LONDON: A hotly disputed Freddie Ljungberg goal and a wonder save on his 1,000th appearance by David Seaman put defending champion Arsenal into the FA Cup final for the third season in a row yesterday in 1-0 victory over division one Sheffield United.
The victory means a May 17 final against Southampton at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium as Arsene Wenger’s team keeps alive its dream of becoming the first to complete the league and cup double two seasons in a row.
Gordon Strachan’s Saints beat another division one club, Watford, 2-1 in the other semi-final at Villa Park.
The Blades were furious with referee Graham Poll for allowing Ljungberg’s 35th minute goal with a Sheffield player lying injured at the other end of field. During the move that led to the goal, the official had also accidentally collided with one of their players as he was about to make a challenge.
Six minutes from the end, Seaman produced a stunning save to keep out a close range header from Canadian striker Paul Peschisolido. The ball appeared to be on its way into the net when the 39-year-old England goalkeeper arched his back to get his right hand behind the ball and scoop it out while in midair.
Blades manager Neil Warnock, whose team also is bidding to gain promotion to the Premier League through the playoffs, described Poll’s decision to allow the goal as “a disgrace’’.
“I don’t think I should say really what I want to say,’’ he said. “I thought he was their best midfield player in the move. “He loved every minute of it. I don’t know why they (referees) smile so much when they’re coming off. He’s actually enjoyed that performance. I thought he was so one-sided it was untrue.
“There’s no justice whatsoever. My lads were brilliant today,’’ said Warnock, who also took the Blades to the semi-final of the League Cup. “To lose to a goal like that in the manner that we lost is an absolute disgrace.’’
Wenger, whose team lost 2-1 to Liverpool in the final two seasons ago and beat Chelsea 2-0 last May, saw nothing wrong with the winning goal.
“It was no foul, the ball was moving forward and, if the referee doesn’t give a free-kick, it’s normal to go on,’’ said the Frenchman who also thought Poll was right to play on when he ran into Tonge.
“These things happen. Do you think the referee ran into Tonge on purpose?’’
Now the Gunners have to turn their attention to Wednesday’s Premier League showdown with Manchester United at Highbury.
The Reds are three points clear after a 6-2 demolition of third place Newcastle at St. James Park on Saturday although the Gunners have a game in hand.
Arsenal’s winner against Sheffield United at Old Trafford came with Blades forward Wayne Allison lying injured on the ground in the Arsenal half after a challenge by Sol Campbell. The Arsenal defender called for the ball to kicked out so that Allison could receive treatment.
But play continued as Arsenal had the ball and referee Poll then accidentally helped the Gunners when he collided with Michael Tonge as the Blades midfielder was about to make a challenge in the centre circle.
The move ended with Francis Jeffers crossing from the left and Sylvain Wiltord stabbing the ball against the post. The Frenchman followed up with a shot which was blocked on the line by Robert Page but the ball ran free to Ljungberg who fired into the roof of the net from 12 yards (meters).
The Sheffield United players were furious with referee Poll but the goal stood.
The division one club should have leveled in the 53rd minute with Michael Brown went on a weaving run and set up a shooting chance for Peter Ndlovu. But the veteran Zimbabwe forward to lob tamely into the arms of David Seaman, who was making the 1,000th appearance of his long career.
Then the Gunners almost went two ahead when Brazilian stars Gilberto Silva and Edu combined well to set up a chance for Wiltord whose shot was brilliantly saved by Paddy Kenny.
At Villa Park, Brett Ormerod headed Southampton ahead a minute before half time and Watford’s Paul Robinson, under pressure from James Beattie, slid the ball into his own net for the second 11 minutes from the end. A reply from Marcus Gayle in the 88th minute was too late for the Hornets. – AP