WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At 3:59 p.m. EDT on Sunday, the National Security Agency and telecommunications companies will begin mothballing a once-secret system that collected Americans' bulk telephone records, shutting down computers and sealing off warehouses of digital data.
[Vanguard] Suspected members of Boko Haram in a convoy of Toyota Hilux vehicles and motorcycles laden with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), rocket grenades and anti-aircraft guns attacked Malari village of Maiduguri metropolis of Borno state; and killed 15 resident, wounding of 19 others in Bulunkutu Saleke, Gomari and Ajilari areas in the early hours of Saturday.
Third set: Williams 0-2 Azarenka*(sets 1-1) Extraordinary. Five minutes ago, it was Williams who could no wrong; now it’s Azarenka in the ascendant. She punishes a short ball to wrap up the game to love, and once again Serena is staring down the barrel.
Third set: Williams* 0-1 Azarenka(sets 1-1) Twist follows twist as Azarenka grabs an early break. But what an incredible fighter Williams is. She’s been nowhere near her best today, but somehow she’s still in this match and that’s not something one would have predicted with any confidence half an hour ago. Still, it would be foolhardy to count Azarenka out, as she demonstrates by earning three break points in a flash.The game starts with a spectacular forehand winner; it ends with a Williams double-fault. Well, well.
Second set: Williams 6-4 Azarenka*(sets 0-1) Will this be groundhog day all over again for Azarenka? Don’t mention Madrid, whatever you do. Serving to the stay in the set, the Belarusian finds herself pulled all over the court on the first point before Williams rifles a backhand return for a winner on the second. 0-30. A brief rally ensues; Williams bludgeons her way to the net before thrashing away a short ball. Three set points. A pair of fine first serves rescue the first two before Williams mistimes a forehand. But at deuce, Azarenka coughs up a horrible unforced error. Agonisingly for her, a linesman’s call is then overruled; she believes Williams had already hit the ball, but the umpire demands a replay. You know what happens next.
Second set: Williams* 5-4 Azarenka(sets 0-1) How does she do it? A few games ago, Williams was shanking balls left, right and centre. Now she looks more like the world beater to whom we’ve become accustomed. The groundstrokes are smoother, the service motion more silken and the demeanour more confident. A monstrous ace seals the game to 30, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s followed by an almighty cry of “C’moooooonnnn!!!!”
Second set: Williams 4-4 Azarenka*(sets 0-1) Much better from the world No1, who suddenly finds more topspin – and, with it, a greater margin for error.A wonderful opening exchange sees Serena bide her time from the back before clinching the point with an off forehand. She mistimes a forehand return on the next point, but another finely crafted rally at 15-15 ramps up the pressure on Azarenka. It tells. The Belarusian nets a simple forehand of her own to go two break points down and, although she manages to save the first, she goes long at 30-40 to send Williams into a paroxysm of fist-pumping.
Second set: Williams* 3-4 Azarenka(sets 0-1) Not for the first time in her career, Williams turns to her serve in her hour of need. It doesn’t fail her. She holds to 15, and how she needed a quick game. She’ll be looking to regroup mentally at the change of ends and work out just why she’s missing so many balls from the back of the court.
Second set: Williams 2-4 Azarenka*(sets 0-1) At 15-30, after some massive hitting from Serena, Azarenka fires down an ace. Williams acknowledges the excellence of the serve. A turning point? Perhaps. But then the American thumps a wonderful forehand winner deep into Azarenka’s backhand corner. It proves a false dawn. Azarenka’s serves are solid but not sensational, yet Serena’s timing is so woeful off the forehand side that it might as well be John Isner sending them down. Azarenka maintains her advantage.
Second set: Williams* 2-3 Azarenka(sets 0-1) Williams is reaching for fifth gear and finding the handbrake here. Some aggressive play takes her to 30-15, but she then misses her umpteenth forehand. It takes an error from Azarenka to get her to game point but, once there, the American doesn’t spurn the gift. She clinches a short rally with an absolutely brutal forehand. But it’s all very haphazard.
Second set: Williams 1-3 Azarenka*(sets 0-1) Azarenka needs to hold here; the break will mean nothing if she can’t back it up. At 15-0, Williams punishes a weak serve and you fear for the Belarusian. But on the next point Williams directs an ugly forehand into the net before flapping her hands like a frustrated club player who’s just missed a sitter at the net. It’s not a look that suits her, and Azarenka takes full advantage. She guides a lovely forehand down the line for a winner at 30-30, and Serena then nets listlessly once again. Hold achieved, and all the pressure is on Williams now.
Second set: Williams* 1-2 Azarenka(sets 0-1) Curiouser and curiouser. Some heavy serving gets Serena ahead in the game, but two almost casual-looking shots from the American allow Azarenka to carve out a couple of break points. Williams responds with some telling shots – not least a wonderful running cross-court forehand winner – but after a couple of deuces she scoops a forehand long to bring up another break point. This time, Vika makes no mistake, her two-fisted return flying beyond the reach of the scrambling Serena. Is this an upset in the making?
Second set: Williams 1-1 Azarenka*(sets 0-1) There are worried glances from Serena now towards her box. And well she might be worried. Too many of her shots look forced. Clearly she’s not relaxed out there. As if to underline the point, she pulls at a backhand return rather than playing through it to find the net. Game Azarenka, and she’ll be mighty happy with that after being let down by her serve at crucial moments when she played Williams in Madrid.
Second set: Williams* 1-0 Azarenka(sets 0-1) The winner of this match will play Sloane Stephens. Clearly Williams fancies a shot at her compatriot, because she wraps up the opening game of the set in record time, sealing it to love with a huge smash. She celebrates with a huge yell. A lot of frustration was exorcised just there.
First set: Williams 3-6 Azarenka*(*denotes player who just served) Azarenka shows huge belief and no little skill as she seals the opening set with aplomb. A big serve is followed by the deftest of drop shots on the opening point, and although Serena deals disdainfully with a short serve at 30-0, Azarenka lands two telling serves to claim the opening set. Game on.
First set: Williams* 3-5 Azarenka(*denotes player who just served) Serving to stay in the opening set, Williams finally gets the bit between her teeth. The serves are more telling, the demeanour more aggressive, and the sliced ace with which she holds to 15 a thing of brutal beauty.
First set: Williams 2-5 Azarenka*(*denotes player who just served) As if breaking Serena Williams twice in three attempts were not enough, Azarenka swiftly goes 40-0 up courtesy of some scintillating groundstrokes. Williams hits back to claim the next two points with some penetrating play from the back, but the Belarusian then wraps up the game with a big serve and a drive volley deep into Serena’s forehand corner. The American knows she is in for a tough time now.
First set: Williams* 2-4 Azarenka(*denotes player who just served) Impressive from Azarenka. Serena bangs an ace down the centre to get the game underway, but a slow second serve is then pounced on by Vika. 15-15. A brief baseline exchange follows, which is abruptly ended when the Belarusian dispatches a short ball deep into Williams’ backhand corner for a winner. For good measure, she then belts a Williams serve down the line for a winner before following up with an exquisite drop shot that seals the break at the first time of asking.
First set: Williams 2-3 Azarenka*(*denotes player who just served) Azarenka is in fine voice, by the way. I mention this not because I find her trademark shriek noteworthy in its own right – too much is made of the noise factor in women’s tennis for my liking – but because her fellow vocalist Maria Sharapova, who is ill apparently, was in muted form against Sam Stosur yesterday. Another close game goes to deuce, but Azarenka is visibly growing in confidence here. As if to underline the point, she seals the game with a stinging backhand winner.
First set: Williams* 2-2 Azarenka(*denotes player who just served) With a thick veil of shadow lengthening across Court Philippe Chatrier, Azarenka twice works her way forward to the net from 15-30. Those twin forays – the first punctuated by a crisp volley, the second capped with a forehand approach so good that Williams gets nowhere near it – earn her a break point. But Serena is Serena, and she just ramps up her first serve to reel off three quick points. Parity restored.
First set: Williams 1-2 Azarenka*(*denotes player who just served) Tension reigns. Williams breaks back after an errant groundstroke from Azarenka, but the quality on show so far is nowhere near what we’ve come to expect from these two. Hopefully they’re just feeling each other out as they work their way into the match.
First set: Williams* 0-2 Azarenka(*denotes player who just served) Talking of exorcising demons, Serena will want to put the memory of her second round match against Anna-Lena Friedsam firmly behind her. No such luck for the American, though, who lost the opening set of that encounters and nets a backhand to drop her opening service game here in tame fashion. Azarenka will be heartened by that.
First set: Williams 0-1 Azarenka* (*denotes player who just served) Azarenka almost makes a dog’s breakfast of her opening service game, spurning a couple of game points as Serena gets the game back to deuce. The game seesaws back and forth for a while, but – fortunately for Victoria – Williams hasn’t quite found her range yet. A couple of Williams mistakes give her the game. The Belarusian no doubt wants to banish the memory of that recent match in Madrid where she lost to Serena after holding three match points, so that was a pretty crucial hold at this early stage.
The players are just completing their warm-up on Court Philippe Chatrier. Both Williams and Azarenka are sporting seriously bright outfits. Shades on for this one.
Breaking news! Aljaz Bedene, the former Slovenian who became a British citizen in March after five years’ residency, will not be allowed to compete for Britain in the Davis Cup after his appeal was rejected by the Davis Cup committee. It’s not necessarily the end of the road for Bedene, however, as the Lawn Tennis Association has the right to appeal to the International Tennis Federation.
So what else has been happening at Roland Garros today, I hear you ask. Well, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are all through in the men’s draw. David Ferrer, the seventh seed, won in five sets against the Italian Simone Bolelli. Jack Sock of the US beat Borna Coric, the gifted Croatian teenager, in straight sets, while the US Open champion Marin Cilic came through similarly comfortably against Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer. But there was no such luck for David Goffin, the 17th seed, who came a cropper against Jeremy Chardy of France. In the women’s singles, Petra Kvitovic, the Wimbledon champion and fourth seed, is through to round four. But a few other notable names fell by the wayside, with 10th seed Andrea Petkovic losing to the 2012 finalist Sara Errani and the Swiss world No24 Timea Bacsinszky seeing off Madison Keys, the 16th seed. Sadly, Francesca Schiavone is also out after losing to the 100th-ranked Romanian Andreea Mitu. The Italian, who won so memorably at Roland Garros in 2010, must have been exhausted after her marathon encounter with Svetlana Kuznetsova in the previous round.
In case you’re wondering, Williams and Azarenka have faced each other on 18 previous occasions, with the American winning 15 of those meetings. Serena has won all three of their clay-court encounters, although they have never faced each other at the French. Azarenka’s most recent victory against Williams came at the Cincinnati Open in 2013, where the Belarusian won a bruising two-and-a-half-hour encounter on a final set tiebreak.
Richard Gasquet has just vacated Court Philippe Chatrier after beating Kevin Anderson, the big-serving South African, in four sets. That means the players should be out soon.
Good afternoon and welcome. When Serena Williams stutters but survives at a tournament, it often means one of two things. Sometimes she emerges feeling invincible and goes on to claim the title, as was the case when she recovered from a set and 4-0 down to beat Victoria Azarenka – her opponent in the third round of the French Open today – at the 2010 Australian Open. More rarely, a wobble can indicate that she is genuinely out of sorts, as happened in Madrid recently when she survived three match points against Azarenka in the last 16 only to be beaten a couple of rounds later by Petra Kvitova, a player to whom she had never previously lost.
What, then, should we make of Serena’s three-set struggle against Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam in the second round at Roland Garros earlier this week? Is the top seed and winner of 19 grand slam titles – whose loss against Kvitova in Madrid, incidentally, was her first since last October – vulnerable to an upset? Friedsam, the world No105, had previously offered more fertile ground for crossword setters in need of an anagram than tennis aficionados seeking the architect of a potential upset, but Williams certainly made heavy weather of her 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win. She admitted afterwards that she had been nervous after falling to the Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza at the same stage last year, and in Azarenka she faces an opponent well on the way to recovering form and fitness after the foot injury that hampered her last year and eventually forced her to curtail her campaign. There will be no place for nerves. Let’s just hope this battle of world No1s past and present matches the drama of their seesaw encounter in Madrid at the beginning of this month.
Shooting a witchcraft workshop in England gave Belgian photographer Alice Smeets the idea for a new approach to photographing Haiti, a country she has documented since 2007. “I was slightly disillusioned about my documentary work and hoping my pictures would contribute to change,” she explains. So she teamed up with Haitian artists from the group Atis Rezistans (resistant artists) to create the Ghetto Tarot, a modern interpretation of the 1910 Rider-Waite tarot deck, to show Port-au-Prince in a different light. “For them, ghetto means community, family, union,” Smeets says. “So when Haitians say ghetto, they say it very proudly.” For more information, click here.
Wenger speaks! “We have shown today that we are a real team. I’d like to congratulate everyone, my players, my staff, the supporters. The confidence is good and the spirit in the team is high. I am proud that our club is doing well, and if I can personally do well, that’s even better!” A cheeky smile. How long does he plan to continue in the job? “My hunger is great, I want to do well. I will sit down with my directors and see how much they trust.”
