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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May 2005, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Under-fire Vieira has final word
By Charlie Henderson

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger embraces captain Patrick Vieira
Vieira has been one of Wenger's best signings
Arsenal fans had little to cheer for 120 minutes of the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.

The Gunners were a listless imitation of the team that has won plaudits from punters for playing the beautiful game under Arsene Wenger.

Manchester United ran rings around their rivals but could not find the knockout punch.

In the penalty shoot-out they were caught by a sucker punch, with Patrick Vieira scoring the decisive spot-kick to finally give Arsenal's supporters something to shout about.

And the French skipper was the focus of the post-match celebration.

Wenger, after sharing the most cursory of handshakes with Sir Alex Ferguson, made a beeline across the sodden outfield to give his captain a congratulatory embrace.

And once the players had made their way from the Manchester United end back to their own supporters, they tried to raise Vieira on to their shoulders in response to the vocal adulation he was receiving.

The adulation could be the perfect tonic to help Vieira bounce back to his best next season

The 28-year-old has not enjoyed a good season.

In fact, he has endured his worst campaign at Highbury since becoming Wenger's first signing in September 1996.

In half the summers since he joined from AC Milan for 3.5m, Real Madrid have come knocking.

The sustained success of last season's "Invincible" campaign attracted determined Spanish suitors once more and Real looked to have finally captured the languid midfield totem when Arsenal accepted a 23m offer.

But at the last minute, after a summer of silence, Vieira spoke and decided to stay. By Christmas, some fans wished he had gone.

The argument went that the "will he won't he" saga had affected Arsenal's build-up to the new campaign and his actions had made him unfit to wear the captain's armband.

Patrick Vieira celebrates his side's FA Cup final victory
Vieira's winning spot-kick was a rare highlight in a poor season

Some half-hearted performances did little to dim their anger.

It seemed as if Vieira was playing with the nagging thought in the back of his mind that he should have finally taken a fresh challenge and left London.

A niggling ankle injury and the absence of Gilberto Silva and Edu for much of the season have been contributory factors, but while he rose to the challenge of orchestrating a game on occasion, it was few and far between.

The FA Cup final was a case in point.

Vieira started well but soon faded as United, under the tutelage of his old rival Roy Keane, dominated the midfield battle.

Arsenal were pushed deeper and deeper and the Frenchman's most telling contribution came in defence when, with keeper Jens Lehmann stranded, he blocked a goalbound Keane shot.

Keane found the net in the shoot-out to make it 4-4, but within a minute Vieira had struck to send the Arsenal supporters into delirium.

They felt the captain owed them something and here it was in the form of the FA Cup.

And after a long and hearty rendition of "Vieira's song" in the stadium, his name was still being sung long into the night as fans disembarked from trains returning to London.

That adulation, along with a summer of rest and recuperation without Real rumours, could be the perfect tonic to help Vieira bounce back to his best next season.




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