By Josh James
"Everybody wants to make history. We want to keep the trophy in our cabinet." - Arsène Wenger
History beckons for Arsenal Football Club.
Whereas last season's FA Cup final was all about ending a nine-year wait for silverware, Arsenal go into the 2015 edition knowing victory would set a new benchmark in football's oldest knockout competition.
Having already broken the record for most cup final appearances (19) the next target is to stand alone as the club with the most FA Cup final victories – the Gunners are aiming for a round dozen when they meet Aston Villa on Saturday.
So it's an altogether more positive atmosphere as the team head back to Wembley, 12 months after beating Hull City on that dramatic afternoon last May.
"Yes, of course, everybody wants to make history," said Arsène Wenger, who himself is hoping to set a post-war record of six FA Cup wins. "But let's not forget we have to be pragmatic as well. On the day you want to play well, so let's just focus on that.
"There's a different atmosphere, yes. It's more positive around the team because we finished the season in a strong way. But still, when you walk out there you know you want to bring the trophy home. We want to keep the trophy in our cabinet. We did it last year, and we want to get it back again."
The only thing that's certain about Wenger's all-important team selection this weekend is that some big-name players will be missing out.
Apart from Danny Welbeck, the boss has a fully-fit squad to choose from, and there's no shortage of players hitting some timely form.
"I believe what's important is that we win the trophy, not who plays or who starts or who finishes the game"
Theo Walcott's hat-trick against West Brom propelled his name back to the forefront of the manager's mind, while Jack Wilshere's recent impressive cameos from the bench were followed by his BBC Goal of the Season strike at the weekend.
But whether either has done enough to earn a place in the starting line-up against Villa remains to be seen. Speaking at media day on Wednesday, Wenger admitted he hadn’t made his mind up yet.
"No, not 100 per cent," he said. "I will make my team selection considering what will be needed on the day, and what the strengths of the opponents are as well. That's very important because they have some strong points which we need to be good against, so you consider absolutely everything."
Whoever does end up earning those coveted starting spots, the manager was at pains to reiterate the value of having 'impact players' he can turn to during the game. The introduction of Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky prior to extra-time in last year's final proved vital, as did Yaya Sanogo's entrance an hour into the game.
"I believe what's important is that we win the trophy, not who plays or who starts or who finishes the game," noted Wenger. "In every squad it's like that. Most of the time the heroes are the guys who come on and finish the game for you.
"We've had that in every final, so it's important that we focus just on that - to win the trophy. If we can do that it will be the whole squad that's rewarded."
Aston Villa eventually finished just one place above the relegation zone, but their upturn in form since Tim Sherwood took over in February meant their Premier League status was confirmed two weeks ago.
Sherwood wasn't in charge for either of their previous meetings with Arsenal - 3-0 and 5-0 wins for the Gunners at Villa Park and Emirates Stadium respectively - and Wenger is wary about reading too much into the significance of those two results ahead of Saturday's game.
"I believe the final is a 50:50 and then of course you want to win it and take advantage of your strengths"
"You don’t know if it will have any impact," he said "You are always in a position where you just think, ‘It’s the quality of your game on the day that matters’. You can beat a team 10 times but if you don’t turn up with a good performance on the 11th then you can lose the game.
"I believe the final is a 50:50 and then of course you want to win it and take advantage of your strengths. I just think you focus on preparing the team well for the day because a good preparation breeds confidence and from that confidence you are in a good position to win it."
Perhaps FA Cup form is a better indicator of Villa's revival under Sherwood than their league placing. The former Spurs boss has got the best out of Christian Benteke, while teenager Jack Grealish has also impressed. Both were to the fore in the semi-final victory over Liverpool.
"They are dangerous in the air, from set-pieces, from crosses, with Benteke who is absolutely magnificent on set-pieces," Wenger warned. "They have good quality in midfield as well, where they all played very well against Liverpool.
"Grealish, [Fabien] Delph and [Ashley] Westwood - they also have [Charles] N’Zogbia, players who can make a difference. Overall they are a team who have had a bad spell in the league but, when they need it, they have shown that they have the quality and they have done that against Liverpool."
During the Premier League era, 18 of the 22 FA Cup finals have been won by the side higher in the league on the day. Make no mistake, Arsenal are hot favourites to lift the cup on Saturday.
That was the case last May though, and it was anything but straightforward against Hull City, who raced into a two-goal lead inside eight minutes to set up a gruelling, nerve-shredding evening.
"No matter what is at stake you just know that the quality of your performance has to be good, so you want to concentrate on that"
"The team has learnt from last year," Wenger insisted. "The experience always helps because in your head you have what will happen and you know how you will deal with the problems because you have done it before. On that front it can help but let’s not be fooled - what dictates the outcome is the quality of your game on the day.
"Last year we were reminded how big the FA Cup final is. We learnt that the pressure is very big. Overall I have a good experience of FA Cup finals but at the end of the day it's another football game so you want to play well. No matter what is at stake you just know that the quality of your performance has to be good, so you want to concentrate on that."
It's been another rollercoaster season for Arsenal, and Wenger knows the only way the ride will be remembered as an enjoyable one is if it finishes with silverware.
"We've had two challenges in the last week," he concluded. "The first was to secure third place and automatic qualification to the Champions League for next season. The second challenge is to win the FA Cup. We have done the first one, so let's do the second one now."
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