Arsene Wenger has reached the FA Cup semifinals for the tenth time. He is seeking his seventh FA Cup Final and sixth FA Cup trophy so he can join George Ramsay as the most successful manager in the competitions history. So how did the previous nine semifinals pan out?
1997-98 Wolves – Arsenal 0:1
It was pretty much a one-way-street from the beginning but our winning goal came from an unlikely hero. Patrick Vieira picked out Christopher Wreh who scored the only goal of the game. We should have scored more but the score-line remained unaltered until the final whistle. The game was played at Villa Park.
1998-99 Manchester United-Arsenal 0:0 (after extra-time)
This one turned out to be just a warm-up for the biggest heart-breaking moment in my Arsenal life (alongside that defeat in Leeds in the same season). We were without Emmanuel Petit but we were still good enough to keep United at bay. They had moaned about the disallowed Keane goal due to Yorke interfering the game while being offside but they were lucky not to receive a sending off as Gary Neville was his usual disgusting self.
1998-99 Manchester United-Arsenal 2:1 (after extra-time) – replay
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Manchester United went on to win a treble in 1998-99 but they hadn’t managed to win a single game against Arsenal in 90 minutes in five attempts. We entered this FA Cup Replay with six matches without defeat against United (W4D2). Beckham’s opener suggested things might head in United’s favour but a piece of Dennis Bergkamp brilliance evened the score in the second half. Anelka’s goal was ruled out for offside but it was Roy Keane who was sent off. And, then it happened. A penalty that might have changed football history in our favour.
Phil Neville fouled Ray Parlour in the penalty box and it was a clear penalty. Bergkamp took the ball, sent a low shot that should have secured a second consecutive FA Cup Final against Newcastle but Peter Schmeichel made a save. Who knows, if we had won that one, maybe we would have retained the double as well – we were in great form, unbreakable at the back and venomous in attack. We still had 30 minutes of extra-time with an extra-man on the pitch though but Ryan Giggs scored the most memorable goal ever in the FA Cup semifinals after which he decided to share with the world that he was made out of razors. This game was played at Villa Park.
2000-01 Arsenal-Spuds 2:1
In what turned out to be the third season in a row without a league title (yes, those were the years when ending second were not good enough), the FA Cup was a real chance for a trophy. Our opponents in the semifinals – played at Old Trafford – were arch-rivals Spuds. They appointed Glenn Hoddle as their new manager and wanted to get one over us.
It didn’t start well. The Spuds took the lead through Gary Doherty but it was all Arsenal (dot com) from that point onward. Paddy Vieira got an equalizer and our much-disputed French attacking midfielder Robert Pires scored a winner to send us to Cardiff where the final would take place. We eventually lost the final to Liverpool so we had to wait another year to win the competition.
2001-02 Middlesbrough-Arsenal 0:1
In what some Gooners consider to be our best season under Wenger (even better than The Invincibles’ one) we faced Middlesbrough in the FA Cup semifinal. It was played at Old Trafford and it took an own goal from Gianluca Festa after Thierry Henry’s free-kick to get us into the final. We weren’t at our usual level as Richard Wright (yes, that Richard Wright!) had to bail us out on a few occasions. We went on to win the cup with an unforgettable “it’s just Ray Parlour”- goal and a smooth finish from Fredrik Ljungberg.
2002-03 Arsenal-Sheffield United 1:0
Another big FA Cup goal from Ljungberg as the Swede scored the only goal in the Old Trafford semifinal against Sheffield United. But, it wasn’t about Ljungberg after the game – it was all about a master-piece save from 39-year-old David Seaman to prevent an equalizer in the dying minutes of the game. It was Seaman’s 1,000th match at senior level and he got himself a perfect present for a milestone game. We won the game and eventually won our second consecutive FA Cup trophy against Southampton.
2003-04 Arsenal-Manchester United 0:1
This game was a part of a difficult streak during The Invincibles’ season. We were defeated by our bitter rivals Manchester United at Villa Park thanks to a number of missed chances from our players. Edu and Vieira hit the bar while Roy Carroll acted like a real goalkeeper between the sticks. And, when you don’t score against Carroll, Silvestre and Brown, you know it’s not your day. Paul Scholes scored the only goal of the game.
This defeat was followed by a Champions’ League exit against Chelsea but we held our grip on the league and won it without a single defeat.
2004-05 Arsenal-Blackburn Rovers 3:0
The game was played at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. It was our fifth consecutive semifinal and a game with just one team intending to play football. Blackburn played…well, something else. We took the lead through Pires before the end of the first half and a 21-year-old substitute Robin Van Persie added two goals in the last five minutes of the game to break the streak of narrow victories in the FA Cup semifinal.
We eventually won the cup against Manchester United thanks to Jens Lehmann’s save of Paul Scholes penalty in the shoot-out.
2008-09 Arsenal-Chelsea 1:2
The semifinal was played at Wembley. Four years after our last appearance at this stage things had changed dramatically – we were no longer one of the two best teams in England and we weren’t dominating our city rivals Chelsea anymore. We had a rather disappointing season, especially after a brilliant 2007-08, but we managed to retain our place in the Top Four. Andrey Arshavin – who played a huge role in our second half of the season improvement – was surprisingly on the bench for the game. We took the lead through Theo Walcott but Chelsea were too strong for us – Malouda equalized and our nemesis Didier Drogba scored a winner.
When you think about it, we had Fabianski in poor form, Eboue, Silvestre, Toure past his prime, Denilson and Bendtner at 1:1 on the pitch. There was only going to be one result.
2013-14 Arsenal-Wigan 1:1, 4:2 (after penalties)
We had to wait five years to return to Wembley. And, it didn’t go smoothly. The FA Cup holders Wigan, who had knocked out Manchester City in the quarterfinals didn’t come to Wembley with their pants around their ankles. They even took the lead after Per Mertesacker’s mistake – Jordi Gomez converted a penalty to hand The Latics the lead. BFG made amends for his mistake by scoring an equalizer with ten minutes to go however. We should have won the game before penalties (the goal is still shaking from Chamberlain’s hit) but it ended up all rosy as Lukasz Fabianski – five years older and million years more mature – saved two opening penalties. All our four takers – including legendary January signing Kim Källström – converted their penalties well and we went on to win the competition with a nail-biting 3:2 victory over Hull City.
Our tenth semifinal shouldn’t be taken lightly. As we should have learned by now, nobody comes to Wembley just to participate.