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Arsene Wenger and the FA Cup

Afternoon r/gunners, hope you’re all well! Like many of you I’m quarantined with not a lot to do, so I thought I’d have a go at documenting what accumulate to my favourite memories as an Arsenal fan over the years – Wenger’s record 7 FA Cup wins. I’ve not really written like this before so go easy on me, any and all feedback welcome. I’m planning on doing this in 7 parts so as to pay equal attention to each cup run, so let me know if there are any further details you’d like to see in future posts!

1997/98 FA Cup

3rd Round: Arsenal 0 – 0 Port Vale, (Replay) Arsenal 1 – 1 Port Vale (Arsenal win 4-3 on penalties)

Match highlights (Replay)

Who’d have thought that the greatest reign in the 150-year history of the FA Cup would have started like this? After a drab 0-0 played out at Highbury, Wenger’s Arsenal returned to Vale Park on January 14th 1998 with a strong side. After another cagey game in which both Bergkamp and Wright came close, extra time was necessary to break the deadlock. Arsenal took the lead in the 100th minute with a vintage strike worthy of any Bergkamp goal, receiving the ball from Gilles Grimandi 25 yards out before deftly caressing the ball into the top right corner. The joy was short lived however, as Wayne Cordon brought Vale back into the game 12 minutes later, finishing off a good move from the home side.

Penalties it was, and things didn’t start well as Lee Dixon has the first kick of the shootout saved. The team’s exchanged goals, with Bergkamp and Parlour bagging for the Gunners before Seaman made a routine save to his left on Vale’s third penalty, leaving the teams tied – Luis Boa Morte and Stephen Hughes netted the next two for the away team, before Allen Tankard stepped up to take the decisive spot kick for the underdogs. The ball sails over the bar, and the lack of celebration from England and Arsenal number one Seaman says it all about how close for comfort this game turned out to be, as Arsenal scrape their way into the 4th round.

4th Round: Middlesbrough 1 – 2 Arsenal

Match highlights

A Marc Overmars strike just one minute into the 4th round tie set the tone for an exciting, open game that would see Paul Merson shining for Middlesbrough in his first game against his former teammates at Arsenal. Overmars broke through early in the game and put Arsenal into the lead, with the away side dominating the opening 20 minutes, Ray Parlour adding another on the counter to potentially put the tie to bed before the home team could really get started. This didn’t prove to be however, as former Arsenal legend Merson began to show exactly why ‘Boro had parted with £5 million for him in the summer.

Deputy between the sticks Alex Manninger got off to a shaky start in what would become something of a cult cup run covering for the injured Seaman, and this showed when he erratically came out to try and deny Merson in the 67th minute – the young understudy was unsuccessful, and Merson buried to make the game 2-1. Merson continued to stand out, creating two gilt edged chances – one which was controversially ruled out for offside, and another which proved an easy save for Manninger. Arsenal hold on, and a 5th round tie against Crystal Palace beckoned.

5th Round: Arsenal 0 – 0 Crystal Palace, (Replay) Crystal Palace 1 – 2 Arsenal

Match highlights

Match highlights (Replay)

After a 0-0 draw at Highbury that can be summed up by two penalties that weren’t given – Alex Manninger taking down a Palace player in the box (yellow card from the ref who somehow deemed the foul to be outside the box) and Stephen Hughes being brought down in the Palace area in the second half (again, somehow missed by the ref), the stage was set for a replay under the lights of Selhurst Park.

It was another fast start for Arsenal, who have looked more comfortable away from home than at Highbury during this cup run – a through ball from Dennis Bergkamp flicks off the head of a Palace defender into the path of Nicolas Anelka, who lobs the ball over the advancing keeper to give the gunners the lead after just over a minute. There was nearly a rare collector’s item shortly after, with Lee Dixon rifling a looping half volley from over 30 yards out, leaving the keeper stranded, clipping just off the bar and over. Anelka again found himself clean through in the 27th minute, only to be hacked down by Palace’s last man Dean Gordon – a red card for the home team, and Dennis Bergkamp standing over a free kick on the left just outside the area. The fortune continues for the Iceman, as his deflected free kick finds the top left corner and Arsenal find themselves two up against 10 men.

It should probably have been simple from then on, but Palace found a way back into the game at the end of the 1st half, Bruce Dyer nodding a scrappy effort over the line from a corner – Manninger was crowded out and can count himself unlucky after a much more stable game so far.

Chances were exchanged in the second half with Anelka and Overmars going close, and Dyer missing a chance to lob Manninger and equalise for Palace, but in the end Wenger’s men held on and booked themselves a place in the quarter finals of the cup.

Quarter Final: Arsenal 1 – 1 West Ham, (Replay) West Ham 1 – 1 Arsenal (Arsenal win 4-3 on penalties)

Match highlights

Match highlights (Replay)

An early blow and another difficult day at Highbury ahead, as a young Frank Lampard’s corner trickles through to Ian Pearce, who strikes from the edge of the area with his first West Ham goal to put the away side one up in the 13th minute. Ian Pearce went from hero to villain in the 19th minute however, bringing down Martin Keown who, on a rare venture up field, earned a penalty for the Gunners. A cool penalty from Bergkamp gave him his 18th goal of the season, and an opportunity for Arsenal to go again in the cup. A quiet second half, in which the closest thing to a chance came when Keown miraculously nearly won another penalty for Arsenal, meant that the game finished 1-1, and another away derby cup replay under the lights lay ahead for Arsenal.

