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FOOTBALL: 1-0 TO THE ARSENAL .. AT LAST; Arsenal 1 Soton 0; Wenger: We clung on as we didn't have that horrible feeling of United creeping up on us.


RIGHT at the death of the season they rediscovered the quality that had deserted them when it mattered most.

As the chant of "1-0 to the Arsenal" rang round the Millennium Stadium, Sol Campbell's frenzied celebration of a victory he had not been part of summed up just how much the Gunners needed to end the season with something.

It was a victory achieved by an Arsenal side which had finally remembered how to hold on to an advantage, to chisel out a victory despite never being their customary extravagant selves.

From the moment Robert Pires drilled past Antti Niemi seven minutes before the break, there was an inevitability about the outcome as the Highbury side became the first team to retain the famous old trophy since north London neighbours Spurs in 1982.


Yet it was impossible to look at Arsenal's Cup Final triumph without reflecting on the failure to hold leads at Southampton, Liverpool, Newcastle, Villa and Bolton, and the championship price that had been paid.

Arsene Wenger was grateful for the small mercy of one piece of silverware from a season that had promised so much more.

But the Arsenal boss admitted that his men had been psychologically undermined by Manchester United in the trophy chase that really counted. Wenger said: "The situation was different in the Cup Final from what we faced in the last few league games. If you feel that somebody is crawling up your back you tense up - and we didn't have that in this game.

"It's something that works both ways. We did the same thing to United twice.

"But when you are ahead and the other team starts coming back there's a horrible feeling that they're creeping up on you and there's nothing you can do about it. It's difficult to cope with that."

At Cardiff, Arsenal knew that it was only a hard-working but essentially limited Southampton confronting them. And, of course, their own fear of failure.

Wenger added: "The fact we hadn't won the championship put us under extra pressure because of the threat of finishing the season without a major trophy. The boys responded well but you could see that they were mentally under a lot of pressure.

"We couldn't express ourselves in the second half because there was such a great weight of expectation that we had to win a trophy after the season we've had.

"I shared that feeling and for once it was all about the result. If we'd lost this and ended the season with nothing it would have been a tremendous blow. We knew we simply had to do it and win the game. That was why we didn't express ourselves as fluently as we should have done." They might have done that if Thierry Henry - despite dragging the shirt-clutching Claus Lundekvam for the best part of 10 yards in a fair impression of a huskie heading for the North Pole - had converted the chance to put the Gunners ahead inside 23 seconds.

Only his honesty in staying on his feet - which made his subsequent booking for diving seem all the more bizarre - kept Lundekvam on the field.

Henry must be beginning to feel he is fated never to score at the Millennium Stadium, after three goalless Cup Finals and one Community Shield blank.

Even so, every time Henry picked up the ball a shiver of terror ran down Southampton spines, and his zest was constant.


Fortunately for Southampton, so was their resilience, with youngster Chris Baird making a mockery of the fact that this was only his second first-team start with vital goalline clearances to foil the excellent Dennis Bergkamp twice.

Baird even forced a slithering stop from David Seaman, and if Southampton had managed to get to half-time on terms, Arsenal's worries about finishing the season empty-handed might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pires, though, had other ideas, as Henry and Bergkamp linked up to fashion an opening. After Freddie Ljungberg's shot was blocked by Lundekvam, the Frenchman hammered past Niemi from eight yards.

Saints boss Gordon Strachan stuck to his gameplan, which was all about attempting to frustrate the Gunners. Leaving Fabrice Fernandes on the bench until four minutes from time was evidence of that approach, although Strachan had no regrets.

Strachan said: "Playing against Arsenal is not frustrating. You are playing against one of the best teams in the world. It is reality. So we have to play reality football.

"If we'd tried to win it by playing the same way as Arsenal, there was no chance. You have to try and cut out the frills and get to the strikers. I felt if we did get a chance, we could take it. And if we did get it, I honestly believe we could have won it.

"I don't know how much that would have affected Arsenal. I don't know how many knocks they could have taken."

The fact Saints were still alive into those final few minutes was a tribute to their determination not to give in, even when the ball was being passed around them. Niemi foiled Henry twice, and was relieved to see Ljungberg waste the chance to score in a record-breaking third successive Cup Final from one rebound. Then when the Finn collapsed dramatically as his calf twanged, sub Paul Jones repeated the dose to frustrate the French striker once again.

What will have annoyed Strachan was the lack of proper service his side gave to James Beattie and Brett Ormerod, especially with neither Martin Keown nor Oleg Luzhny anywhere near fully-fit.

The only two half-chances came late on, with Seaman acrobatically foiling Ormerod's shot from a tight angle, before Ashley Cole bundled Beattie's stoppage-time header off the line.

This time, though, Arsenal were not to be denied, although Wenger is already looking to do what is necessary to ensure the failings that cost the title are put right.