Tim Sherwood wanders onto the pitch, hands in pockets, a picture of misery and despair. His opposing number Arsene Wenger is walking on air, and who can blame him? This is a remarkable achievement by Wenger, who has turned Arsenal into the kings of the FA Cup. Villa’s players stand, hands on hips, thoroughly defeated. They never really got a foothold in this final, and were well beaten by a very good team. A four-goal thrashing doesn’t flatter Arsenal at all.
Arsenal are the 2015 FA Cup winners! They’ve retained their trophy, and with their 12th win, become the most successful FA Cup club of all time! Arsene Wenger meanwhile registers his sixth win, a stunning personal record he shares with George Ramsay of ... Aston Villa. This is a historic day all right!
The final humiliation. Oxlade-Chamberlain finds a bit of space down the right, fires a low ball towards the near post, and Giroud flicks into the bottom right. Shades of offside, but what does it matter?
90 min +2: Grealish, who hasn’t stopped, pitching-wedges a diagonal ball from the left into the Arsenal box, but Benteke can’t get on the end of it.
90 min +1: Sanchez dribbles into a little space down the left, but his cross into the Arsenal box is aimless. There’s nobody in there anyway. Benteke has been very disappointing, though I guess he’s not had much to feed on.
90 min: There will be three minutes of added time. A mere 180 seconds, and it’ll seem like 180 years to poor Villa.
89 min: Sanchez is replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain, a move which allows Arsenal’s fans to give their star man the reception he deserves. They don’t disappoint.
87 min: Grealish, in a fit of frustration, attempts a snapshot from 25 yards. Justice would have seen that fly into the top corner, but it’s easily blocked. It’s not been Villa’s day. They’ve been outplayed comprehensively, though they’ll point to those two late non-decisions.
85 min: Grealish robs Bellerin down the left, tight on the byline. And then he’s sent crashing to the floor! A penalty? Nope, they’re not getting that one, either. That’s not a good decision either. Bellerin had his arm on his shoulder. It wasn’t the hardest of tugs, but that shouldn’t make any difference. On the touchline, Tim Sherwood’s eyebrows nearly snap clean off his face, so fierce is his frown.
84 min: The free-kick-cum-corner comes to naught.
83 min: Giroud twists and turns by the right-hand corner flag, and is sent crashing to the floor by Vlaar. That was more clumsy than anything else. But a free kick that’s effectively a corner.
82 min: Agbonlahor is booked for continuing to debate that decision in the trenchant fashion.
80 min: Agbonlahor turns on the jets and heads towards the Arsenal box down the left. He’s about to take a step into the area when he’s upended by a sliding Coquelin. He claims a penalty, though it should be a free kick just outside the area. He gets neither decision, though. He looks aggrieved, and you can’t blame him.
79 min: Sanchez slips a perfectly weighted pass down the left, but Monreal can’t control in the area and Villa hoick clear. “For the second time they’ve cut away to show a young Villa fan looking depressed,” reports Dave Hill. “Every year, there are scenes of kids in tears as their team is relegated. I’m wondering if there is a fine line of bringing your impressionable child to a sporting event where their team may be thumped. On one hand, if they win, it will be one of the greatest things in their lives. On the other, the soul crushing that can occur, may cause an unexpected rise in top-four team duvet sales.” I’m not a fan of the TV cameras homing in on misery in the stands at all, really, whatever the age of the supporter. People pay good money to go to the game, they shouldn’t be humiliated on the international stage as a symbol of failure just because their team is doing badly and they’ve got a face on. Leave people to grieve in peace!
77 min: That’s Walcott’s last contribution to the match. He’s replaced by Giroud, while Ozil is swapped for Wilshere.
76 min: Ramsey, in space down the right, curls a long ball towards Walcott, racing down the left channel. He looks to curl one into the top right from distance, but his effort is all wrong. It flies high and wide right.
74 min: We have two teams here, and both know what time it is. A sense that everyone’s just running down the clock.
72 min: Sanchez (A) tackles a dithering Sanchez (C) in the centre circle. That was harrying of Suarezian proportions! And Arsenal are 3-0 up and cruising. Hey, maybe that’s why Arsenal are 3-0 up and cruising.
71 min: Carlos Sanchez comes on for Westwood.
70 min: Walcott very nearly springs clear down the right, but he’s offside. Villa look spent, and miserable to a man. 1957 was a long time ago.
68 min: Richardson, injured it would appear, is replaced by Bacuna. Hutton moves over to left back. “How long until Hutton is sent off for a two-footed tackle?” wonders Gordon Inglis, working off Ruth Purdue’s blueprint.
