Wenger's foreign legion secure Arsenal double
ARSENE Wenger's foreign legion completed the cosmopolitan coach's French revolution as Arsenal sealed English football's double by beating Newcastle in the FA Cup final yesterday.
Goalscorers Marc Overmars, a Dutchman, and Nicolas Anelka, from France, set the seal on a fantastic two-year turnaround under Frenchman Wenger's regime.
The Cup win comes two weeks after Arsenal won the Premier League title.
Wenger's side thus joined the class of 1971, emulating the side which performed the same feat under Bertie Mee.
Overmars got the vital first goal in the 23rd minute and Anelka settled some second-half jitters with the clincher in the 69th.
The speedy Overmars proved once again that he is the man to step up in big-pressure matches. Scorer of 16 goals all season, over the past two months he has been the source of several crucial strikes.
In March he scored the vital goal which beat then league-leading Manchester United at their Old Trafford fortress, a win which gave Arsenal the impetus to overtake Alex Ferguson's men.
Then a fortnight ago, in a carnival atmosphere at Highbury, Overmars was twice on the mark in the 4-0 win over Everton which confirmed the league championship.
'It's the biggest thing that you can dream of,' said the Dutchman of the double. 'It's the same as to win a European Cup.' In the hot sunshine of Wembley, there was little doubt that Arsenal were destined to take the famous pot once flying winger Overmars had given them a deserved lead although it was a scrappy effort overall.
French midfielder Emmanuel Petit sent in a deft pass over the head of United's Italian defender Alessandro Pistone and Overmars was on to the ball in a flash, nodding it down before ramming it past the onrushing Shay Given, who was slow to come off his line.
The goal gave the final the kickstart it needed and sent the Arsenal contingent in the 79,000 crowd into delirium.
And although Newcastle cast off their negative shroud long enough to hit the woodwork twice in quick succession in the second half through Greek star Nikos Dabizas and Alan Shearer, their hopes died when Anelka bagged the decisive second.
Ray Parlour, imperious throughout, flicked the ball through the middle to Anelka who took the ball on his chest and then crashed a right-footed effort past Given.
Wenger, the first foreign manager to win the Premier League, thus led the North Londoners, packed with a host of overseas stars, to their seventh FA Cup triumph.
'It was fantastic. This is the best moment in my sporting life. It's just remarkable what this team has done,' said Wenger, who admitted he had, just occasionally, feared his side might miss out on both league and cup fronts. 'It is your dream always when you work together to achieve something like this. I'm very happy today. We wanted it so much,' Wenger said.
Anelka, preferred to fit again veteran Ian Wright alongside Christopher Wreh, should have given Arsenal the lead in the 21st minute, but headed just over from the edge of the six-yard area following fine work down the right by Parlour. The young Frenchman's pace was clearly unnerving a static-looking United defence as Arsenal showed no sign of missing either Wright or Footballer of the Year Dennis Bergkamp.
England skipper Shearer had a miserable afternoon which was summed up by a late challenge on Tony Adams which brought a booking just before the break.
Shearer was on the receiving end just after the restart when Nigel Winterburn clattered into him and likewise received a yellow card from referee Paul Durkin.
Arsenal were still far from their best form but Newcastle, despite their massive travelling support, were strangely passive, despite having to chase the game.
They did belatedly step up the pace when they struck the woodwork twice in the space of three minutes in the second half.
First, Dabizas headed against the top of the bar following a floated Robert Lee free-kick.
And then Shearer took advantage of a slip by Martin Keown to cut inside from the left and drill the ball past a stranded Seaman only to see his effort rebound off the foot of the far post.
In Scotland, Hearts ended Rangers manager Walter Smith's tenure at the club in disappointing fashion, beating the Glasgow giants 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final - ensuring the Gers ended the season without a trophy for the first time since 1986.
Colin Cameron and Stephane Adam scored the Hearts goals, to give them their sixth Cup success and their first trophy since the League Cup triumph in 1963, while veteran Ally McCoist briefly gave Rangers hope by reducing the deficit nine minutes from time.