Football: Wenger's eye for talent rewarded

NIGEL WINTERBURN'S reaction at the final whistle - beaming grin, tapering run, arms whipping up the applause in a kind of mad, reverse-butterfly stroke - amply demonstrated Arsenal's relief at reaching their 13th FA Cup final.

But for so much of this match, such was their overpowering efficiency that the proceedings seemed no more than business as usual. One-nil to the Arsenal.

Apart from a brief period at the start of the second half, when Wolves temporarily threw off their sheepishness, the Premiership title chasers looked utterly in control, despite the assertion of the Wolves manager, Mark McGhee, that his side had "gifted Arsenal the game".

What made Arsenal's success the more impressive was the fact that it was earned without the two men who supplied 15 of their first 20 goals this season - Dennis Bergkamp, who is suspended, and Ian Wright, who has a groin strain.

Arsenal, however, have adapted and survived. Their youthful forward partnership of Nicholas Anelka, 18, and Christopher Wreh, 22, displayed a verve which harried Wolverhampton's defenders into a sequence of errors. The Prem- iership side found the ball coming back to them quicker than Highbury planning applications. Wreh took his goal with panache after the masterful Patrick Vieira had set him up with a purposeful run through the heart of Wolves' defensive cover. The young Liberian's trademark reaction to scoring - a backflip-cum-cartwheel - would surely qualify as celebration of the month, if not the season. But he is beginning to catch the eye with the general quality of his play.

As Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, pointed out with satisfaction, Wreh is making a habit of scoring important goals, having secured full points for his side in recent key matches against Bolton and Wimbledon.

"When you think that Christopher Wreh was unknown two months ago it shows you how well he's done," said Wenger, who first signed the Liberian for his previous club Monaco at the age of 15.

"When I bought George Weah over from Liberia he was on his own for a year and it was very difficult for him. So I bought Christopher, who is his cousin, to join him."

When Wreh came to the end of his contract at Monaco last season, Wenger lost no time in acquiring him for Arsenal - for nothing.

"He was a bargain," Wenger said with a grin. "He was totally out of contract. He's a very happy guy, very confident. Maybe it's because he's a cousin of George's that makes him confident."

Maybe. But more likely, it's because he emerged in a side that is thriving. "If you are having a bad run, bringing in new players can be difficult," Wenger said. "But if you have a good run, it doesn't change things."

Arsenal's good run shows no sign of coming to an end. By the time they contest the final on 16 May they could realistically hope to be Premiership champions. Not that Wenger, ever-cautious, was prepared to discuss such a prospect yesterday afternoon.

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