Sunday, January 6, 2013

What a Difference Eight Years Makes

May, 2005. Cardiff.

Patrick Vieira steps up for what will prove to be his final kick as an Arsenal player.

He shoots high to Roy Carroll's right, into the corner of the net. Arsenal have won.

Vieira himself, Fabregas, and Gilberto Silva have been outplayed by Roy Keane and company. Comprehensively outplayed. Only a year after Arsenal ended a league season unbeaten, they have been hammered by the worst United team in memory.

Hammered, that is, in all but scoreline.

Luck, United profligacy, and a towering performance by Jens Lehmann have contrived to turn what could have been a mullering into an incredibly goalless draw. And having had one shot on target in one hundred and twenty minutes of football before the shootout, Arsenal have scored five out of five from twelve yards.

Lehmann's save from Scholes is decisive and Arsenal have won the FA Cup.


That should have been a moment of euphoria, but I remember feeling slightly underwhelmed. Arsenal had finished ahead of United in the league (and well behind Mourinho's Chelsea). But they'd lost both of the league encounters with Ferguson's team, both memorably.

At Old Trafford, there was The Ending of the Unbeaten Run, The Diving of the Rooney, The Chucking of the Post-Match Pizza.

At Highbury, there was The Showdown in the Tunnel, The Madness of The Almunia, The Losing of One Of The Great Matches of the Premier League era.

So it was fair to say Arsenal had a point to prove in Cardiff. What we actually saw was that the team had declined very fast, that perhaps some of the old hunger was lacking, and that Wenger wasn't much of the tactician, as his choice of Dennis Bergkamp in the lone striker role helped shape the game in United's favour.

Back then, Arsenal were routinely winning trophies, and doing it in tremendous style, so to see them fluke their way past a United side we all hated and who weren't very good themselves was a bit of a comedown. We could afford to be picky then.

Now, though, what would we give for another lucky FA Cup victory?

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