IT’S THE type of game that players remember most once they retire; a chance to make a name for yourself; the final game of the season and a final push. It might be less of a priority nowadays but the FA Cup final remains a magnificent match to be involved in.
Big teams start to get excited around the quarter-final stage, when you think just two or three more wins will have you lifting the cup at Wembley. That intensifies in the days leading up to the final, when the world’s media converge for a fixture that has no equal globally.
It’s also all the little frills that make it a special week for a player: getting the suit fitted; trying to cater for all your friends’ ticket demands when you only have a small allocation; even the once-obligatory song, which I had to perform with the Everton squad on Wogan.
I played in and won an FA Cup final in 1984, when I was just 20. It was incredible for me at that age and I vividly recall the old Wembley being full of 100,000 supporters, mostly standing, and the long walk from the tunnel to the pitch; all the things I’d grown up watching on TV.
I ended up losing three other cup finals but that first one, in which Everton beat Watford 2-0, helped to launch my career. My performance was well received and made a lot of people aware of me. It was a big step for me and it could be for someone else on Saturday.
Both Arsenal and Aston Villa’s players will be feeling good going into this game, albeit for different reasons, so I expect an open game and not a contest dominated by one team.
The Gunners have had a strong season, culminating in automatic qualification for the Champions League – a big deal – and a better Premier League finish than last year. They’ve also done it all in impressive style.
Villa have had two bad results in succession but will have been delighted to have avoided relegation. Yes, they are inconsistent – that’s why they’re near the bottom of the table – but have shown enough in recent months, notably that semi-final win over Liverpool, to feel confident.
This is not David and Goliath. By rights, Villa really ought to be halfway up the top flight if you consider their players, and in the latter part of the season, under new manager Tim Sherwood, they showed they can perform at that level.
Villa’s hopes of threatening Arsenal rest on ensuring they get enough of the ball. If they do, the likes of Jack Grealish, Fabian Delph, Scott Sinclair and Christian Benteke have the pace, running power and directness to trouble a Gunners defence that can be slow to turn.
Arsenal finished the league season with a flourish, beating West Brom 4-1, and the hat-trick scored by Theo Walcott was a huge boost for Arsene Wenger. If I was the boss I’d pick Walcott over regular striker Olivier Giroud as he’s fresh, confident and has good Wembley experience.
The north Londoners should win. They beat Villa 3-0 and 5-0 this term, and Wenger will be desperate to cement their progress by retaining the trophy. But they showed against Monaco in Europe how badly they can slip up, and Villa are very capable of taking advantage.
Trevor Steven is a former England international who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator.