As the FA Cup semi-finals were drawn immediately after Arsenal’s excellent 2-1 victory away against Manchester United, things went from great to perfect for the current holders as they were drawn to face either League One Bradford or Championship side Reading at Wembley in the cup’s semi-finals stage.
A rather disappointing quarter-finals round only produced five goals between all four games in comparison to last year’s 13 goal tally at the same stage, however this time around saw Liverpool agonisingly held to a goalless draw by Blackburn Rovers and also Reading and Bradford played out a 0-0 stalemate which will see the two ties host replay matches.
The goals of the round came as Aston Villa dumped their Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion out of the cup with a deserved 2-0 victory and also Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford leaving United on course to finish the season without a trophy.
Arsenal – The deserved favourites
The Gunners are favourites to retain the trophy at this stage of the competition as the draw massively favoured them and slashed their odds, Arsenal have been challenged so far as they only just edged through against United and also in the fourth round the 3-2 win against Brighton sparked some fear throughout the Gunners squad, however cruising through with 2-0 wins against both Hull and Middlesbrough, they are rightly deserved of a place in the Semis.
Arsenal are likely to be knocked out the Champions League after suffering a heavy defeat to Monaco, so they could take their revenge out on Reading/Bradford depending on who wins the replay as Arsene Wenger’s men know the FA Cup is realistically their only chance of winning a trophy this season.
The depth in the Arsenal squad allows them to constantly rotate their squad and the amount of players they’ve had thrive this season is one which will leave the squad fighting to start in the FA Cup semi-final tie, Alexis Sanchez has been phenomenal for the Gunners scoring 19 goals in all competitions so far. Since returning French international Oliver Giroud has netted 13 times and is giving Sanchez a run for his money, however it seems to be Danny Welbeck who could lead the attack up front in the next round, the ex United forward was started by Wenger to face his former club and did he silence his old side? Yes, yes he did. Welbeck scored the winning goal to knock the club he struggled at out of the competition and ultimately, leave his side as favourites.
To retain the FA Cup will be the only silverware that Wenger can produce this season, his side are in a real tough fight to secure a top four spot with the places still being fought by themselves, United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton but another cup win will maintain the backing of the fans which is what at this stage Arsenal need as a club.
Aston Villa – The dark-horses
Aston Villa are the only other side who have secured their semi-finals spot after a huge win for the club who have struggled to find consistent form since the turn of the year, Villa secured a double delight over their rivals beating them both in the Premier League and the FA Cup in the space of just five days, the 2-0 cup win was huge for the fans and the club which caused a pitch invasion to show their delight.
Villa’s league from has been overlooked by their exceptional cup form, they’ve cruised past Championship strugglers Blackpool and Championship high-flyers Bournemouth before dumping out Leicester in February.
However, the win that has secured Tim Sherwood’s side a place at Wembley was the most important, the heart of the Villa players showed as they never stopped fighting against Baggies, stepping in as captain Fabian Delph put Villa ahead before ex-Baggies loanee Scott Sinclair finished the job for Villa. The struggle for Villa now is their league position, sitting dangerously just above the relegation zone, the semi-final tie against Liverpool or Blackburn depending on the winner of the replay will be in a month where they travel away to Manchester United, Tottenham and Manchester City, so Sherwood will have to figure out genius tactics to ensure both league survival for Villa and cup progression, conclusively it will all come down to what’s more important for Villa as a club… to maintain their Premier League status, or win the FA Cup, for me the latter is less important now they dumped out Baggies.
Villa are capable of winning the cup, it would be no shock to Villa fans to see them overturn either Arsenal or Liverpool as they have done so in recent seasons in league encounters, however it’s just down to whether the players can give a full consistent performance for 90 minutes against a more challenging opposition.
Liverpool – Will their impressive league form guide them to glory?
Arsenals biggest competitor’s at this stage is Liverpool, their league form is currently the best out of all the major European leagues since Christmas, and Brendan Rodgers’ men will want some glory come the end of the season following their disappointing campaigns in both the Europa League and Champions League.
However, the reds still have to tackle a tricky visit to Ewood Park and overcome a Blackburn side that have already embarrassed higher ranked opposition, smashing Stoke 4-1 and also a comfortable 3-1 victory against Swansea, so what can Liverpool do? They need to play like they have in the league, a quick tempo in their game, attack with force and move the ball around to leave the Blackburn defence helpless, there should only be one winner in this tie and it should be Liverpool.
It would be huge disappointment for the club as a whole to be knocked out away at Blackburn, although they only just survived a scare from Blackburn’s Lancashire companions Bolton in which they scraped a 2-1 victory. The competition has proved a struggle for Liverpool so far with less than impressive 2-1 wins against Wimbledon and Crystal Palace, however if they do overcome Blackburn, then it’s set up for an Arsenal V Liverpool final with Liverpool’s side having greater strength and depth than Villa’s.
The red’s have such speed, talent and show consistency throughout their attacking line-up, they have different and versatile players which can cause problems to any defence and should Liverpool reach the final, they will be my favourites should they hold it together.