It’s safe to say that whatever Tim Sherwood’s remit was upon his appointment as Aston Villa manager, reaching an FA Cup final would have been low on the agenda.
Villa’s three-year malaise under the lamentable Paul Lambert had plunged the club into a battle for their very existence as a Premier League side, with the relegation trapdoor gaping open and a straight descent to the Championship beneath them.
Such has been the remarkable about-turn in the club’s fortunes under his guidance, Sherwood will now lead Villa out at Wembley to face holders Arsenal on May 30th, adding an extra layer of gloss to an already impressive salvage job.
It’s a scenario few could have envisaged when owner Randy Lerner parachuted him in to rescue Villa from certain doom and though they may start as outsiders, it’s always a great day out for supporters.
As one fan told the Birmingham Mail, “He has not only put the pride back in the team. He’s put it back into the fans as well.”
Sherwood’s unmitigated devotion to an attacking philosophy has certainly endeared him to Villa’s beleaguered supporters, who were force-fed an excruciatingly tedious brand of football by Lambert that yielded a shameful return of 15 goals in 28 matches this season.
Compare that with the 46-year-old former Tottenham manager’s approach that grants Villa’s attacking players more freedom to express themselves on the pitch and which on-loan midfielder Tom Cleverley described as “taking the shackles off”, and the results are stark. In Sherwood’s 13 matches in charge Villa have averaged just over two goals per game.
Christian Benteke, much in the same vein as Emmanuel Adebayor at Spurs last season, has been the main beneficiary of Sherwood’s newly implemented strategy, and the Belgian striker’s recent goal splurge has proven important in securing Villa’s status as a Premier League club.
With one goal at Wembley to his name already this season – the crucial equaliser in the semi-final victory over Liverpool – Benteke will hope to strike again at the stadium and dethrone an Arsenal side who are likely to covet his signature this summer.
Business as usual
The Gunners have enjoyed a fairly routine Premier League campaign, with another brief flirtation at winning the title before settling for a top-four finish and guaranteed Champions League football, meaning the Gunners have never finished below fourth in Arsene Wenger’s 19-year reign as manager.
That achievement has been tempered over the past decade by Wenger’s inability to guide Arsenal to a major trophy until their FA Cup success last season – their first silverware since beating Manchester United on penalties in the 2005 final.
You know what they say about London buses.
Arsenal have certainly enjoyed a prolific 2015 and, at the time of writing, have won 18 of the 24 games they’ve played so far this calendar year and will be confident of taking the FA Cup back to the Emirates Stadium again.
The odds are certainly stacked in their favour having strolled to a comfortable 3-0 away victory against Villa in September, before thrashing their cup final opponents 5-0 on home turf at the beginning of February.
That being said, form is irrelevant on such grand occasions and this FA Cup final will provide an intriguing clash between the wily old professor Wenger and unorthodox, gilet-hurling optimist Sherwood.