Football: Cup Final: The Double cream team
FA Cup final: Arsene's Arsenal sweep the honours as Overmars and Anelka leave Newcastle stranded; Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 Overmars 24 Anelka 69 Half-time: 1-0 Attenda nce: 79,183
Sunday 17 May 1998
When the reinvented, inspirational Tony Adams lifted the trophy, Arsenal joined Manchester United, performers of the feat twice in the previous four years, as double Double winners. Until the Nineties, the Double had surrendered itself only three times this century, and the first not until 1961 - but now three times in five seasons, four times in the last 13. The big get bigger...
And they don't get much bigger than this. Finals rarely favour fluency but Arsenal, though not at their most mobile, gave enough glimpses of the rhythmical passing and penetrative movement that has characterised them since the turn of the year to confirm themselves deserving of the title and the old tin pot. All this without everyone's footballer of the year, the hamstrung Dennis Bergkamp.
Not so Newcastle, who laboured ponderously in the 90-degree heat in which Arsenal's hot-house flowers - cultivated so attentively by their erudite coach Arsene Wenger - seemed to bloom, most notably Ray Parlour. Where once he would have puffed, now he persevered, won the man of the match award and struck a blow for the English at their traditional showpiece, his personal metamorphosis mirroring the team's.
"What this team has done, when you think where we were in December, is just remarkable," Wenger said. "Our tactical organisation improved a lot, the young players improved a lot and the spirit became better. The English and the foreign players got to know each other and after that results gave us confidence."
Where Arsenal played legato, Newcastle were staccato in their passing and though they enjoyed a purple patch after raising the tempo in the second half, twice hitting the goal frame, they were largely limp opposition. At times a frustrated Alan Shearer, the Angel of the North, wandered lonely on his cloud. The wait for serious domestic silverware - 43 years and counting - goes on.
One wonders sometimes if they deserve the support that even a couple of their club directors have maligned. Rarely could the team match the passion of fans for whom everything in life is black and white. "We went into the game in a very positive frame of mind," their manager, Kenny Dalglish, insisted. It must have been, then, that they just forgot to show everyone.
Out of the darkness of that long Wembley tunnel into the light of a brilliant sunlit afternoon, Arsenal were the swifter from the starting blocks and set the tone in the first minute. Emmanuel Petit outjumped Shearer; Lee Dixon beat Gary Speed to the ball and Tony Adams found Marc Overmars for an early run at Alessandro Pistone, the quickest man in the Newcastle club, who was playing in an unfamiliar right-back position as a counter to Arsenal's most dangerous attacking player. The Italian just shaded it then. He hardly did after that.
Even that early on, Newcastle showed their need of a quick wing player with crossing ability as a servant for Shearer. Keith Gillespie had not recovered from damaged ankle ligaments and Warren Barton was a more functional replacement. Temur Ketsbaia was expected to get forward in support from a midfield which Newcastle flooded with players as a counter to the dynamic Patrick Vieira and Petit and to nip in the bud Arsenal's attempts to establish a flow.
Unable at the outset to get up a head of steam, Arsenal looked to their tried and trusted alternative, the set piece, and from Petit's corner on the right Adams sent in a downward header that Shay Given turned over the bar.
It was at the other end, perversely, that Adams showed how Newcastle could be opened up. Patiently he held on to the ball before finding Vieira in midfield. The Frenchman then cleverly evaded two tackles before finding Parlour who, after a one-two with Dixon, held off Steve Howey and - Newcastle now stretched - sent in a cross which Anelka met but headed over the crossbar.
Encouraged by the move and now in the ascendancy, Arsenal produced another incisive moment which brought them a lead midway through the first half. Petit looked up from the halfway line and picked out a long pass between Pistone and Nikos Dabizas. Overmars now had half a yard on his marker and took advantage, striding on to stab the ball under Given for a goal reminiscent of his title-turning point-winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford in March.
There was now an easy superiority to Arsenal and more might have followed; Parlour found Christopher Wreh for a shot over the bar before Overmars again broke clear with Pistone nowhere in sight and, from his cut-back, Parlour drove high.
By contrast, Newcastle's movement was tentative while Arsenal's was penetrative. The best Newcastle could manage in the first half was a shot by Ketsbaia that daisy-cut its way a yard wide of David Seaman's left post then another shot straight at the goalkeeper.
That half-chance had been created by Shearer, clearly so frustrated by lack of support and service that he took matters into his own hands, drifting wide to win the ball and get in a cross. He also took the law into his own hands. Adams having leapt over him without punishment moments earlier, Shearer was late into the tackle as the Arsenal captain cleared and was duly cautioned as an appropriately unsatisfactory end to the half for Newcastle.
The interval hardly doused their ire and Barton and Dabizas were soon booked for fouls on Petit and Parlour. Howey followed later for also bringing down Parlour. But with Newcastle increasing the tempo at last, Nigel Winterburn likewise received a yellow card for upending Shearer.
With Arsenal tiring after their draining league experiences, Newcastle now asserted themselves. Adams was adjudged to have brought down Dabizas on the left and from Robert Lee's free-kick to the far post, Dabizas rose above Petit to send a header on to the top of the bar.
Encouraged, Newcastle now scented half a chance. When Martin Keown trod on the ball, Shearer - whose only other chances came from free-kicks that he struck wide - nipped in and strode on to send in a left-footed cross shot but again the goal frame intervened, this time the inside of the far post.
One sensed that Newcastle needed to score in this period, that if they did not, they would be punished. Duly it happened. Parlour sent forward another ball from the halfway line, which Anelka, level with a square Newcastle back-line, took on his chest before running on past Howey and driving low past Given.
If it had not been game over with the first goal, now it certainly was. There was still time for Parlour to hit the outside of a post, and for Gary Speed to sum up Newcastle's afternoon by blazing wide a good chance. Instead, and warmly applauded by Newcastle's fans it should be added, it was all Gunners blazing.
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