By Augustine A.
Arsenal’s defenders will have sleepless nights about facing Christian Benteke in the FA Cup final and should prepare to be bullied – that is the verdict of Aston Villa’s Ashley Westwood, who is confident Tim Sherwood’s side can spring another surprise at Wembley.
The bookmakers had Villa down as 5-1 outsiders to beat Liverpool in the semi-final but they were outstanding on the day and went on to reach their first FA Cup final in 15 years after outplaying Brendan Rodgers’ side. Few, however, expect Villa to triumph again – their odds have lengthened for the final, making Arsenaloverwhelming favourites to retain the trophy.
Westwood respects Arsenal and described the holders as the best footballing team in the Premier League. But the former Crewe midfielder also believes there is enough attacking talent within Villa’s ranks to cause an upset. Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley and Jack Grealish have all caught the eye over the final couple of months of the season but it is Benteke who carries the greatest threat for Villa.
The Belgium international finished the campaign with 12 goals in his last 12 games for the club and Arsène Wenger will need no reminding that the striker has caused Arsenal problems in the past, scoring three times against them last season. Villa’s hopes could well hinge on whether the 24-year-old is able to reproduce his best form at Wembley.
Westwood said: “We believe [we can do it all over again]. We’ve got a real good team in there, the last two results have been poor [defeats against Southampton and QPR] but we’ll bounce back, I’m sure. We know how good we are. If we play like we can do, then we can match anyone. The pace we’ve got in our team is frightening, the likes of Fab breaking from midfield, Clevs is adding goals to his game now, I’m sure Arsenal will be wary of that, and Christian is a real handful for anyone.
“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. But 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.”
Grealish offers an entirely different attacking outlet. The 19-year-old has been a revelation under Sherwood, who has deployed him as a No10 behind Benteke and has encouraged the teenager to express himself. “He brings something different to the team, the way he plays with his socks at half mast. He plays it like he’s in the streets and that’s why he’s a special talent,” Westwood said.
Arsene Wenger speaking on the clash
“In that FA Cup semi-final the whole world was watching him and I thought he was man of the match that day. For a 19-year-old lad to do that just shows what character and ability he’s got. He’s got the world at his feet and, if he can keep playing like that, he can go anywhere. He’s a great lad and I’m sure he could be our matchwinner.”