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Arsenal meets Aston Villa in FA Cup final, looks to retain trophy to salvage season

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With Champions League and Premier League titles still seemingly way beyond the team, Arsenal is again relying on an FA Cup triumph to salvage some silverware from its season.

For the second straight year, Arsenal heads into the final of the world's oldest club competition as the big favorite against a team that has ended the season fighting against relegation from the Premier League.

In 2014, it was Hull. On Saturday, Aston Villa will provide the opposition at Wembley Stadium — and the pressure on Arsenal will be nowhere near as intense as 12 months ago.

On that occasion, Arsenal was looking to end a nine-year trophy drought, and the burden appeared to suffocate the team as it went 2-0 down after eight minutes. Arsenal recovered to take the game to extra time and Aaron Ramsey's 109th-minute goal clinched the trophy.

It should be a more serene Arsenal that arrives at England's national stadium this time round.

"Maybe last year, the expectation level was more demanding — the demand was absolute," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "But we have our own demands inside the group here and we have high expectation for our game on Saturday."

Wenger has some history to make, too.

An Arsenal win would give Wenger a sixth FA Cup winner's medal, a feat no manager has achieved since the Second World War. George Ramsay is the only previous manager to have won the FA Cup six times, and the last of his victories came in 1920.

Arsenal is seeking back-to-back FA Cup titles for the third time in 23 years, and to win the revered trophy for the fifth time in 14 years.

Villa will be no pushover, though. The team might have finished the Premier League on Sunday just one place above the relegation zone but Tim Sherwood has revitalized Villa since taking over as manager in February, when it was in the bottom three and on a 10-match winless run.

Under Sherwood, Villa has a new-found zip in midfield and powerful striker Christian Benteke is back to his menacing best. Villa was a worthy winner against Liverpool at Wembley in the semifinals and seemed to relish the big occasion.

Here are some other things to know about Saturday's game:


BENTEKE THE BULLY

On paper, Arsenal is stronger in all departments — except, maybe, when it comes to comparing the teams' lone striker.

PHOTO: Arsenal's Theo Walcott gestures to the crowd after the English Premier League soccer match against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium, London, Sunday May 24, 2015. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT  NO SALES  NO ARCHIVE
Arsenal's Theo Walcott gestures to the crowd after the English Premier League soccer match against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium, London, Sunday May 24, 2015. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE

While Olivier Giroud faded in the last two months of the season and is without a goal for Arsenal in eight games, Benteke was one of the Premier League's best players since March and scored 12 goals in 12 games.

"Christian is a real handful for anyone," Villa midfielder Ashley Westwood said of the Belgium international. "He's back to his best now, bullying defenders. They won't want to play against him — I'm sure they'll be having sleepless nights about him."

Benteke has benefited from the more direct style of play under Sherwood, with teammates looking to find the striker early and using his strength in the air.


WALCOTT DILEMMA

Wenger is likely to stick with Giroud as his targetman, although there is an alternative for the Frenchman.

In a rare start up front, Theo Walcott scored a first-half hat trick in Arsenal's 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the league season Sunday, putting forward his case for inclusion at Wembley.

The England international is starting to regain his form after almost a year out with a knee injury.

"I've been patient and when I've been given the opportunity, I've tried to take it," Walcott said. "Today it's gone for me. I'm sure the manager's got an absolute headache to pick his best team."

Danny Welbeck, another possible striker option for Arsenal, was ruled out of the game because of a knee injury.


NO MOMENTUM

Villa has lost momentum in the final weeks of the season, perhaps because players had one eye on the FA Cup final once safety was virtually assured after beating West Ham on May 9. Villa lost its last two games of the campaign, one of which was a 6-1 defeat to Southampton.

But Sherwood is confident he'll get the best out of his players.

"There is no point shackling our players and taking it on the chin until we get knocked out," Sherwood said. "I don't think our fans want to go there and watch that. Let's go toe to toe and see what happens."


FA CUP RECORD

Arsenal has won the FA Cup 11 times, tied for the most with Manchester United.

Villa has won it seven times, but not since 1957.

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