As the Premier League season draws to a close, the battle to win the FA Cup also starts to heat up. With just four teams remaining – Arsenal, Reading, Aston Villa and Liverpool/Blackburn – the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium will decide who returns to the home of English football and compete for the trophy in May’s final. We preview the two matches and give our thoughts on who may reach this year’s main event and which team is most likely to win the competition.
Arsenal vs. Reading (18th April 2015 – 5:20pm)
The Gunners are in red hot form, having won nine of their last 10 matches in all competitions. Arsene Wenger’s side secured their place in the semi-finals with a deserved 2-1 victory at Old Trafford against Manchester United and they are currently favourites to win the FA Cup for the second year in succession. With the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud in attack, Arsenal boast a formidable attacking unit that should be too strong for their Championship opponents.
Meanwhile, their defensive group are also in excellent form – keeping three clean sheets in their six victories throughout March. They possess two quality goalkeepers, solid central defenders and reliable full-backs that are capable of performing in attack and defence. The Royals may find it difficult to break the Gunners down, and are likely to rely on counter attacks to find a breakthrough.
Reading were a best bet to come through their quarter final with Bradford but the Royals will go into this as huge underdogs. They won away fixtures at Huddersfield, Cardiff and Derby in rounds three, four and five, before beating Bradford 3-0 in a replay at the Madejski Stadium after a goalless draw at Valley Parade. Although the Royals have failed to build any sort of league form, they have shown they are more than capable of holding their own in cup competitions and could give the Gunners a difficult test. Simon Cox is their leading scorer this season with eight goals – all in the league – while Welsh striker Hal Robson-Kanu has been prolific in cup competitions this year, netting three goals. If they are to stand any chance of beating the Gunners, Steve Clarke’s side must make sure that they make the most of their opportunities and test the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool/Blackburn (19th April 2015 – 3pm)
Aston Villa appear a rejuvenated side under Tim Sherwood and the Villains will be quietly confident of their chances at Wembley Stadium, no matter who they face. Christian Benteke has scored a few goalsunder his new boss, and the Villa attack – which has been tame for the majority of the season under Paul Lambert – has started to create opportunities and hit the target. The Belgium forward and Gabriel Agbonlahor have flourished in Sherwood’s system and previously exiled players, such as Charles N’Zogbia, have found themselves back in the starting line-up at the club. Villa’s main priority will be to secure their Premier League status for next season, but they will head into this game with dreams of securing the club’s first FA Cup victory since 1957. On their day, Sherwood’s side are capable of beating anyone and they will be quietly confident of victory and ensure another trip to Wembley for May’s final.
Blackburn Rovers or Liverpool will face Villa in the semi-finals, but their fate is yet to be decided after a goalless draw at Anfield meant that a replay will decide which team joins Sherwood’s outfit at Wembley. Blackburn have already earned scalps against two Premier League opposition at Ewood Park this year – a 3-1 victory over Swansea City in round four, and then a 4-1 thrashing against Stoke City in round five. Liverpool, on the other hand, have been in resurgent form since Christmas and reached the semi-finals after victories against Wimbledon, Bolton and Crystal Palace. Brendan Rodgers’ outfit have been unfortunate with injuries in recent weeks, with Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling all suffering various problems, while Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard are about to serve three-match suspensions.
Either of these sides would give Villa a tough test, but if Liverpool progress in their replay against Blackburn, it would be foolish to back against Rodgers’ side securing a place in the final on May 30th – which happens to be Liverpool captain Gerrard’s birthday.