FA Cup Final: Arsene Wenger praises ‘strong’ Villa in London Colney

Arsenal trains in London Colney ahead of FA Cup Final

Arsenal trains in London Colney ahead of FA Cup Final - Credit: Debbie White

Arsenal is hoping to win the FA Cup for a record 12th time this weekend, but team boss Arsene Wenger is expecting a tough game from Aston Villa.

Arsenal trains in London Colney ahead of FA Cup Final

Arsenal trains in London Colney ahead of FA Cup Final - Credit: Debbie White

At a press conference at the Gunners’ training grounds in London Colney today (Wednesday) Wenger played down questions about being favourites to win.

Six of the team’s 11 FA Cup wins came before Wenger took over as manager.

Wenger said: “They are a good side. They are a strong team. They played a great semi-final. Of course, Aston Villa is a quality team who has a lot of strengths. They are strong opponents.”

Villa manager Tim Sherwood has a strong connection to this district as he was born in St Albans and, prior to joining Aston Villa, lived in Harpenden.

And Sherwood also almost joined Arsenal as a player in the 1990s, but Wenger signed two other footballers instead.

Commenting on those days, Wenger said: “I remember him, he was a good midfielder and it’s true that at some stage there were talks with him.

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“I don’t remember why [we didn’t proceed] but we had the numbers of midfielders at the time, and the quality as well.”

Asked whether that ‘relationship’ would have any bearing on Saturday’s clash, Wenger replied: “No! What decides the cup final is the performance on the day.”

Praising his counterpart, the Gunners’ boss said Sherwood, “has done extremely well.

“He has lifted their confidence and got them to go forward a lot. They are much more positive.

“I believe he has done a very good job.”

With Arsenal winning the trophy five times under Wenger, the boss was asked whether he still felt a buzz about the impending clash.

He replied: “Yes, I get the same excitement. I get even more responsibilities because you know what it means for us, and I know that it isn’t easy to get there, and once you are there, you want to win it.

“I like to beat the records, but that isn’t the most important thing. On Saturday the most important thing is that we come back together and happy. All are motivated to win it.

“We have expectations of our game on Saturday. I cannot measure the pressure on me, but I’m the same before each big game - I just want to do it.”

Wenger confirmed that Danny Welbeck will not be fit, for either Arsenal this weekend, or to play for England. But his is the only injury reported for the team ahead of the game at Wembley.

He added: “I don’t know who will start yet. It’s not important, because in the FA Cup final, it is just on the day.

“What is important is that you bring the trophy back.”

Asked whether he knew what the likely team would be, he replied: “Close to it, yes, [but] I will not tell you anything today.

“And I just think it is important the focus for the whole squad is winning the trophy.”

Wenger told sports reporters that he was not interested in speaking about transfers or Jose Mourinho.

One of the lighter moments of the conference came when a reporter mentioned he was from Chile.

A smiling Wenger said: “From Chile? Welcome!”

The journo asked him to make an evaluation on Alexis Sanchez, what his best attributes are and what was ‘missing’.

Wenger replied: “What is best is that he has just been voted player of the year by the fans - that means he doesn’t miss a lot. He is a player who is very positive, he is a player who always want to go forward, wants to hurt the opponent and he is a fighter.

“He has a good combination of talent and fighting spirit. That is why he is liked by everybody here.

“But sometimes he is too demanding, with himself, too quickly upset when it doesn’t go well for him and he needs to be more patient, and not to be too quickly upset.”

• FA Cup final Saturday May 30, Wembley, 5.30pm