Having lost the League title to the Red Devils, Arsenal yesterday defeated the Saints in the 122nd FA Cup final in what was probably David Seaman's last appearance for them. In doing so Arsenal also become only the third club since the 19th century to retain the Cup. That they matched the achievement of their north London neighbours Tottenham (1981 and 1982) will have made it even more satisfying.
The other team to have accomplished the feat is Newcastle United in the 1950s and it was their present manager, Sir Bobby Robson, who handed the trophy to Seaman. The 39-year-old goalkeeper, captain in the absence of Patrick Vieira, will have to decide today whether to accept Arsenal's offer to become a coach or seek another Premiership club. "We were under big pressure to get this trophy and we got it," Seaman said later. "We were so determined to win it. We believe in ourselves." As for his own future he claimed: "It is out of my hands, so to speak." The trophy, however, was not.
It was a deserved victory, achieved with the passion that deserted them in the League. The goal, in the 38th minute, provided some recompense for Robert Pires who missed last year's final, and the World Cup, due to a cruciate knee injury.
Southampton were fortunate not to earn the dubious distinction of suffering the quickest dismissal in the competition's history. Claus Lundekvam went unpunished for a clear pull on the outstanding man of the match, Thierry Henry, as he headed for goal after just 20 seconds.
It was Arsenal's ninth victory in their 16th appearance with Seaman and Ray Parlour equalling Mark Hughes' record of four winners' medals. For Southampton their sole trophy success, in a 118-year history, is still that famous FA Cup victory over Manchester United in 1976. Yesterday they never threatened to reach the same heights in the third final to be played at the Millennium Stadium. The closest they came was in added time when James Beattie's header was diverted off the line.
After a morning of heavy rain it was also the first final to be played under a roof and the slick conditions, before a crowd of 73,726, appeared to suit Arsenal. The win means that they have salvaged something from a season that had promised greater riches. Their manager, Arsène Wenger, said: "The team were under immense pressure because they were scared to finish without a trophy." There was more good news for Arsenal with Henry confirming that he had signed a new contract. "I wanted to make people aware of what I want to do and of my desire for the club." Yesterday that desire ran through all the Arsenal shirts.