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FA Cup Final - Wembley - Saturday 12th May 2001

Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal

Liverpool
(Owen 2)

Westerveld, Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher, Murphy (Berger), Gerrard, Hamman (McAllister), Smicer (Fowler), Heskey, Owen

Arsenal (Ljungberg)

Seaman, Dixon (Bergkamp), Keown, Adams, Cole, Pires, Grimandi, Vieira, Ljungberg (Kanu), Wiltord (Parlour), Henry

Ref: S Dunn

Attendance: 74,200


MATCH REPORT

THE astonishing Michael Owen brought Liverpool back from the dead in one of the more dramatic FA Cup climaxes of recent times. Deservedly a goal up through Fredrik Ljungberg with only 18 minutes remaining, Arsenal seemed to be coasting to victory in the old tournament's first final at its new Welsh home. Then, when only eight minutes remained, Owen snatched the trophy away from them with two superb goals.

They took his tally to eight in the last four of the taxing games Liverpool have been playing every few days since the end of March and seven in the last three. They also, of course, made Liverpool the only club other than Arsenal to win both domestic cup competitions in the same season. Now, it is on to the UEFA Cup Final, and perhaps a unique treble, in Dortmund on Wednesday.

The most significant team changes were to be found in Liverpool's midfield, where manager Gerard Houllier's rotation policy meant Danny Murphy and Vladimir Smicer were brought in and, to not a little surprise, Gary McAllister and Patrik Berger were left out. Berger's omission caused no great comment, but that of McAllister certainly did in view of the alomost talismanic status the Scottish veteran has acquired recently.

The word was that Houllier, knowing only too well the driving force his fellow countryman, Patrick Vieira, can be in that vital central area of the field, wanted to counter him with the strength, speed and aggression of his own youthful midfield dynamo, Steven Gerrard. Even so, one could not help wondering whether the omission of McAllister also indicated that Houllier attached slightly more importance to winning the UEFA Cup and was saving him for it.

Arsenal were much as expected, which meant only a place on the substitutes' bench for Dennis Bergkamp following his recovery from the Achilles' tendon injury that had kept him out of the semi-final against Tottenham five weeks earlier. Ray Parlour, another recovered casualty, was also kept in reserve, while Sylvain Wiltord continued to partner Thierry Henry in attack. Hardly surprising, that, since Wiltord had scored in every round but the semi-final.

Despite a number of promising contributions from individuals on both sides, notably Vieira, Robert Pires and Henry for Arsenal and Owen and Gerrard for Liverpool, the game took a long time to assume any recognisable shape or offer any exciting action. Nearly 17 minutes of early grappling had taken place before either side contrived a real opening, the first thrust being provided by Ljungberg's carefully-measured through-ball down the inside-right channel.

It set Henry free of a Liverpool defence appealing vainly for offside and the speedy French international striker quickly veered wide of Sander Westerveld's attempt to close him down. With the angle for a shot now narrowing rapidly, Henry ought to have played the ball back across the face of goal to Wiltord. Instead, he went for glory and was denied by the covering Stephane Henchoz, whose left hand accidentally blocked the Arsenal man's shot as he fell just inside the near post.

Henry immediately appealed for a penalty, and with some justification, but the referee, Steve Dunn, seemed to assume that the ball had struck the upright and gone out of play because he did not even award the Gunners a corner. No doubt Arsenal would have been even more disappointed soon afterwards had Martin Keown not got his foot in the way of the fierce shot Owen hit on the turn inside the London club's penalty area.

Although they did not create many scoring chances, Arsenal had the better of a rather uneventful first half on the strength of their more accurate passing and greater cohesion. Henry's flicks, feints and sprints were a constant threat to Liverpool, as was the ability of Pires to get past Marcus Babbel on the left. In fact, with Vieira commanding the midfield and Tony Adams and Keown blunting Liverpool's rare attacks, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had far less to worry about than Houllier at the interval.

In terms of the spectacle the awesome Millenium Stadium was supposed to be hosting, it was encouraging to see the second half open in much livelier and more positive fashion. No more than three minutes after the restart, Emile Heskey very nearly surprised David Seaman with the header he launched himself into to meet Murphy's free-kick from the right. The Arsenal goalkeeper instinctively stuck out his left hand and it proved just enough to keep the ball out of the net.

Thrillingly, Arsenal replied with a move of the highest class and of such breathtaking imagination and execution that it was almost inconceivable a goal did not follow. Henry started it by playing keepy-uppy with the ball on his right foot as he ran towards goal. Then, laying off a pass to Pires, he kept running and was in exactly the right place to collect the delicate chip his compatriot floated over the bemused Liverpool defence.

Westerveld flew off his line to smother the danger, but the ball squirted loose from the melee and Liverpool were saved at the last by Sami Hyypia, who cleared off the line when Ashley Cole closed in for the kill. Convinced now that he had to do something to rectify the situation, Houllier took off Dietmar Hamann, who had just been booked for persistent fouling, and sent on McAllister after an hour to great roars of appreciation from the Merseyside half of the ground.

But still Arsenal kept coming, and kept failing to score. Another of their sweeping attacks reduced Liverpool to complete disarray, yet Ljungberg saw Hyypia head his clever chip off the line. But Ljungberg was not to be denied. Shortly afterwards, in the 72nd minute, Pires ripped the Liverpool defence open with a devastating through-pass and his Swedish team-mate swerved decisively past Westerveld before cutting a shot back into the far corner.

Rampant now, Arsenal should have made recovery even more difficult for Liverpool when Henry wriggled his way irresistibly into the penalty area and appeared ready to complete the formality of scoring. Somehow, however, Westerveld got back to block the low shot and then Henry miscued horribly when yet another chance presented itself.

Henry's punishment for such lax finishing was to see Owen equalise for Liverpool after 82 minutes when Babbel got up at the far post to head down one of McAllister's inch-perfect free-kicks. Then, to the horror of all in Arsenal red, the little Liverpool imp ran on to a long ball from substitute Berger, evaded Lee Dixon and Adams, and screwed the ball past Seaman and just inside the far post.


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