My AXA sponsored FA Cup Final

The first thing I'll say is well done to everyone in Cardiff. As far as I saw the supporters of both teams were impeccably behaved all day and the atmosphere was incredible.

I arrived at about midday and the streets of Cardiff were already lined with a veritable blanket of red shirts, someone had clearly not told the Liverpool supporters their team were going to be wearing yellow. Supporters of both teams, casual and fanatic, all mingled together happily exchanging nothing but good natured banter, the grass outside the castle matured into a popular picnic spot for everyone enjoying their pies and pasties. Singing and chanting rang through the air, I had the misfortune of spending most of my pre-match time around Liverpool supporters (with an Arsenal shirt on) so I declined the numerous offers to join in.

The feel on this hot and sunny day was - in case you missed the point - that of a great day out for everyone present to enjoy equally, with rivalries and confrontational attitudes left a long, long way behind. The walk to the ground was an experience in itself, every street in the area becoming its own 'Wembley Way' with armies of scarlet clad supporters so intermingled you'd be forgiven for thinking that 70,000 supporters had turned up to watch just the one team. Inside the ground was no better, the only difference between most fans was the white sleeves of the Arsenal shirts.

Vieira ooOO-ooOO

Within the first quarter of an hour we should have been a goal up. Henry set his precedent for the day, ghosting past players as if they weren't there, leaving trails of legs sticking out sure they'd got the ball a moment ago. Then running out of ideas just as 35,000 red shirted (and white sleeved) spectators all got a really good one (just whack it one for christs' sake). The first half of the 2001 FA Cup Final should however, be imprinted on the minds of anyone present as 45 minutes when one Patrick Vieira was untouchable. Immense. Magnificent. Spectacular.

I've never seen anything like it, young players should watch Vieira's performance over and over again if they want to know what a modern midfielder should do. Run - a lot and everywhere. Tackle - like a man possessed, getting the ball every time and sending an inspirational roar into the hearts if all players and supporters, and in equal measure petrifying the opposition. Learn how to step through players with the ball at your feet as if they didn't exist. Charge forward dragging a giant fishing net snaring your team-mates along the way and forcing them to follow. Challenge for every ball - in the air, along the floor, waist height, shoulder height......

Case for the Defence

Vieira apart, defenders had a good day. Adams and Keown were superb, between them they eliminated the small threat Liverpool's long ball game posed. Sami Hyppiä was superb, single handedly making up for some comical blunders from Sander 'teflon gloves' Westerveld with some marvellous goal line clearances. Liverpool's wannabe goalkeeper Stepahne Henchoz (try and tell me he didn't make Liverpool's best two saves) also had a good game, barring the dodgy handballs.

Ashley Cole was bright as a button down the left and Babbel in the other direction made things interesting. Dixon and Carragher were the only two players not to really have that much of an impact on the game.

Brown Paper Bag for the Midfield

Gerrard had an average game by his high standards and never really stamped any authority on the game. Some sections of the media talked up the game as a battle between him and Vieira but that really isn't a contest, maybe in a few years. It's easy to forget that Gerrard is still a young player and though he is showing signs of maturing, he still has a great deal to learn and a lot of time to learn it (so long as he stays injury free). One of England's specialities seems to be getting carried away with good young prospects, Owen Hargreaves anyone? One good game for Bayern and the next morning the papers are talking about his availability for the England - Mexico game. It's just silly.

Murphy was poor - his passing largely off target and he, along with most of Liverpool's midfield, spent the best part of the afternoon being tackled by Vieira. Smicer looked lively although a particularly vicious gust of still air may have blown him over at any point. Hamman has enhanced his status as a dirty player as far as I'm concerned. The thing is he really doesn't need to be, he is a talented footballer but for some reason he is compelled to be a filthy git. Maybe it is just all mistimed, in which case he should sort it out. McAllisters introduction made a difference and his ethos of slowing the game down and using his excellent distribution to break a team down rather than pace and power was instantly effective.

That's More Like It

The Arsenal midfield had a much better time of it, the majority of the play and the most threatening passages from either side. Pires played well, running with the ball confidently, some neat passing and decent crosses adding to his all round contribution. Ljungberg looked his usual lively self for the first half but was largely anonymous and looked out of sorts as the game progressed, it looked as though Kanu was about to come on in his place but then he went and scored.

This messed up Wengers plan, I believe he was about to go for a three pronged attack of Kanu, Henry and Wiltord (taking Ljungberg off for Kanu). Instead he opted for a five man midfield taking Wiltord off for Parlour to sit on our lead... and there lies the fatal mistake. Changing the shape that was decimating Liverpool for 75 minutes and not continuing the attacking football that was proving so effective. I still think that if we had brought Kanu on (or Bergkamp) for Ljungberg we could have finished the game off properly and won a good 2 or 3 nil. It would have been a bit hard on Freddie though.

Grimandi proved his usefulness as a squad player, he really seems to relish the gritty, hard working midfield role and he performed well today. The choice to play Gilles instead of Ray Parlour gave Patrick Vieira more license to roam and control the game, a role that the big Frenchman shone in this-afternoon.

Boring, Boring Liverpool

As Liverpool, once again, played with 10 men behind the ball for most of the match and made attacking them almost blasé, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey had a quiet time of it. When given a chance Heskey consistently made a hash of it, he did connect with one cross and headed goalwards only to be superbly saved by David Seaman. Heskey's inability to threaten the goal and Fowler's lacklustre contribution as a sub was all made up for though as Michael Owen took his limited chances with the finesse and ruthlessness you would expect from a top striker.

Thierry Henry could learn a thing or two in that department his almost Andy Cole-esque goals to shots ratio got even worse. His running is superb, touch and control unsurpassed but this season his finishing has not been of the clinical nature you should expect from a world class centre forward. I for one refuse to jump on the increasingly prevalent anti-Henry bandwagon, he is still one of the best forwards in Europe and I'm sure it's just a confidence thing. At no point in the season has he really hit a run of goals and had that 'hot' spell, so important in a strikers season. Wiltord was as usual full of running and he worked so hard for the team he should be congratulated.

Not one to complain......

I'm not going to moan, Liverpool won because Michael Owen (England's only really world class striker - I think I've said that before) took his chances excellently, especially his second goal slotted superbly under Seaman. Maybe a younger, fitter Lee Dixon would have stopped him, but the older, more experienced legend was there instead. I will say that I thought the free kick, from which the first goal was scored, was never in a million years a free kick. I knew as soon as it was awarded it would be trouble. Oh, and we should have had at least one penalty.... *stops moaning*

As usual the prevailing sentiment before the match was 'may the best team win'. Maybe next time eh? Well done to Liverpool and thanks to everyone in Cardiff for a great day out and a phenomenal atmosphere. Just one more thing, Michael Owen man of the match my ar#e.

Man of the Match : Patrick Vieira

What are your thoughts on the final? was Cardiff good for you? make your voice heard on the forum.

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