As we prepare for the FA Cup final on Saturday, Tim Stillman finishes his look back at Arsenal’s record in the finals from their first in 1927, right up to the present day.
1993 – The Linighan final.
The Gunners contested the 1993 F.A. Cup Final with the same opponents they had vanquished in the league cup final earlier that season, Sheffield Wednesday. It was the first time ever that the league and F.A. Cup finals were played by the same teams in the same season. The Final finished all square at 1-1 forcing a replay at Wembley five days later.
The match seemed destined to become the first final to go to a penalty shootout until the 121st minute. Paul Merson’s corner was met by a firm Andy Linighan header, which Chris Woods could only parry into the net. Linighan had broken his nose and two of his fingers earlier in the match thanks to some, ahem, “treatment” from Wednesday’s Mark Bright. This was the first F.A. Cup Final which included squad numbers and names on the back of players’ shirts.
1998 – Le Sulk celebrates alone
The build up to the 1998 F.A. Cup Final was dominated by two distinct narratives. Firstly, Arsenal were in line to win the domestic double for the second time as they faced Newcastle at Wembley for a third time in their history. Secondly, the fitness of Player of the Year Dennis Bergkamp dominated the back pages. The Dutchman pulled a calf muscle a fortnight before the final and cruelly had to miss the showpiece final. Bergkamp had made no secret of his affection for the cup and for Wembley, making the blow more savage still.
But a future narrative was being foreshadowed. After Marc Overmars had put the Gunners ahead, French teenager Nicolas Anelka brilliantly took Parlour’s lofted pass into his stride and slotted it past Shay Given to make it 2-0. The quiet striker wheeled away to celebrate, showing a rare glimpse of a smile only to look back and find that his teammates had already turned back to the centre circle and left him to acclaim his goal alone. It was only after this season that Anelka would forge a reputation for being a quiet, aloof loner. His lonely celebration would only make sense in hindsight.
2001 – The “HANDBAAAAAAAL?!!” Final
Arsenal took on Liverpool in a repeat of the 1971 F.A. Cup Final and the first final to ever be held outside of England, with Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium hosting the showpiece whilst Wembley was renovated. The Gunners somehow contrived to lose a game they utterly dominated. Freddie Ljungberg gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead on 78 minutes with Arsenal’s 5th or 6th clear cut chance of the match. Michael Owen then scored twice in the final 8 minutes to break Arsenal hearts.
But there was more than a hint of injustice about the whole affair. Thierry Henry rounded Westerveld in the first half and steered a shot towards goal. Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz punched the ball away on the goal line. The referee and linesman between them awarded a goal kick, believing the ball had hit the post. Arsenal were denied a certain goal and Liverpool escaped a nailed on penalty and red card early in the match. At the final whistle, as Henry lifted his shirt to wipe away his tears, he revealed a t-shirt with the legend, “George 71- Henry 01.” Ouch.
2002 – It’s only Ray Parlour.
Arsenal defeated Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 Final in Cardiff to atone for the final of the previous year and to complete the first half of another domestic double. The third in the club’s history. However, the final is most fondly remembered for a catastrophic gaffe from celebrity Chelsea fan Tim Lovejoy. Sky deployed Bradley Walsh and Tim Lovejoy to commentate on the match in their celebrity fanzone feature.
With the scores level at 0-0, Ray Parlour collected the ball inside the Chelsea half and made a beeline for the edge of the penalty area. “It’s alright, it’s only Ray Parlour,” Lovejoy quipped. Seconds later, Parlour unleashed a fierce 25 yard shot which flew into the top corner via the outstretched hand of Cudicini. Lovejoy was left suitably chastened as Arsenal went on to win 2-0 and John Terry was forced to eat some turf when Freddie Ljungberg put the result beyond doubt.
2003 – The closed roof final
The Gunners had begun to make the Millennium Stadium a second home as they qualified for a third consecutive final in 2003, facing 1976 winners Southampton in the final on this occasion. Heavy rainfall in Wales on the evening before the final with the forecast for heavy showers on the day of the match meant that the F.A. took the decision to close the Millennium Stadium’s retractable roof for the match itself.
This was the first ever F.A. Cup Final played indoors, as Robert Pires scored a first half winner and the Gunners triumphed 1-0. With Patrick Vieira injured, David Seaman captained the side on what would turn out to be his last ever appearance for Arsenal. He shared cup lifting duties with the suited Vieira as ex England manager Bobby Robson presented the cup, a duty usually reserved for royalty.
2005 – The “how the fuck did we win that?” final
Arsenal were back at Cardiff in 2005 to face Manchester United in a repeat of the ‘5 minute final’ of 1979. If the Gunners felt aggrieved by the manner of their final defeat to Liverpool 4 years earlier, they received a full karmic payback in this one. With interest. United utterly dominated with only a series of saves from Jens Lehmann preventing a rampant United from winning at a canter. Arsenal waited over 100 minutes for their first shot on target, a van Persie free kick in extra time.
Jose Antonio Reyes became only the second player ever to be sent off in a Cup Final in the 119th minute having picked up a second yellow card. Amazingly, United couldn’t break the deadlock and the F.A. Cup Final went to penalties for the first time ever. It was the first goalless final since 1912. All five of Arsenal’s takers held their nerve and scored from the spot, with Scholes the only player of the ten to miss. Patrick Vieira smashed home the winning penalty in what would prove to be his last ever action as an Arsenal player. He was sold to Juventus a month later.
So on May 17th this year, when Arsenal face Hull City, expect something unusual to happen. If you’re feeling a little over confident, just remember to run the names Cardiff City, Newcastle United, Ipswich Town and West Ham United through your mind!