67 min: Delph slides a clever pass down the inside-right channel, but Cleverley can’t control as he bursts into the area, and Bellerin mops up. Down the other end, Sanchez twists and turns down the left, but can’t release Ozil.
65 min: A free kick for Villa down the right. Delph lumps it into the area, but Szczesny claims with a yawn. They need something now, if not sooner, but let’s be realistic, this has gone.
64 min: On the touchline, Tim Sherwood responded to his team’s non-existent defending by flinging his arms into the air in impotent frustration. He’s now pinching the bridge of his nose, presumably to keep himself calm. If nothing else, the man’s box office.
This was as simple as it comes. Corner for Arsenal down the right. Cazorla curls it into the box. Mertesacker rises, and carefully plants a header into the top-left corner, via a brush off his left shoulder. Benteke was marking him there, but gave up. Awful defending. Mertesacker had all the time in the world.
61 min: Ozil rakes a lovely pass down the middle to release Walcott. Or not quite. A combination of Okore and Given, on the edge of his box, stop the lightning-quick Walcott wriggle free. He can’t get a shot on goal. So close to the third goal that’d put this game to bed.
59 min: Villa can’t string two passes together right now. Arsenal are very comfortable. Here’s Matt Dony on Alexis Sanchez: “A tenacious, skilful, hard-working South American with a foot like a traction engine and a knack for rising to the occasion, who was available last summer. That all sounds familiar. And Rodgers bought Balotelli.”
57 min: Villa are all over the shop right now. Bellerin makes good down the right and slips the ball inside for Cazorla, who twinkles his toes to make a little space by the right of the D, before hammering a shot towards the bottom right. Given parries clear. This could get ugly for Villa if they don’t clear their heads soon.
56 min: Sanchez has the ball in the net again, but it’s correctly ruled out for offside. Ramsey had whipped a cross in from the right. Walcott had mistimed his move in the centre, and though his intervention saw the ball break right past a flapping Given to Sanchez, who headed into the empty net, it’s not counting.
55 min: Sanchez is the second Chilean to score in an FA Cup final. George Robledo of Newcastle United was the first, notching the winner in 1952 against ... Arsenal.
53 min: Before the free kick, N’Zogbia is replaced by Agbonlahor. Too late? Cazorla’s set piece is cleared easily enough, but Arsenal come straight back at Villa, Sanchez breaking into the area down the left. He’s got options inside, but delays the cross, and a corner will have to do. The set piece comes to nothing. Villa are seriously rocking here.
52 min: Arsenal have their tails up now all right. Sanchez cuts in from the left wing, and is clipped over by Westwood, who is booked for his trouble. This will be a free kick in a dangerous position.
Villa had looked dangerous for a split second there, but now they’re really up against it. Sanchez, 30 yards out down the inside-left channel, drops a shoulder to move inside, then unleashes a crazy, swerving, rising shot that deceives Given and whips into the roof of the net! What a strike! One of the stunning FA Cup final goals! Given may get pelters for that, but they’d be undeserved, for that ball was moving all over the place, off to the left before swerving violently to the left.
48 min: Grealish has a probe down the left, but he’s quickly closed down. No matter, Villa come again down the right through Hutton, whose long, looping cross confuses Bellerin to the extent that Grealish has the ball at his feet, tight on the byline to the left of goal. Bellerin recovers his poise, though, and crowds Grealish out.
47 min: Arsenal are almost immediately on the front foot again. Ozil makes space down the left. He feeds Cazorla, who thinks about shooting from the edge of the box, but slips it to his left for Ramsey instead. Ramsey twists, turns and then shoots, but his shot isn’t up to much, and bounces harmlessly into the arms of Given.
No changes. “After watching a half of those really ugly Arsenal kits, I was thinking since the FA cup currently exists as an exercise in nostalgia, why not have the teams play in old retro kits from bygone eras?” wonders Dave Hill. “Major League Baseball does it all the time and in some cases, does it really well. Football, like baseball lends itself to doing so as the only changes in kits are esthetic, not functional like hockey, cricket and American Football. It might be fun to see Villa in a 1887 kit versus Arsenal in a 1930s one go at it. Make Tim and Arsene wear waistcoats from those era as well, which would ensure against any gilet use.”
Half-time advertisement, in a 1957 style:
This scoreline is the very least Arsenal deserve. They’ve been utterly dominant. Villa have been on the ropes pretty much from the get-go. Better have another read of those motivational messages from the fans. Because if the second half pans out like the first, this is all over. Still, there’s only the one goal in it, and there have been plenty of dramatic turnarounds in the FA Cup final. Can Villa produce another? We’ll find out soon enough. No flipping!
