Sheffield Wednesday. . .1
(After extra time)
SUDDENLY it was a vintage year. Five days after the Mogadon final, two sides who seem to have been playing each other since Methuselah was a boy produced a classic of its kind, won in the very last minute of extra time by a towering header from Andy Linighan.
Another 60 seconds and the most prestigious knock-out competition of them all would have been settled by penalty lottery. Instead, history of a more legitimate kind was made, Arsenal becoming the first team to win the FA and League cups in the same season.
After four hours of sweaty, if sometimes soporific endeavour the players deserved better than ordeal from 12 yards, and Linighan spared them by thundering Paul Merson's corner through Chris Woods' unimpressive attempt at an overhead save.
Spared is hardly the word Wednesday would choose, of course. Empty-handed at the end of a season in which their football has been both progressive and pleasing to the eye, they were in tears as Arsenal paraded the Cup to the inevitable accompaniment of 'There's only one team in London'.
To the delight of the loyalists present among the 62,000 crowd, it all came Wright in the end. Ian of that ilk thought he had settled it after 33 minutes, with his 30th goal of the season, but Chris Waddle delivered at last, necessitating the extra half-hour with his driven equaliser, midway through the second half.
A real slow-burner improved the longer it went on, and by the end it was compelling, edge-of-the-seat stuff. Saturday's stalest of stalemates was readily consigned to the mental dustbin.
The pre-match omens had not been good. A horrible wintry night had Wembley looking bedraggled, and an accident on the M1 delayed the northern legions and caused the kick-off to be put back by half an hour. It was as if everything was conspiring against the 1993 final.
Both sides tinkered with the nuts and bolts in search of the cohesion so conspicuously lacking at the weekend. Arsenal promoted Alan Smith to lead the line, to the exclusion of a midfield grafter, Ray Parlour. A welcome show of positive intent, which was to be handsomely rewarded.
Wednesday moved Carlton Palmer back into central defence in place of Viv Anderson, who had failed a late test on his bruised knee. The vacancy in the midfield maelstrom was filled by Danny Wilson.
Changes in personnel were all very well; what was needed was a change in approach. More imagination and invention, less of the belt and braces strategy which betrayed the fear of failure. Eventually, belatedly, they got the balance just about right.
Straight from the kick-off, Waddle was finding his range with a long cross from the right. The man was in the mood.
Less encouraging was the clattering, head-on foul with which John Jensen dumped him on his back in the centre circle, with the game only two minutes old.
After treatment, the shuffling Geordie dusted himself down and demonstrated his recovery with a testing cross from the byline on the left. Game on.
The red and white hordes had precious little to shout about until the 16th minute when Smith's typically neat cross-field pass released Merson in the inside-left channel. The architect of Arsenal's Coca-Cola Cup triumph advanced purposefully past Palmer, but his shot was weak and easily saved.
Another good chance went to waste after 25 minutes, when Lee Dixon's inviting cross from the right demanded a better finish than Linighan's inaccurate header from six yards. Arsenal were not to know it then as hands went to heads in disbelief, that the big man was merely setting his sights.
Relief was forthcoming when Smith set up Wright, who cut in from the left, wrong-footing Palmer and Paul Warhurst, before clipping the ball past Woods from near the penalty spot.
It sounds easy in the telling, but the execution was of the highest order, Wright waiting for the goalkeeper to commit himself before tucking the ball across him, and into his right-hand corner.
If the England striker can finish like this with a broken toe, perhaps Graham Taylor should take a hammer to all 10.
Arsenal had the initiative, and Smith might have improved their lead before the interval. Not for the first time, though, the rangy striker's work in front of goal failed to match his clever prompting around it, and he shot tamely into the side netting.
The onus was on Wednesday to repair the damage in the second half, and they were not found wanting. Level after 68 minutes, they should have been in front after 71.
Equality was restored in untidy circumstances when Linighan and Dixon both failed to repel John Harkes' cross from the right and the ball ran via Dixon to Waddle, whose shot from left to right compounded the full-back's embarrassment by bouncing off him and past Seaman's left hand.
The force was with Wednesday now, and Arsenal exhaled heavily in communal relief when Bright spurned the most straightforward of chances, shooting wide from 10 yards.
Merson, with a strong daisy-cutter, saved at the second attempt, and Hirst, shooting inches wide, might have settled it within the 90 minutes, but extra time it was.
Smith, denied by Woods' reaching save, and Bright, who was within an inch of burying a Waddle cross, were tantalisingly close as penalties beckoned.
Cometh the hour. Linighan's place in the team may be in jeopardy after George Graham's acquisition of Martin Keown, but his place in Highbury folklore is assured after the historic header which brought Arsenal their unprecedented cup double.
Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Linighan, Adams, Campbell, Wright (O'Leary, 81), Smith, Merson, Davis, Jensen. Substitute not used: Selley.
Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Nilsson (Bart-Williams, 118), Worthington, Palmer, Hirst, Wilson (Hyde, 62), Waddle, Warhurst, Bright, Sheridan, Harkes.
Referee: K Barrett (Coventry).
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