FA Cup final: Can Arsenal take the next step?

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Watch Highlights of Arsenal victory in FA Cup final

Arsenal's players and manager Arsene Wenger had barely started their FA Cup final victory celebrations when the focus turned to next season.

The Gunners had retained the FA Cup after a 4-0 win over Aston Villa with a performance at Wembley that was as consummate, impressive and as dominant as that emphatic scoreline suggests.

Wenger secured a record-equalling sixth FA Cup win - making him the most successful manager in the competition's history alongside George Ramsay, who recorded his triumphs for Aston Villa between 1887 and 1920.

And it was also a record-breaking 12th win for Arsenal as they retained the trophy won against Hull City at Wembley a year ago.

So can this increasingly impressive Arsenal side take another significant step and bring the Premier League title back to the club for the first time since 2003/2004 next season?

Can Arsenal now walk the title walk?

Wenger has always been the eternal optimist about Arsenal's title ambitions, even in the darkest hours when they were left in the slipstream of the likes of champions Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

Now, with successive FA Cup triumphs to build on and a third-placed finish in the Premier League, Wembley was awash with Arsenal players almost forming an orderly queue to talk up their title credentials for next season.

So will they finally bridge the gap, build on the promise of this season, and deliver a sustained challenge to those they have been unable to overcome in the last decade?

Arsenal lift FA Cup for twelfth time

Wenger said: "Of course I think we can push on. Why not? I feel we have made progress since the start of the season in the way we play, the way we manage our games and in our certainty about our football. We have finished third, won the FA Cup and since January we have had a huge amount of points. It's a good platform to do better next season."

And Wenger's players were all on the same page as goalscorer Theo Walcott said: "We just need to start well in the Premier League next year. This is one of the best squads we have had at Arsenal so we should be achieving more. That's two FA Cup wins so the Premier League has to be the next target for us."

There was even an optimistic message from an outsider as Phil Neville, who was at Wembley to watch Arsenal's win, tipped them to rival Chelsea next season.

He said: "This is a better Arsenal side - from Christmas onwards they were probably the best team in the Premier League. I expect them to strengthen over summer and if they do that in the right areas then I expect them to challenge Chelsea next season."

The key to progress is for Arsenal to show the sort of consistency they have demonstrated since the turn of the year but they may also require work in the summer transfer market. Their rivals will not stand still waiting for them to catch up when it comes to making big buys.

Has Arsenal's season been a success?

Silverware equals success so the answer has to be yes - even in the absence of a serious title challenge.

Wenger has been accused of a reluctance to spend big in the past but, in one moment of brilliance at Wembley Alexis Sanchez, as he has proved all season, demonstrated that you get what you pay for with one of the FA Cup final's great goals, a swerving, dipping piece of magic that effectively sealed the win with Arsenal's second goal.

Arsenal's fans may not universally hold the view of this season being a successful one given that this is a club built on Premier League successes in the early years of Wenger's reign. But there is no doubt there is enough quality contained within Arsenal's current squad to form the basis of a more serious title tilt next term.

Sanchez's FA Cup final screamer

Sanchez provides star quality while Walcott once more demonstrated he has the pace to provide flourishes to the biggest occasion. The best is yet to come from the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, all still relatively youthful and still developing.

Wenger also has the ability to be fluid in his strategy, as he proved so successfully by deploying the pace of Walcott as opposed to the power and strength of Olivier Giroud at Wembley, a tactical masterstroke that played such a big part in undermining Villa.

And some vital signs bode well as they suggest this modern Arsenal team is coming to terms with the challenges presented by their closest rivals.

They won at Manchester City in the Premier League, beat Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford and thrashed Liverpool 4-1 at Emirates Stadium.

The manner in which they carried the mantle of favourites with such ease to overwhelm Villa hinted further at a growing stature and a team that now feels more comfortable in its own skin.

The foundations are in place but the league table suggests more work is needed before those Arsenal supporters craving the return of the Premier League crown to Emirates Stadium can be satisfied.

Ramsey said: "Winning back-to-back FA Cups is not an easy thing to do but we have done it. Now we can look forward to next season, kick on and give it a real go in the Premier League."

How should Wenger look to strengthen?

Key areas still need to be addressed, despite the fact that plenty of the pieces are now in place to take Arsenal forward.

Wenger's switching between goalkeepers Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina is an illustration that both fall just short of that top-class required for a side wanting to win titles.

The obvious choice to solve this problem would appear to be Chelsea's Petr Cech, who looks certain to leave Stamford Bridge and would be an outstanding signing.

Arsenal were never troubled by Villa's main threat Christian Benteke at Wembley as Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker had a comfortable 90 minutes, the latter even getting on the scoresheet.

There is still an air of vulnerability against top class strikers and while Wenger will hope £11.2m signing from Villarreal Gabriel Paulista steps up next season, he may feel he needs further reinforcements.

FA Cup final: Arsenal players target league title next

Francis Coquelin has been a revelation but, to make that title challenge, Arsenal need to add another central midfield player of power, presence and quality to augment the gifts of Wilshere, Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and the enigmatic Mesut Ozil.

Wenger played the straight bat to further questions about Juventus's Chilean midfield man Arturo Vidal after the FA Cup final win - but he looks the sort of uncompromising, combative, quality player who would fit the bill perfectly and he may be keen to join his fellow countryman Sanchez in the capital.

Giroud was on the mark again as a substitute but he is still questioned by many Arsenal fans on the basis that they feel he does not make an impact against defenders of the highest quality.

Will Wenger, buoyed by the success of the gem that is Sanchez, be tempted to add another X Factor?

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling has been mentioned but is he too much in the mould of Walcott, Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain? And too rich at the sort of price Liverpool may ask?

Arsenal's rivals will be making stellar additions. Wenger will not want to be left behind.

Has Wenger won over the doubters?

Wenger enjoyed every second of the post-match Wembley celebrations - and deservedly so on a day when he got his tactics and team selection bang on to set up his team for one of the most emphatic FA Cup final victories of the modern era.

It was a love-in as he stood arms raised in front of thousands of joyous Arsenal fans to take the acclaim amid the glow of victory.

So, for now, the doubters can put their concerns to one side and unite with a manager who had delivered his sixth FA Cup to add to three Premier League titles. Wenger added to his Arsenal legacy.

Wenger probably knows he will only wipe away the lingering questions from those who believe he has had his time with a Premier League title win, but this was a time to deal in the present.

There are only three domestic trophies up for grabs and Wenger has again claimed one of them.

The doubters will only be convinced by the title triumph but for now one of the most respected and successful managers the British game has known deserved to bask in his latest success.

Arsenal's win in numbers
12 - Arsenal moved one win ahead of Manchester United to become the club with the most FA Cup final victories.
6 - Arsene Wenger is the first post-war manager to win the FA Cup six times.
4 - The Gunners have joined Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham in retaining the FA Cup on multiple occasions.
2 - Aston Villa mustered just two shots in the entire game and both were blocked. Arsenal had 16 shots.
13 - This is only the 13th time that a team has scored four or more goals in an FA Cup final.
2 - Alexis Sanchez is only the second Chilean to score in the FA Cup final.
100 - Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla was the only player in the final to have 100 touches.


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.


Top Stories