Arsenal triumph in penalty drama

<preform>Arsenal 0 - Manchester United 0 </br>(aet - Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties)</preform>
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jens Lehmann emerged triumphant from a season of frustration as he produced the vital save in the FA Cup final's first penalty shoot-out to salvage Arsenal's campaign.

Jens Lehmann emerged triumphant from a season of frustration as he produced the vital save in the FA Cup final's first penalty shoot-out to salvage Arsenal's campaign.

With the German international, who was dropped from the side when Arsenal faced Manchester United in February, saving from Paul Scholes, captain Patrick Vieira was left to inflict the final blow.

It was, in truth, a complete travesty. A sporting robbery of the highest order, with only Lehmann's brilliance and a goal-line clearance from Freddie Ljungberg having kept Arsenal in the game at all.

However, few could begrudge Lehmann his moment in the spotlight, having remained defiant even after paying the price for his early season errors.

His Arsenal future may remain in doubt, but his diving save to deny Scholes was the defining moment of a game which the Gunners finished with 10 men after Jose Antonio Reyes' late dismissal.

The man of the match was nevertheless undeniably Wayne Rooney, who had sparkled throughout and could hardly believe that so many chances went astray or that Lehmann was so inspired.

In contrast, Roy Carroll did not have a single save to make in the first 90 minutes, but Arsenal's survival instincts are well honed. It was just as well.

For rather than kicking Arsenal off the pitch, as Wenger had feared, United had played them off it instead. Just without inflicting the blow which really mattered.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side were distraught. Unsurprisingly so, given that the FA Cup can rarely have been so important to these two clubs amid Chelsea's pre-eminence this season.

Sol Campbell's omission had little effect on Arsenal's defence, but Thierry Henry's absence, allied to Wenger's worries about being outfought in central midfield had distinctly more effect.

With Reyes playing wider than normal, Cesc Fabregas was employed in a central midfield trio, but United still dominated throughout. Their main dangers came down the flanks, with Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo both stretching Arsenal on countless occasions.

Ronaldo provided the first danger after just five minutes as he crossed invitingly for Scholes only for the midfielder to direct his header tamely over the bar.

Thereafter, both sides remained rather wary of each other. However, the slow-burner finally caught alight just before the half-hour mark as Rooney fizzled spectacularly into life.

His first effort called on Lehmann to produce an excellent reaction save with his outstretched foot and although Rio Ferdinand netted the rebound, he was clearly offside.

Rooney was now on fire. Lehmann tipped his next crisp shot over the bar from Ruud van Nistelrooy's cutback, while another drive was blocked.

The England striker also produced an exquisite first-time volley from Scholes' corner that flew just over the top and was in full stride when brought down by Philippe Senderos on the edge of the area.

In stark contrast, Dennis Bergkamp was outnumbered whenever he got the ball, while Robert Pires was a peripheral figure and Reyes could not be faulted for effort but still lacked an end product.

The interval only temporarily interrupted United's flow and while Ronaldo flashed two efforts just wide, Rooney's audacious near-post effort was just tipped onto the woodwork by Lehmann.

Bergkamp, who is still waiting to hear whether this was the final game of his career, was Arsenal's fall-guy with 25 minutes left, as Wenger brought on Freddie Ljungberg and moved Reyes up front.

It made little immediate difference as United continued to surge forward, with Kolo Toure clearing off the line after Lehmann had flapped at a cross and Vieira blocking Roy Keane's follow-up.

It was almost as if there was a force field around Arsenal's goal. For when Lehmann strangely left another cross, Van Nistelrooy's header looked goalbound until Ljungberg somehow reacted in time to head the ball onto the underside of the bar.

And so to extra-time - or overtime, if you are Malcolm Glazer.

Seven minutes later, substitute Robin van Persie forced Carroll into his first save of the entire game, tipping a free-kick around the post.

Back came United, but claims of handball against Cole and Toure were turned down, Lehmann pulled off another superb save to deny Scholes and Van Nistelrooy planted a free header over the top.

The Dutchman also missed a back-flick with the goal beckoning, while Lehmann raced out to tackle Ryan Giggs as he raced through.

Reyes and Vieira both came close to a second yellow card as tempers became frayed in the latter stages as the pressure rose and the Spaniard's luck eventually ran out for bringing down Ronaldo.

That reduced Arsenal's penalty-taking options but all of their spot-kicks were confidently struck, with Cole beating his chest in celebration at scoring.

Scholes, meanwhile, was denied by a superb diving save from Lehmann, whose self-belief had finally been rewarded. Just like Bert Trautman in 1956 a German goalkeeper had emerged as his side's hero.