Mon, May 19, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Gunners grab FA Cup

PREMIER LEAGUE Arsenal came through for their fans twice -- once by winning the cup and once by getting their star player to extend his contract for three years

AP , CARDIFF, WALES

Arsenal's French striker Thierry Henry celebrates at the final whistle of the FA Cup Final against Southampton at The Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on Saturday. Arsenal won 1-0 with a goal from Robert Pires.

PHOTO: AFP

Robert Pires scored the only goal of the 122nd FA Cup final as defending champion Arsenal beat Southampton 1-0 on Saturday to become the first team for 21 years to win the famous trophy two seasons in a row.

The Frenchman struck seven minutes before half time as injury-hit Arsenal, who lost its Premier League title to Manchester United, gained the consolation of winning soccer's oldest cup competition for the ninth time in its record 16th final.

Veteran England goalkeeper David Seaman, captain of the team in the absence of injured Patrick Vieira, ensured Arsenal's victory when he pushed a shot from Brett Ormerod over the top seven minutes from the end and Ashley Cole cleared a header from James Beattie off the line in the fifth minute of injury time.

But Arsenal should have been three goals ahead by then, Thierry Henry going close at least three times and Saints defenders twice clearing off the line.

"The team was under pressure today because we were scared to finish without a trophy," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

"The last few weeks have been difficult I suppose. We got the trophy we wanted today.

``We are disappointed not having won the [league] championship, but we finished runners-up and won the FA Cup and we were very, very close to a double double," Wenger said.

Henry, who signed a new 3-year extension to his Arsenal contract on the eve of the final, said the victory partly made up for losing the league title.

"This win was something we were waiting for. It would have been difficult to finish without a trophy," he said.

"The result is only 1-0 but to be fair we had some chances, [Antti] Niemi made some great saves. What a pleasure it is to win something. To win nothing would've been a massive disappointment.

"People said things about me, whether I would still be here next year," Henry said. "But my desire is still the same and when I see the fans singing my name I don't want to leave and that's why I signed the contract."

Although Saints twice went close near the end, captain Chris Marsden said it was difficult to accept defeat.

"We're not delighted at getting beat. It's hitting us now, walking around see all our fans and seeing Arsenal pick the cup up," he said. "It's quite a sobering moment.

The final was the first in the competition's long history to be played "indoors," officials deciding to close the Millennium Stadium roof because of heavy rain.

Arsenal should have gone ahead after 24 seconds when Fredrik Ljungberg put Henry clear down the right. The Frenchman outpaced Claus Lundekvam and was also held back by the Norwegian defender but his shot was blocked by Finnish goalkeeper Niemi who had raced off his line.

Another chance fell to the defending champion when Niemi fumbled a left foot shot by Henry in the eighth minute. Dennis Bergkamp hooked the ball back in and Chris Baird, playing in a cup final just a week after his first start in competitive soccer, cleared off the line.

Two minutes later a stunning long ball by Bergkamp from the right put Henry in a shooting position but the French star's effort was tamely at the 'keeper.

Saints' first chance came in the 15th minute when a high cross caused problems in the Arsenal defense and the unmarked Anders Svensson volleyed high over the bar on the turn.

Then Baird won the ball in midfield and curled a 25m shot that had Seaman scrambling across his goal to save.

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