Is the forthcoming FA Cup final quite as much of a foregone conclusion as the bookmakers would suggest?
Well … maybe. The famous “bloke in the pub” will tell you earnestly how the FA Cup final often goes to the underdogs. And as he’s telling you this, he’ll cite examples from history like Sunderland’s defeat of the high-flying Leeds United in 1973, Southampton’s win over Manchester United three years later – or Wigan’s victory over Manchester City just two years ago.
The problem with this kind of snapshot analysis is that it doesn’t bear statistical analysis. The truth is that over the last couple of decades or so, Wigan’s win over City (in the same season in which they were relegated from the Premier League) was anomalous. In fact, the favourites have almost always won over the last 20 years or so.
It’s a similar (but not quite the same…) story with League Cup betting where, for instance, Chelsea were favourites (according to bookmakers such as Ladbrokes) and confirmed that status with a relatively straightforward win over Spurs this year. When Birmingham beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final that result, like Wigan’s in the FA Cup, was somewhat anomalous. In short, the favourites usually win.
What’s more, from the last 20 FA Cup competitions, 17 have been won by one of the current big five of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal. So, history strongly suggests that Arsenal will have a fairly easy ride of things over Aston Villa on May 30th. But not so fast, as they say. What about this actual game as a one-off, ignoring all the baggage of history?
Well, the league table does not help the case for the defence very much at all. Villa missed relegation, eventually, by just one place and the jury remains out on their still relatively new boss, Tim Sherwood.
The former Spurs and Blackburn Rovers player steadied the ship at White Hart Lane last season and did much to ensure Villa’s survival this season. And he’s also secured some unlikely victories whilst steering the Villa Park outfit – most notably winning away at Spurs. This victory must have been a particularly sweet one for Sherwood, who felt he deserved the top job at Spurs on a permanent basis after a good performance last season.
So, whilst we’re all still unsure about his long-term abilities as a top Premier League manager, it’s clear that Sherwood can get his side pumped up for the big occasion and the FA Cup final is just about the biggest occasion of them all on British soil. And, in the shape of Christian Benteke, Villa have a player who can turn a game.
All in all, though, Arsenal will surely be far too strong for a Villa side that has failed to sparkle outside this particular competition and with only one really great result since Sherwood’s tenure began. Arsenal will win this at a relative stroll.