Football: F A Cup Final: Seven Goals in a Week for Owen the Millennium Man ; Enter McAllister to Inflict the Final Indignity: Arsenal 1 Liverpool 2 Ljungberg 72 Owen 83, 88 Half-Time: 0-0 Attendance: 74,200
Townsend, Nick, The Independent (London, England)
IN 30 YEARS' time, they will still refer to it as the "Michael Owen final", just as the name of Charlie George remains immortalised from these clubs' last meeting in an FA Cup final. It was the impish England striker alone whose predatory cunning left the Arsenal players prone and utterly bewildered at the final whistle, questioning just where it had all gone so wrong. For Liverpool had absolutely no right to triumph here yesterday.
All you could say in explanation was that it was time for the Anfield club. Liverpool had been vanquished in these clubs' previous two final meetings, first in 1950 when a Brylcreemed Denis Compton and his brother, Leslie, adorned the stage in a 2-0 victory and then when George Graham claimed Eddie Kelly's goal and Charlie was indeed the Highbury darling back in 1971.
With seven minutes' remaining, the engraver must have already have been poised to inscribe the letter "A" on the cup. Fredrik Ljungberg had scored what looked the decisive goal of a hugely disappointing first FA Cup final to be staged outside England. By the time the Swede had done so, Arsenal, their midfield pulsating with ideas and stripping bare the pretensions of their counterparts, might have had three. Liverpool, for whom so many players had failed to exhibit the prowess of recent weeks, notably Steven Gerrard, had spurned one and looked on the point of capitulation.
But then the presence of the substitute Gary McAllister, who had been bafflingly absent and greatly missed until then, provoked a renewed vigour. Owen, finishing with the venom that destroyed Argentina's rearguard in France '98, struck with a vengeance. His brace in the 83rd and 88th minutes were his seventh and eighth goals in his last four games. Somewhere, you suspect, that former Anfield favourite Kevin Keegan, who was given to ignoring his qualities in Euro 2000, may have given a wry and somewhat embarrassed smile.
To the shame of those who determine such matters, no longer is this the season's curtain-call. The Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, had to contemplate a Uefa Cup Final and next Saturday's final Premiership game, in which victory will secure the succulent reward of Champions' League entry. In the circumstances, it was unlikely that Houllier would abandon his ploy of rotation, rotation, rotation.
McAllister was perhaps the most surprising name to miss the cut. Nor, for that matter, was there a place for club captain Robbie Fowler, a veteran of Liverpool's last final appearance when they were defeated by Manchester United five years ago.
Arsene Wenger's midfield line-up raised some queries, as Gilles Grimandi's inventory of qualities does not normally include wit and invention. But the sight of Ray Parlour, Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu on the bench offered followers of the London side a degree of comfort. Midfield - and in particular Gerrard versus Patrick Vieira - was perceived to be the area where victory would be masterminded, but for much of the first period both sets of personnel regarded each other with such trepidation that they simply cancelled each other out. The first half was, frankly, rather a bore.
The probing runs of Robert Pires on the side of the stadium in shadow lifted Gunners hearts, while Sylvain Wiltord and Thierry Henry toiled valiantly, but too frequently moves foundered on a poor final pass. …