Wenger said: "We have to score as many goals as we did. We got 85 which was tremendous. But we conceded 42 and we need to concede 10 fewer. The target is to improve the balance defensively without losing that offensive drive. s

"I think the basis of the quality is there. I've learned a lot about the bonding and character of the team. Many teams could have been disjointed after the disappointment of losing the league.

"What I saw is that there are some players I can rely on. We want to come back stronger. That's what we will do. I can see this group has a future. The way they fought and wanted desperately to win the trophy under special circumstances tells me this group has a future. It's confirmed that it doesn't need to change that much."

But it has to change, to cast aside the fear factor that the Arsenal chief identified as having cost them the title. Or perhaps they will just try to win it from behind again.





If this was to be his farewell, then it was a glorious goodbye. The veteran keeper, made captain, made a great late save from Brett Ormerod, although kicking was suspect.



Not fully fit, but the Cameroon right-back was solid and restricted Southampton down their left flank. Has matured into a solid and reliable defender.

Martin KEOWN


The veteran defender passed a late fitness test and never showed any signs of weakness. Solid as a rock as ever and can surely play on for another year.



The Ukrainian was supposed to be the weakest link but proved to be the man of the match. Kept James Beattie in his pocket and never lost a challenge.

Ashley COLE


A personal battle won. The Arsenal left-back put his England rival Wayne Bridge in the shade. He was strong defensively and supported well in attack.

Robert PIRES


Apart from the goal, his performance was disappointing. He pulled out of challenges and did not influence the game enough. But his winner was priceless.



Had a quiet first half when Southampton enjoyed their best spell, but came good after the break and deserved his fourth winner's medal after such service to the club.

Gilberto SILVA


His best game for three months and one of his best since joining Arsenal. Dominated midfield and distribution was top class. Needs more displays like this next season.



Worked hard all afternoon but his dreams of scoring in three consecutive finals never materialised as his best effort hit the side-netting when he should have scored.

Thierry HENRY


Won the sponsors' man-of-the- match award for his tireless efforts and was a constant threat to the Southampton defence. Desperately unlucky not to score.



The Dutchman proved he is worth another contract with an excellent contribution in attack. Clever touches and flicks as well as being a superb link player.


SYLVAIN WILTORD (for Bergkamp, 77) A late introduction for Bergkamp and had precious little time to impose himself. 6

Not used: Taylor, Van Bronckhorst, Kanu, Toure.


Graham Barber: Showed six yellow cards and escaped having to brandish red when Thierry Henry stayed on his feet as Lundekvam dragged him back. Booked Henry when he later dived attempting to earn a penalty. 8





Fine saves to keep out Henry early on and Ljungberg. Desperately unlucky to suffer the freak calf injury which saw him carried off. Replaced by Paul Jones after 65 minutes



Magnificent performance from the 21-year-old in only his second start. Strachan sprang a surprise by playing him but the youngster justified his selection.



Very lucky not to be sent off after being left for dead by Thierry Henry after just 26 seconds. Relaxed a bit more as the game wore on and warmed to his task.



Needed to help out Claus Lundekvam on more than one occasion with Thierry Henry running riot. Had a chance of his own at the end but suffered a rush of blood.



Not one of his better games. Quick and strong but almost landed his side in it when he back-heeled a ball heading into touch into the path of Robert Pires.



Normally plays right-back but pushed into the right-wing position because Strachan preferred his defensive qualities to those of Fabrice Fernandes. Did well.



Combined well with Anders Svensson to win the battle of the midfield for a large part of the first half. Unsung hero who fared well against Gilberto and Ray Parlour.



Extremely upset to have been taken off but in truth created very little in the way of clear-cut chances for the front men. More effective in breaking up the Arsenal possession.



Lost his head a bit at the end with Arsenal's time-wasting antics, Pires' diving and the referee's decisions. Desperate to play after a knee injury and did not let anyone down.



Would have forced extra-time had David Seaman not been in such inspired form. Many believed his pace would trouble Keown and Luzhny but Arsenal are different class, aren't they?



Wanted desperately to top a fabulous season with a goal but it was not to be. Shut out by Seaman, Keown and a "surprisingly good"(Wenger's words) Luzhny.


PAUL JONES (for Niemi 65). Fantastic late save to deny Henry showed the Wales keeper relished the opportunity to play in his home stadium. 7

JO TESSEM (for A. Svensson 75): Blew a great chance to equalise with his first touch. Did nothing afterwards. Also lost possession far too easily. 5

FABRICE FERNANDES (for Baird 86). Had a chance to inject some energy into the flagging Saints attack late on but produced little of any consequence. 5

ARSENAL Southampton 59% POSSESSION 41%





10 FOULS 18






WENGER hugs Bergkamp; RACE IS ON: Thierry Henry beats Claus Lundekvam to the ball
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 19, 2003
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