Football / FA Cup Final: Wednesday looking for room to improve: The Owls' greater desire may upset Arsenal's unique double attempt this afternoon, argues Joe Lovejoy

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The Independent Online
SHEFFIELD Wednesday do pick their years. The last time they were in the FA Cup final was 1966 which, like 1993, will linger in the memory for something else.

Fate has conspired against today's final, in which Wednesday seek to prevent Arsenal from completing a unique cup double. Manchester United having at last kept their appointment with destiny, anything that happens at Wembley will be mere froth.

No harm in a little heady fizz, of course, but effervescence was confined to the sponsors when the same two sides met in the Coca-Cola final, four weeks ago, and there is an unfortunate feeling of deja vu about this afternoon's reprise.

Both teams are capable of more than they produced last time, when Arsenal won 2-1. That match began promisingly but deteriorated in the second half as Wednesday were too easily stifled by assiduous marking. An improvement would be welcome, and not only in the interests of one of the game's great showpieces. After so many forecasts of an era of domination by the new champions, it would be encouraging to see these two hint at a challenge to Mancunian supremacy in the League next season.

Arsenal started as title favourites this time, but were undone by the poverty of their midfield play, and an unexpected famine among forwards who were gorging themselves on goals a year ago.

Belatedly, they stirred themselves in the Coca-Cola final, when the return of the forgotten man, Paul Davis, provided the team with the playmaker it needed, and Paul Merson built the platform for victory with an inspirational equaliser.

Wednesday made the brighter start, and led through John Harkes, but found themselves smothered by George Graham's clever, cloying game plan. On their own admission, they were unable to do justice to their talents, and there were no quibbles from Hillsborough about the result.

A popular theory - one not shared by the bookmakers - makes Wednesday favourites this time, on the basis that they will be the hungrier side - determined not to end a progressive season empty-handed.

There may be something in that. There is a lot to be said for appetite and desire. Arsenal, though, are rarely found wanting in such matters, and Trevor Francis would do better to put his faith in tactics rather than temperament.

Arsenal won the first game by closing down on John Sheridan, Wednesday's strolling strategist, thereby cutting the lines of supply to Chris Waddle. Steve Morrow's diligent attentions hustled Sheridan into anonymity, leaving Waddle feeding off dry scraps of possession.

Double marked at first, the Footballer of the Year lost influence to such a degree that Merson was released from his duties as Nigel Winterburn's auxiliary, and changed up into attacking mode in the second half to win the game.

Apart from his goal, Merson's surging runs turned the Wednesday defence time and again, putting them on the backfoot mentally, as well as physically. It was his cross from the left which produced Morrow's decisive finish.

For it to be Wednesday's day this time, they must be more assertive in midfield, not only to get the ball to Waddle, but also to drive from deep at the Arsenal defence. They also need more pace and craft at centre-half, where neither Viv Anderson nor Carlton Palmer has a specialist's nous.

The managerial credo says one should always do what the opposition would least likely do, and on that basis there is a strong case for Francis deploying Palmer in his England role, as a run-all-day midfield grafter.

Whatever his faults, no one relishes the Brummie beanpole driving into them, and apart from anything he might accomplish himself, his presence could draw the dogs of war away from Sheridan long enough for the Irishman to come into his own.

Palmer's place in central defence could be filled by Paul Warhurst, whose days as a striker may be numbered now that David Hirst is fully fit. Alternatively, if Francis fancies Warhurst's pace against Tony Adams and Andy Linighan, he has Peter Shirtliff, an experienced stopper, available again after injury.

With Palmer bestriding the midfield, Hirst to lead the attack, a proven centre-half and Nigel Worthington returning after suspension to forage down the left, Wednesday would have a much more competitive look about them.

And Arsenal? The great under- achievers of the Premier League may also be stronger this time, with England's Lee Dixon restored at right- back in place of David O'Leary, and John Jensen, a European Championship winner with Denmark, in line for the Morrow role, as Sheridan's shadow.

Wednesday may have the greater collective desire, but in Jensen, who has had a disappointing first season in England, and Ian Wright, who is due a goal at Wembley, Arsenal have at least two players who will be as motivated as anyone.

The head says Arsenal, and Adams, to carry off a second pot; the heart pleads for Wednesday and Waddle. The individuals in question seem to personify the two teams: one dour and efficient, the other combustible and capable of rocketing above the plateau of consistency beloved of managers everywhere to hit stratospheric heights.

Wednesday have done that regularly this season, playing passing football of a quality which made Nottingham Forest's demise easier to bear. Their success today, coming after Manchester United's triumph in the League, might wean a few more rascals off the dreaded long ball.

Wednesday to win then, 2-1.

Arsenal (probable): Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Adams, Winterburn, Parlour, Jensen, Davis, Merson, Campbell, Wright.

Sheffield Wednesday (probable): Woods; Nilsson, Anderson, Warhurst, Worthington, Waddle, Palmer, Sheridan, Harkes, Bright, Hirst.

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