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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
No more boring, boring Arsenal
By John May at the Millennium Stadium

It was just like old times as the cries of "1-0 to the Arsenal" rang out.

Former skipper Tony Adams would have given a grunt and nod of acknowledgement at the scoreline, but any resemblance to the Gunners' previous incarnation and the one that lifted the FA Cup is purely coincidental.

Robert Pires (left) and Chris Baird
Southampton tried to contain Arsenal

Gone are the days under George Graham when Arsenal took fiendish delight in snubbing their nose at the beautiful game by grinding out results.

Nick a goal and shut up shop was their philosophy back then. But like a famous Frenchman of the past, Arsene Wenger is scornful of the nation of shopkeepers.

Being no fool, Wenger knows the success of any team is built on a solid defence. Why else would he have hauled Sol Campbell across North London?

But unlike the Arsenal of old, the very make-up of this Arsenal team means they are uncomfortable trying to sit on a one-goal lead.

Without Campbell and Patrick Vieira, it was suggested Arsenal would be classed among the invertebrates with sea slugs and jellyfish.

Outside of mocking Manchester, few people would begrudge Arsenal a trophy this season

Ironically, at the end of a week when an Old Lady laid bare the folly of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez's snorting arrogance that he would never pay top peseta for a defender, Arsenal showed the best form of defence is attack.

Oleg Luzhny is no Sol Campbell, but he is a more than competent deputy when filling in at the back.

However, Arsenal can keep their opponents on the back foot to such an extent that their own makeshift defence does not affect the Gunners.

Consider Wenger's options up front.

How does he mesh the attacking flair of Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg and the incomparable Thierry Henry into one unit?

It must be a hell of a lot of fun, a bit like having all your favourite toys out at once and wondering which ones to play with.

Such is the array of talent in the Arsenal line-up that it dictates to other managers how they play.

When Gordon Strachan looked at Arsenal's left flank of Pires and Ashley Cole his first thought must have been: "How do we contain them?"

Rather than think how Fabrice Fernandes might have exploited Pires' defensive shortcomings, Strachan's selection was an act of containment.

He was even prepared to throw young Chris Baird into the maelstrom of a Cup final for only his second game in order to allow Paul Telfer to locate Pires.

Strachan did not pick the wrong team. Any team he cared to pick would not have been able to match an Arsenal team in full fig.

Outside of mocking Manchester, few people would begrudge Arsenal a trophy this season - and that is certainly not like the old times.




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