George Graham's contention that Arsenal's disintegrating season would be revived with success in the Cup competitions was ridiculed last night by a resolute and more skilful Millwall side, who hugely enjoyed and deserved this replay victory.
Now only Europe remains for the Gunners and their beleaguered manager. For the second successive season, Highbury witnessed an early FA Cup departure to committed opponents from the First Division, and not even the return from injury of Tony Adams could save them.
Almost all the ingredients for a classic Arsenal tragedy were there; the unkind refereeing decision, and the inevitable booking - his 12th - for Ian Wright, which will bring him a third suspension of the season.
The temperamental striker refused to go quietly from the scene of so much disappointment: this was Arsenal's second exit in eight days from the two domestic knock-out trophies they held in tandem just two seasons ago.
As the whistle blew, Wright and the combative Alex Rae stood nose to nose in temper, and Wright had to be restrained by his physio, Gary Lewin, before a policeman forcibly ushered him down the tunnel.
When the dust had settled, not even the most fanatical red and white supporter could deny the merit of Millwall's win, which rewards them with a fourth-round visit from Chelsea. Thankfully, after the referee, Stephen Lodge, had allowed Kasey Keller to stay on the field after the goalkeeper had handled outside his area, came a second Millwall goal to leave Arsenal without legitimate cause for complaint.
In injury time, Mark Kennedy strode away and the home ranks signalled their surrender by declining to offer a tackle. On and on went the 18-year-old, before thundering his shot high into the net, a shot reminiscent of the '66 vintage Geoff Hurst.
"Everything went against us," complained Graham afterwards, although the Keller decision apart, it was difficult to see what. "Things seemed to be going very wrong, and we are finding it difficult to bounce back when we go a goal down."
With the Premiership no longer of interest, Arsenal's season - and maybe Graham's own future after a highly successful span of eight seasons - rests on the Cup-Winners' Cup. "We need new players and we need our established players back and in form. Of course i feel under pressure, but I've got no intention of resigning, lets not get carried away."
There was a youthful look about both Millwall goals. The first, on 11 minutes, was supplied by Mark Beard, 20, who stole in at the far post after Jason van Blerk had cut Arsenal adrift through a swift exchange with Kennedy before dispatching a deadly cross-ball.
It was a long time to protect a lead but, driven purposefully forward by Rae and Andy Roberts, Millwall were never inclined to sit back and defend. Before the interval, Rae put Allistair Edwards in the clear, but the Australian trialist bundled his attempt wide.
Arsenal suffered through a lack of genuine wit; the midfield in particular badly short of vitality and inspiration. What chances they could engineer relied largely on endeavour and muscle or the inevitable set piece. When David Seaman launched a long punt, Keller misjudged his catch and his momentum carried him outside his area, and he was fortunate to see yellow and not red.
It was not a night Wright will recall with any pleasure. Three minutes after his booking for a late lunge on Keller came the opportunity to make amends, and David Hillier's pass left him free only yards from goal. His scuffed his shot wide. Then, with eight minutes remaining, Adams found the ball at his feet in front of goal, but contrived to make an even worse hash of it.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Keown (Adams, 65), Winterburn; Parlour, Hillier, Jensen (Flatts, 79), Morrow; Wright, Campbell. substitute not used: Bartram (gk).
Millwall (4-4-2): Keller; Dawes, Witter, Stevens, Van Blerk; Beard, Roberts, Rae, Kennedy; Mitchell (Webber, 66), Edwards (Savage, 82). substitute not used: Carter (gk).
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).
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