cap off a wonderful debut season in North London with a first winners medal.
Elsewhere in the Arsenal side and, also following rest last Sunday, Francis Coquelin will provide the protection in front of the North Londoners back four, whilst Aaron Ramsey should return to the starting XI, hoping to revive memories of his cup winner a year ago.
The Gunners will be buoyed by their previous two league fixtures against the Claret and Blues this season, having scored eight and conceded none in the corresponding ties at Villa Park and the Emirates Stadium.
Back in September a four minute trio from Mesut Ozil, Welbeck and an Aly Cissokho own-goal, secured a 3-0 victory for Wenger’s side at Villa Park, whilst in February at the Emirates, the North Londoners succeeded with a dominant 5-0 win, courtesy of goals from Giroud, Ozil, Walcott, Cazorla and Bellerin. However, Aston Villa were under the guidance of former boss, Lambert, for either encounter and have proven stiffer competition since former Tottenham boss, Tim Sherwood’s, appointment.
Saturday’s cup final will be just a third meeting between the two, ascending order friendly sides, in just over 30 years in the FA Cup, and the last time they faced each other in the competition was at the fourth round stage over three years ago.
Having lost only once at the Emirates Stadium since its opening almost five and a half years previous, the West Midlands outfit found themselves ahead again, racing into a two goal lead thanks to Richard Dunne and Darren Bent. However, Arsenal staged a winning comeback through a Robin van Persie penalty double and Walcott effort, resulting in a 3-2 Gunners win; a result which the North Londoners are well versed with in this competition.
The 2015 FA Cup final promises to be another pulsating affair with Aston Villa having the added incentive of Europa League qualification with a, 19-year wait, trophy win, however with Arsenal themselves ending a trophy drought a year ago, the Gunners will be determined to maintain a fruitful spell of success and write themselves into FA Cup folklore.