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FA Cup Final 
Wembley Stadium, 16th May 1998 


WHEN the final whistle had gone and Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, had leapt off the bench in that celebration that has become so familiar to English football in the past few weeks, Marc Overmars clutched the water bottle that had been thrown to him, poured some of the cold liquid over his parched lips and then sprayed the rest of it over his team-mates in a great arc. In the sunlight, it fell over them like stardust.

Deprived of one flying Dutchman, Arsenal had turned to another at Wembley on Saturday afternoon and had traced the tracks of Overmars's scorched heels all the way to the Double, the second in the club's long history after their success in 1971. Just as he had embarrassed Des Walker when he played against England for Holland five years ago, so he ate up Wembley's wide acres again at the weekend.

Afterwards, Wenger paid glowing tribute to the man whose record of honours "reads like a phone book". "All Europe thought Overmars was dead because of his damaged knee," Wenger said, "but in every important game we have had this season, he has scored. He has got great mental strength. He is a world-class player."

Even later, at Wembley Central station, the Arsenal supporters finished communing with a group of Geordies about Teddy Sheringham's failure to win anything with Manchester United and then fell into an adaptation of one of their old chants. Instead of "we love Dennis Bergkamp", they sang "who needs Dennis Bergkamp".

On Saturday, with Overmars and Ray Parlour wreaking havoc down the flanks and Newcastle reduced to the defensive shell of a team that has dismayed the loyal ranks of the Toon Army this season, Arsenal did not miss the newly crowned Footballer of the Year, who was forced to sit out the game with a hamstring injury.

It all emphasised that their team is a many-splendoured thing, deserving of the hegemony it is establishing. As they paraded the FA Cup around Wembley and supporters of both teams cheered them to the echo, the occasion seemed like a glorious harbinger of the summer of football that awaits us: players playing with verve, skill and assurance, fans applauding their teams and each other. It was like a glimpse of Arcadia.

Instead of relying on Bergkamp, the FA Carling Premiership champions chose to destroy the motley collection of expensive individuals that Kenny Dalglish, the Newcastle manager, has bought - but neglected to assemble - with the searing pace of Overmars, Parlour and Nicolas Anelka. Arsenal's old brigade may have adapted effortlessly to the demands of modern football but on Saturday, once more, Newcastle's looked shell-shocked by them.

Pearce, on the Newcastle left, was no match for Parlour, an outstanding man of the match, who on this evidence can count himself extremely unfortunate to have been left out of Glenn Hoddle's 30-man pre-World Cup England squad. On Saturday, neither the old legs of the England left back nor the young ones of Steve Howey could confine him.

With Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit dominating central midfield and pouncing on the string of loose balls that were given away so cheaply, by Gary Speed and Temuri Ketsbaia in particular, and Alan Shearer marooned in attack, the only question was how long it would take Arsenal to break down the hesitant Newcastle defence.

Wenger, boldly, had left Ian Wright on the bench, despite the absence of Bergkamp. Wright warmed up for almost the entire 90 minutes, desperate to be given even the briefest of chances, but it never came. The guard is changing at Highbury and Anelka has supplanted him as the first choice alongside Bergkamp. Christopher Wreh, the Liberian, was given the other striking berth. "It is very hard for Ian that he is not first choice," Wenger said. "I hope he will stay with us next season."

For the first 20 minutes of the first half, it seemed that Arsenal were missing the influence of their record goalscorer as Anelka was caught offside time after time. The midfield were searching for a focus for all their possession, but Anelka and Wreh were not providing it. For a while, it seemed that they would have nothing to show for their dominance.

Then, after Ketsbaia had lost the ball needlessly in midfield in the 23rd minute, Petit floated a delicate pass over the top of the Newcastle defence to Overmars. Pistone, playing out of position on the right to try to nullify the threat of the Dutchman, suddenly found himself on the wrong side of him. Overmars held him off, headed the ball on and struck it firmly past the advancing Given as he rushed out to meet him.

Anelka had already missed a glorious headed chance that had been fashioned by Parlour, and it seemed that there could be no way back for Newcastle. Shearer became so frustrated with his total lack of service that he was booked on the stroke of half-time for a crude, late challenge on Adams.

He was gifted his only chance of the match in the 64th minute when Keown slipped on the ball, but his left-foot shot rebounded off the inside of a post with Seaman beaten. Five minutes later Anelka finally sprung the Newcastle offside trap, running on to a lofted pass from Parlour and driving his shot low past the outstretched hand of Given.

Now, the European Cup Champions' League and a new level of tests await this Arsenal side, ready to push them to greater heights. Overmars has won the European Cup before, with Ajax, but he would not speculate on how Arsenal might fare. Bergkamp, the reluctant spectator, thought that they might perform better than Manchester United because of the prevalence of players in their side who have had European experience.

Wenger, though, chose to finish the afternoon on a glum note for the rest of the Premiership. Arsenal, he said, would not follow the example set by United this season and subjugate all else to the pursuit of the trophy that has become their Holy Grail. "The first priority is to build a side of enough quality to win the championship again," he said.

ARSENAL (4-4-2): D Seaman - L Dixon, M Keown, A Adams, N Winterburn - R Parlour, P Vieira, E Petit, M Overmars - C Wreh (sub: D Platt, 63min), N Anelka.

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): S Given - A Pistone, N Dabizas, S Howey, S Pearce (sub: A Andersson, 73) - W Barton (sub: S Watson, 77), R Lee, D Batty, G Speed - T Ketsbaia (sub: J Barnes, 85), A Shearer.

Referee: P Durkin.

Oliver Holt

Stolen from the Times, 18th May - we didn't have the heart to write anything down. 

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