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
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
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
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
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
(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.