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Arsenal's FA Cup final clash with Chelsea feels eerily unreal compared to raucous Cardiff in 2002

DON’T get me wrong, I grew up dreaming of playing at Wembley — and whether it was the old or new stadium it was always special.

But the thing I remember about this 2002 FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was the decibel levels pitchside.

The way the stadium has been built, it retains the atmospherics in the middle.

So the noise of the fans made it virtually impossible to talk or shout to team-mates during the game. It was quite incredible.

And that was with the retractable roof open!

To try to convey a message to my left-back or right-back, a distance away, I had to adapt and use body language and watch more intently than I would do normally to cover the lack of anyone hearing me.

It was completely alien to my normal game.

It’s amazing to think more than 18 years after that ferocious, deafening, cacophony in the Welsh capital, tonight the same two clubs will walk out to a wall of silence at Wembley.

The whole thing feels eerily unreal.


This was my first FA Cup final and, like so many other youngsters, the magic of the FA Cup was imprinted in me growing up.

When I started playing and competing at the highest level, I hoped I would get the chance to get to the final and experience what I had watched in awe as an impressionable lad.

I was lucky enough to win the FA Cup four times and all three of them are very special in so many ways.

But this first one stands out because everything was new to me.

And we won the game with two of the most wonderful goals, in the way you would want to win an FA Cup final.

I look back with such fondness on this match.

It was a great pleasure to be part of that Arsenal side with so many players who had the ability to produce that bit of skill and a moment that would win you a game.

It’s amazing to think more than 18 years after that ferocious, deafening, cacophony in the Welsh capital, tonight the same two clubs will walk out to a wall of silence at Wembley.

How would I describe our first scorer Ray Parlour? In a word — committed.

The guy had a lung capacity that never ceased to amaze me.

But beyond that effort, he had a consistency, game after game, that was infectious.

This was a real nip and tuck match against a quality Chelsea side who went close a couple of times.

Then with 20 minutes remaining it was Ray’s typical tenacity that got him upfield.

Picking up the ball from Sylvain Wiltord inside Chelsea’s half in a central position, he had the confidence to hold on to it.

Then as other team-mates got forward to take defenders away, he got himself into a position where he finished with the most beautifully struck curling shot from over 25 yards out that gave keeper Carlo Cudicini no chance.

Ten minutes later — and not to be outdone — Freddie Ljungberg picked the ball up just inside the Chelsea half.

He forced his way past John Terry, before unleashing another fantastic arc of a shot on the edge of the area that curled around Cudicini again.

Moments of sublime magic that just turned the game into our favour.

I can remember feeling all sorts of emotion at the end.

Beyond elation, I was relieved that we had won the game.

But then, three days later, we knew we still had to go to Old Trafford and try to seal the Premier League title.

Of course, happily we won at Old Trafford 1-0 with a goal from Wiltord to clinch the Double before our final match of the season against Everton.

There was plenty of champagne at the Millennium Stadium, but I think I ended up getting sprayed with more of it than I actually swigged!

It was a boyhood ambition realised and to be surrounded by such a wonderful side and fans, everything just felt right.

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