Vieira’s Last Kick for Arsenal Wins The Cup by Dan Smith
You could argue that the football we played at the start of this season was as good, if not better, then how we performed when we went unbeaten. We won 8 out of first 9 fixtures (drawing the other), with Reyes looking like he had finally settled into English Football, scoring 6 times in that spell.
To the surprise of many, a 17-year-old named Cesc Fabregas started on the opening day, the youngest person in our history to do so. Ironically the day we equalled Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 games undefeated was the closest we came to a loss in that whole run, roaring back from 3-1 down to beat Middlesbrough 5-3. We overtook Forest’s record a few days later.
There was a cruel irony that we finally lost thanks to a Van Nistelroy penalty, given that he missed a penalty the year before. Not just did Rooney clearly dive for their spot kick, Rio Ferdinand could have been sent off. We were also unhappy how physical they were, in particular targeting Reyes.
It would be how they would approach this fixture for years. It led to rumours of fights in the tunnel, including talk that a pizza was thrown at Sir Alex Ferguson (over a decade later Fabregas admitted he was the culprit).
Having not tasted a loss in so long perhaps it was natural it takes us a while to reset. We only won 1 of our next 4 League games and drew 4 consecutive Champions League ties. The media went from calling us the Invincibles to invisibles.
The problem was that Chelsea had set such a standard that season. Their defence was like a machine who rarely conceded. It meant when Henry scored twice against them, but we conceded two soft set pieces, it was a chance missed to close a 5-point gap. We couldn’t afford to blink before them which we did in January by drawing to Man City then losing at Bolton. When we faced Man United at Highbury it meant both clubs were in the unusual case of playing for second. If you thought that would change the rivalry, you were wrong. In an iconic moment Roy Keane was caught on TV having a go at Vieira in the tunnel.
I thought our captain got the last laugh when he opened the scoring, but we lost 4-2 (Don’t worry he would get the last laugh). We wouldn’t lose again till the last game of the season (we rested players), earning a reputation for playing well when the pressure was off, especially when we put 7 past Everton (Bergkamp was amazing that night).
The narrative the media loved writing was one of ‘Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson finishing empty handed for once when’ they faced us in the FA Cup Final. For 120 minutes we were outplayed as Lehmann, Cole on the line, Ljungberg on the line, and Senderos’ best display for us, took it to penalties.
Having seem my team lose finals after being the better team, I loved winning having played poorly. It’s funny when Liverpool won 2-1 in Cardiff years before the press wrote all that mattered was the result, yet the same rule didn’t apply when it came to us? This was the same Man United who ended our streak by cheating, again something that wasn’t reported. So this was karma …. we won the game that mattered.
Vieira showed great class after scoring the final pen. After Keane’s behaviour in the Highbury tunnel, he really could have rubbed it in here, but didn’t.
Little did he know winning the Cup would be his last kick for Arsenal…