45 min +1: There’ll be two added minutes of this half. A corner for Arsenal down the right. Ozil floats one into the centre, and Villa clear without too much fuss. But they really need to hear this half-time whistle.
44 min: Arsenal’s set piece isn’t up to much. Villa are happy just to clear their lines right now. They came from behind here against Liverpool in the semi, of course, but Arsenal are a different proposition. They’ll have to do better than this, though. They’ll need to hold on for the half-time whistle, and regroup.
43 min: Walcott, in hot form right now, one-twos with Ramsey down the right and shapes to shoot from a tight angle. Richardson slides in to concede a corner.
It’s not as if this hadn’t been coming. Monreal is sent into space down the left. He lifts a cross into the middle. Sanchez rises above Villa’s unconvincing centre halves, heading back across for Walcott, who enters the area from the left and meets Sanchez’s header with a blistering volley into the net!
38 min: Delph is booked for repeated fouling. He’s the heart of Villa’s engine room, and now he’ll need to be very careful indeed. As does Alan Hutton, of course, but what’s the point asking him to watch his step? You might as well shout into a hole in the ground.
36 min: But then again, you never know. Richardson curls a cross into the area from the left. Benteke, on the right-hand edge of the D, flicks delicately down the channel and nearly finds Grealish, breaking into the box. Just before that, Given came out of his area to head a long Cazorla lump away from the danger zone. And just after it, Cazorla clatters into Westwood and winds himself. But he’ll be OK to continue.
34 min: Ruth Purdue (4 mins) wasn’t too far off. Hutton is quite correctly booked for an awfully late lunge on Sanchez down the left. What hoodlummery! The free kick’s lumped into the Villa box. Corner. From which there’s a small melee in the Villa box, Given not totally in control of the situation or his limbs. Eventually the ball’s wheeched away from danger. But this surely can’t continue for Villa, who are really on the ropes here.
32 min: A bit of space for Delph down the left. He swings a high ball into the Arsenal area. Benteke winds his neck back. Szczesny comes out to punch, and manages it just about, but doesn’t connect particularly well under pressure from the striker. Fortunately for Arsenal, the ball doesn’t go anywhere near a claret shirt.
30 min: Bellerin is sent scampering into space down the right by Ramsey. His cross is poor - he should be causing a lot of trouble - but Grealish fails to clear with purpose. Ramsey is preparing to break into the box down the same flank when the whistle goes; he’s handled. Lucky Villa.
29 min: Delph drags Sanchez back by the shoulder, the two competing in the centre circle. He should be booked for that, really, but the Villa captain gets away with it.
28 min: Coquelin plays a cute reverse ball down the right-hand channel, allowing Ramsey to burst into the box. He’s got Vlaar on his shoulder, and though he gets a shot away, it’s deflected off the defender and wafts softly into the arms of Given. This is surely just a matter for time for Arsenal.
26 min: More rococo passing moves by Arsenal. Villa are being pulled this way and that by Cazorla, Ozil and Sanchez. Ozil flicks a lazy pass - lazy in the good way - down the right to release Walcott into the area. Walcott’s a shade offside.
24 min: Arsenal pass it around quite a lot. Suddenly Cazorla releases Ozil down the left. The ball’s fired low into the middle, where Walcott must score from six yards out! He sidefoots purposefully towards goal, but Richardson slides in desperately, and blocks magnificently! That’s an astonishing challenge, really. Just superlative last-ditch defending.
22 min: Ozil snaffles a loose ball in the centre circle, Grealish and Cleverley faffing about. He flicks it forward for Walcott, and very nearly releases the player into acres of space. But Vlaar is across to cover quickly. Villa are living on the edge here.
20 min: Arsenal should be ahead. Ozil, down the left channel, chips a ball into the middle. It should be cleared by Vlaar, on the edge of the area, but the defender’s header is hopeless. The ball breaks to Ramsey, who is clear, albeit in a small space, just inside the box! He leans back and wafts a dismal shot over the bar. Villa were in St Mary’s Mode there. Theirs is not a dependable defence.
19 min: A bit of space for Cleverley down the right. He slips a pass to N’Zogbia, who cuts inside and takes a shot. It’s charged down, the ball ballooning to Benteke on the edge of the D. A chance to take that down, turn, and get a shot away, and he nearly completes that difficult combination, but his control lets him down just before he can cock his leg to shoot.