A disastrous start for Arsenal at the Boleyn – Bergkamp, often lauded for the ice that ran through his veins, showed a less romanticised side of his game with a frustrated elbow to the face of Steve Lomas 33 minutes in, resulting in a straight red that nobody could argue with. Cue Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Alex Manninger, the players going to war for the rest of the game to give their teammates the opportunity of a chance. A chance did come in stoppage time of the first half, and oh how wonderfully it was taken – Anelka receiving the ball from Vieira on the edge of the West Ham area, a touch and a swivel of the hips before striking beautifully beyond the outstretched arms of the keeper. Half time, one-nil to the Arsenal.

Not for the last time in his career, Frank Lampard ran the show against the 10 men of Arsenal in the second half, forging chance after chance for the home side, forcing Alex Manninger into a string of excellent saves to keep the Gunners in the game. The ten men couldn’t hold out, and not for the first time in this cup run it was an ex Arsenal hero that brought the opposition back into the game, with John Hartson slotting in a near post shot that even the excellent Manninger couldn’t save. Into extra time, and Arsenal had both the young Austrian goalkeeper and the crossbar to thank as the hammers continued to pile on the pressure throughout, keeping the now tired legs of Arsenal’s ten men planted firmly in their own area. The storm was weathered however, and the tie went to penalties for the second time in this exhausting cup run for Wenger’s men.

It was a thrilling penalty shootout, and after 5 each had been taken the teams still couldn’t be separated, having scored 3 each, thanks in part to a spectacular save from hero of the night Alex Manninger, denying Eyal Berkovic. Sudden death it was, and captain fantastic Tony Adams steps up, slotting the ball down the middle, leaving the onus on West Ham’s Abou to keep the home side breathing. Abou misses to the left, and after an intensely difficult game, played mostly with 10 men against a West Ham team littered with young stars, Arsenal are through to the semi’s of the cup!

Semi Final: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 – 1 Arsenal (Villa Park)

Match highlights

The glory days of the cup – with the semi-final being played at the wonderful Villa Park, Arsenal arrive in confident mood, facing a struggling Wolves side. A mistake from Wolves keeper Hans Segers in the 12th minute comes straight out to Paddy Vieira, who, driving forward, finds Christopher Wreh open on his right. Wreh, scoring one of only three goals he managed in his Arsenal career, slots the ball low and to the keepers right, compounding the Dutchman’s misery following his poor pass that led to the goal. Marking the end of Manninger’s cup heroics, David Seaman returned to the Arsenal number one spot, having relatively little to do for his clean sheet in what ended up being a fairly routine first half for the favourites on a rainy day in Birmingham.

The second half brought a different challenge however, and Seaman had his blushes spared early on by Emmanuel Petit, Petit clearing after the reinstated Arsenal number one dropped a fairly routine catch in his own 6 yard area. The famous defence of Arsenal continued to struggle in the second half, scrappily spurning multiple Wolves chances as the men up top for the Gunners struggled to create clear cut chances. In the end, Arsenal held out, and after 5 rounds, 8 games, 2 periods of extra time and 2 penalty shoot-outs, Arsene Wenger has reached his first FA Cup final as Arsenal manager.

Final: Arsenal 2 – 0 Newcastle United (Wembley Stadium)

Match highlights

Two weeks before the final, Wenger had secured Arsenal’s first league title since 1991 with a 4-0 victory against Everton at Highbury, including that historic goal from Tony Adams (“Would you believe it?! That sums it all up!”), and with the rest of English football starting to pay close attention to the Wenger revolution, they arrived at Wembley with the chance to stamp even further authority on the rest of the division with their first League & Cup double since 1971. With Dennis Bergkamp being ruled out through injury the day before the final, Christopher Wreh got the nod ahead of all time leading goalscorer Ian Wright following his semi-final heroics, and he and Anelka got the game underway in front of a crowd of 80,000 under the famous white towers of old Wembley.

On a searing hot day in North West London, Arsenal had the better of the early chances, with Tony Adams coming close from an early corner. It was Marc Overmars who broke the deadlock in the 24th minute, capping a fine first season for the Arsenal in which he scored many vital goals. Emmanuel Petit played a beautiful through ball over the top from just inside the Newcastle half, Overmars nodding down to go past Pistone before clipping it between the legs of an advancing Shay Given, one-nil to the Arsenal.

The famous back four of Adams, Keown, Winterburn and Dixon kept Newcastle limited to shots outside the box for the remainder of the first half, with Alan Shearer being first to show his frustration, scything down fellow England international Tony Adams with a cynical challenge at the end of the first half, earning himself a yellow card.

Newcastle came out with a renewed sense of vigour in the second half, having the better of the early play and coming close when Dabizas clipped the bar with a header from a Rob Lee free kick. Shortly afterwards, a Keown mistake led to a clear chance for Newcastle number nine Alan Shearer, who saw a thumping shot fly straight past Seaman only to come back off the post – for the first time in the final, Arsenal appeared to be against the ropes.

Just when the 40,000 travelling fans might have felt that the game was turning in their favour, a breakaway attack from the Gunners broke Geordie hearts. A loose ball in midfield found the feet of Ray Parlour, and the Romford Pele lofted a through ball to a young Nicolas Anelka’s chest, who found himself 35 yards from goal with work to do. With a great first touch after taking the ball down, Anelka advanced on goal and gave keeper Given no chance, driving low to the Ireland international’s right, and clinching the League and Cup double in Wenger’s first full season in English football.

In a final 20 minutes noteworthy for multiple missed Newcastle chances, Overmars coming close with a near 40 yard wonderstrike, and the controversial decision from Wenger not to give all time legend Ian Wright a chance to say farewell coming off the bench in a cup final (Wright would go on to leave the club in the summer), Arsenal held on for the win. Tony Adams lifted the cup in the sunshine in front of the adoring Arsenal fans, and Wenger’s first yellow ribbon day was successful, the first chapter of one of the greatest stories of the FA cup completed.

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