Arsenal 1-0 Southampton
The FA Cup FInal
Saturday 17 May 2003
Arsenal have won their ninth FA Cup, beating Gordon Strachan's Southampton with a solitary strike from French winger Robert Pires. Despite all their efforts, the Saints just couldn't match the skill of the Arsenal side...
1-0 to the Arsenal as Robert Pires' first half strike gives Arsene Wenger's men victory as they take home their ninth FA Cup at the expense of a spirited Southampton...
There were the theories about Campbell's absence opening the door for Beattie at the back. Those 'in the know' might have suggested that Arsenal without Vieira is like a classic car stripped of its engine.
In the event, though, the Gunners purred to victory at the Millennium, oozing the class and confidence that has so eluded them in recent weeks.
Southampton's players gave their all. They chased and harried all over the pitch but, in more than one sense, they found it almost impossible to get anywhere near Arsenal.
You had to feel some sympathy for the Saints fans. They put their heart and soul into this game. If it had been a contest between the supporters, it would have been a comfortable victory for the yellows.
Sometimes though, no amount of effort can bridge a gulf in class. Within 20 seconds of the start Thierry Henry was striding away from the Southampton defence to power in the first effort of the game. Lundekvam was all over the Frenchman - it was all he could do to stay with him. It was also a sign of things to come.
On seven minutes the double Player of the Year came even closer. Once again Henry drifted out to the right and, teasing and tormenting as he went, he cut inside on his left to unleash a low fizzer onto the greasy Cardiff turf. Niemi got down early but spilled the effort and was thankful to see Bergkamp's smart shot blocked on the line.
On 10 minutes Bergkamp, playing for a new contract, produced an outstanding fifty-yard pass to seek out Henry. Once again the Frenchman galloped away from the defence, eating up the ground with a grace that seemed impossible at such speed. Again though his left foot failed to provide the final flourish.
At this stage, Southampton remained unmoved. They had been threatened but were still full of hope. Sticking to their game plan of squeezing the space, they edged their way back into the game and, twice from set pieces the imposing figure of Michael Svensson, struck speculative but encouraging efforts on Seaman's goal.
The positive early approach of the Southampton was typified by their right back. It is fair to say that not too many people will have heard of Chris Baird before The FA Cup Final. After eighteen minutes he was curling in a twenty yard effort that had David Seaman scrambling at full length to keep it out.
Southampton were now beginning to motor and when Anders Svensson danced his way to the by-line to win a corner on 22 minutes, the Saints fans greeted the award with the jubilation and excitement of a match-winner. They were not to know it was to be their biggest celebration of the afternoon.
The mid-way point of the first half was a crunch period in every sense. Paul Telfer's seismic 27th minute tackle on Gilberto will have left the World Cup winner in no doubt as to what it means to play in an FA Cup Final.
Martin Keown of course required no such lesson. His touchline assault on Ormerod brought the game's first yellow card. It also raised the heat of the contest by a degree or two and Beattie soon joined Keown in the book for a late and dangerous swipe at Luzhny.
Keown and Beattie met themselves in a bone-jarring 35th minute challenge. Neither flinched, neither pulled out. And both were straight up on their feet afterwards. This was the heart of the contest. Then came the goal.
Henry held possession of the ball and waited, somehow telepathically aware of Bergkamp's dash on his outside. The Frenchman's ball was perfectly weighted to roll into the path of Bergkamp's run but it was the former Ajax man's cross - a cute reverse ball - which really rocked the Saints defence back on their heels.
Ljungberg, looking for his third goal in three FA Cup Finals, saw his own shot blocked but the ricochet went straight to Pires.
Last season's Player of the Year had scored a hat-trick against the same opposition last week and needed no second invitation this time around. He took one touch to set himself before dispatching a low drive home from six yards. Niemi got a hand to it but the effort had been struck too truly to keep out from such close range.
Consider those names involved in the game's only goal. Henry, Bergkamp, Ljungberg, and Pires. It was a quartet that Southampton could not match - at either end.
Southampton were visibly shaken by the goal and could easily have conceded another before half-time with both Pires and Bergkamp causing havoc in front of Niemi's goal.
The break might have been the opportunity for Gordon Strachan to attempt a tactical reshuffle. However, Southampton stayed faithful to their theory that set-pieces, physical pressure, and Beattie's aerial threat was the way to hurt Arsenal. Realistically, it simply played into Martin Keown's hands. Physical battles and dealing with crosses are this strong man's forte.
Southampton's directness was in marked contrast to Arsenal's subtlety. A 52nd minute move by the Londoners' epitomised their silky style and incisiveness. Gilberto cantered forward before playing a lovely ball into Bergkamp. The Dutchman pirouetted and sent in a curler that Niemi, who put in a sterling performance before being withdrawn injured, did well to keep out.
For a man a day shy of his 34th birthday, Bergkamp's sharpness of mind and body was astonishing. He may have had the opportunism of Pires and the unstoppable pace of Henry alongside him, but it was Bergkamp who was pulling all the strings. The Dutchman's guile and vision represented everything that Arsenal had and Southampton lacked on the day.
Wenger replaced Bergkamp's brains with Wiltord's fresher and faster legs on 76minutes. By then though the master left his legacy on this occasion.
Soon afterwards, Gordon Strachan threw on Fabrice Fernandes. One can only guess as to the reasoning behind leaving their most dangerous and imaginative attacking talent on the bench for 87 minutes.
However, whatever they may have lacked in talent, Southampton were not found wanting in courage or desire and Ormerod's brilliant turn and shot on 82 minutes was arguably the best snap-shot of action in the Final, not least because it brought a terrific save from Seaman.
The goalkeeping legend did marvellously to keep the rasping effort out. If the great man does decide to hang up his gloves at the end of the season, he can look back on this stop and the outrageous piece of agility that he produced against Sheffield United in the Semi-Final and be certain that the Gunners would not have won their ninth FA Cup without his considerable contribution.
As the minutes slipped away, Arsenal played keep-ball with a comfort that will have disturbed Southampton. It was a little like the teachers against the students in a school game. There was an equally intriguing contrast on the benches where Arsene Wenger sat watching in relaxation as his side moved inexorably towards more glory. Only yards adjacent, Gordon Strachan stood, hands on hips, not knowing whether to implore one final effort from his men or to simply resign himself to the inevitable.
There was time for one final flourish. Beattie's mammoth jump and header forced Ashley Cole into a reflex block on the line. As clearances go, it was worth a goal...worth The FA Cup.
On the final whistle, Gordon Strachan shook Arsene Wenger's hand. He will have been aware that, on this day at least, Southampton's will could not equal Arsenal's skill.
Arsenal: Seaman; Cole, Keown, Luzhny, Lauren; Pires, Parlour, Gilberto, Ljungberg; Henry, Bergkamp (Wiltord 77)
Subs not used: Taylor, van Bronkhorst, Kanu, Toure
Goals: Pires 38
Southampton: Niemi (Jones 65); Bridge, Lundekvam, M Svensson, Baird (Fernandes 87); Telfer, A Svensson (Tessem 75), Oakley, Marsden; Omerod, Beattie
Subs not used: Williams, Higginbotham
Bookings: Keown (30), Beattie (31), Telfer (60), Henry (66), Marsden (77), M Svensson (90)
Man of the Match: Thierry Henry
Referee: Graham Barber
Assistants: Nigel Miller and Keith Stroud
Fourth Official: Mike Dean