17 min: Bellerin makes good down the right, seeing off Richardson with a deft turn, and fires a low ball to the near post. Ramsey, last year’s hero, slides in but can only guide the ball into the side netting. Between those two very good Arsenal chances, Villa won a free kick down their left, but Grealish’s high hoick into the area was claimed with ease by Szczesny. Arsenal are well on top here, much as everyone expected.
15 min: From the free kick, Cazorla finds Sanchez with a pitching wedge down the left. Sanchez turns on the edge of the area and chips into the middle, finding the head of Koscielny, who powers an effort towards the top left. Given looked to be heading the wrong way, but adjusted majestically to batter it out. What a save!
14 min: The first yellow card of the game goes to Alan Hutton Tom Cleverley. He can have no complaints, cynically clicking the heels of Monreal as the Arsenal man burst into space down the left channel.
13 min: Richardson makes good down the Villa left, and swings a high ball towards Benteke at the far post. Szczesny comes off his line to punch clear with purpose. Round one of what could be a very important duel to the Arsenal keeper. A decent move by Villa, though, and their first serious attack.
12 min: Ozil clips what might be the worst free kick in the history of association football into the box. Vlaar heads clear with a yawn. Arsenal had packed the box then, but Ozil couldn’t get past the first man. That’s awful.
11 min: Ozil bursts into a bit of space down the inside-left flank. Cazorla, up for this, takes control and wins a corner off Delph. The set piece is cleared by Villa, but Cazorla is soon twisting down the left wing again. He turns Benteke in a tight spot near the byline, to the left of the Villa box. Foul. It should be a booking, but referee Jon Moss is in a lenient mood. This is a free kick in a very dangerous position, though.
8 min: Sanchez busies himself down the left. He draws a couple of claret shirts and slides the ball forward for Cazorla, who bursts into the box and fires low and hard into the centre. Hutton slides in and concedes a corner. And then there’s another corner, which sees Koscielny rise on the six-yard line, level with the left-hand post. His header is weak, flying miles wide right, and should have been a lot better. But Sanchez is looking very lively down that flank.
6 min: It really is a magnificent atmosphere at Wembley. And folk try to tell us that the FA Cup is dying, an irrelevant nonsense in the modern world. Aye, right you are. Westwood betters Ramsey when contesting a high ball in the middle. Delph takes up possession and slides a lovely pass down the inside-right channel to release Benteke, though the big man’s an inch or two offside. That was close, though. Arsenal looked a bit ragged there.
4 min: Lovely feet from Delph, who creates a bit of space down the Villa right. The ball’s flung into the area, and Szczesny claims easily enough with Benteke in the vague surrounds. A decent response by Villa to Arsenal’s electric start. They can’t allow the favourites to dominate early on. Well, at all, really, but you know what I mean. “Hutton to get booked first?” wonders Ruth Purdue. It’s almost a licence to print money, isn’t it.
2 min: Arsenal quickly grab possession, and Walcott embarks on a skitter down the left. Okore puts a stop to his gallop. But Arsenal are on the front foot quickly, Sanchez upended along the same flank by Westwood. Arsenal pack the box, but the free kick floated into the area is useless, and easily cleared by Villa. Cazorla returns it long, and Ozil wins a header to find Walcott on the edge of the area, but Walcott’s offside. A bright start by Arsenal, this.
A blistering atmosphere at Wembley, on a lovely north London day. Villa get in a pre-match huddle. Their manager Tim Sherwood sits stony faced but fidgety on the famous bench, a few nerves betraying him. Coins are tossed, pennants are exchanged, and hands are shaken by the captains Per Mertesacker and Fabian Delph. And we’re off! Villa get the ball rolling, Grealish to Cleverley, and Wembley is rocking!
The teams are out! The players are lined up on the red carpet, and shaking hands with the guest of honour, the thoroughly biased Prince William. “The BBC coverage brought a tear to the eye with testimony about Alexis Sánchez’s early life from folk back in Tocopilla,” writes Charles Antaki. “Immediately dried by shot of sumptuous royal palace, and interview with Prince whichever-one-it-is.” They should have got that other well-heeled Villa fan, David Cameron, on as well. You’d have soon started with the waterworks again, either through laughter or despair. Then there’s a quick belt of a song hoping William’s granny will be saved, a sentiment we can all get on board with. And that’s all the pre-match formalities over with! We’ll be off in a minute! This is on!!!
Time for the traditional FA Cup final hymn:
In the interests of balance, here’s a picture of Aston Villa’s kit and caboodle. Their dressing room has been covered in motivational messages from supporters. No doubt this will be used as a stick to beat Tim Sherwood with, whatever the result, but to hell with the banal David Brent comparisons. That’s a nice touch, isn’t it? Spreading the love.
Theo Walcott is the beneficiary of the big decision Arsene Wenger had to make. He gets the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud, that hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the season no doubt doing the trick.
As for Aston Villa, Shay Given has won his race for fitness, and plays in an FA Cup final 17 years after starring for Newcastle United against ... Arsenal. Meanwhile Alan Hutton returns in place of Leandro Bacuna at right back, while Tim Sherwood selects Charles N’Zogbia ahead of Gabby Agbonlahor. Not so long to go now!
Having banged on for several paragraphs about stuff that happened in the 19th century, it’d be remiss of me not to mention recent head-to-heads. They’re almost certainly nearly as relevant, aren’t they. Well, it’s not good news for Villa, who lost 8-0 on aggregate over the two Premier League meetings this season, 3-0 at Villa Park, 5-0 at the Emirates. Arsenal also won the previous meeting between the teams, 2-1 at Villa Park in January 2014. But there is a little hope for Villa in the one before that, a 3-1 win at Arsenal on the opening day of last season, Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor running riot. All of this, of course, was before the advent of Tim Sherwood, so we have to assume the cosmic slate’s been wiped clean.
Still plenty of time to kill before the match, the FA having shifted the traditional 3pm afternoon kick-off back to the early evening. Fools. At least there’s no sponsorship this season. Enjoy that state of affairs while it lasts. You’ve got another 90, maybe 120 minutes of action. Bah. Anyway, my fellow ageing traditionalists: there’s an upside to all this hanging about, and it’s this: Memory Lane: FA Cup finals, a picture gallery of finals from days gone by, featuring the trophy stuffed in the luggage rack of a train, Matt Busby with a fag on, and an appearance from pint-sized pop star Tommy Steele (internet kids, ask your grandparents, who can in turn ask theirs).
Arsenal have been officially designated as the home team today, though that means very little if we’re being honest. They lost the toss for choice of kit, and will wear their time-honoured yellow-and-blue number, though in fairness that did them no harm at all in 1971 and 1979. They also wore gold, which is yellow isn’t it, in 1950. They did however lose wearing yellow in 1978 against Ipswich Town and 1980 against West Ham United. Tell the truth, they probably don’t care very much.
Arsenal’s FA Cup final history is a more modern affair. They only made it to the final for the first time in 1927, by which point Villa had eight appearances to their name, and those six aforementioned wins. Cardiff City striker Hughie Ferguson, and goalkeeper Dan Lewis’s slippery new shirt, did for Arsenal that day, but they’ve since more than made up for lost time. This will be their 19th appearance in a final, a new record which puts them one ahead of Manchester United. And they’ve enjoyed the big occasion more often than not.
Villa, then, are a proper old-school FA Cup side. Crazy to think that they’d already chalked up six victories before Arsenal had even got to a final. Their first win came in 1887, and what a victory it was, 2-0 over West Bromwich Albion. Their outside left, Denny Hodgetts, was a big lad for a winger, while his top lip creaked under the weight of an ostentatiously waxed moustache. He was also highly skilful, adept at sending the ball spinning this way and that, utilising knowledge of physics picked up playing competitive billiards. He scored the opening goal in the 1887 final, smacking a shot past a static Baggies keeper Bob Roberts, who had assumed Hodgetts was offside, and therefore didn’t bother trying to make a save. Oop!
It’s the FA Cup final!!! And it’s still the biggest game in the English calendar. Don’t listen to the naysayers, they’re not worthy of your time. Anyway, it’s the 134th staging, and whatever happens, it’s guaranteed to have major historical significance.
If Arsenal win today, they become the most successful FA Cup club of all time. They’d have 12 victories to their name, one more than Manchester United. They’d also become just the fourth club in history to have retained the FA Cup on more than one occasion: only Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur have pulled off that particular trick to date. And their manager Arsene Wenger would personally register a sixth triumph, a record that’d nudge him ahead of Blackburn’s Thomas Mitchell and Sir Alex Ferguson, and into a share of first place with … ah, but let’s just leave that hanging for a few seconds.
There have been landmarks galore at Headingley, all of which bring smiles to England fans and – who knows? – their newly-appointed coach, Trevor Bayliss, who is bound to be keeping a watchful eye on proceedings from afar. No doubt Bayliss is too worldly-wise to jump to the conclusion that he is joining a well-oiled juggernaut which requires him only to keep the wheels on the track.