Manchester: Arsenal’s dream of a second consecutive double remained alive as a first-half goal from midfielder Freddie Ljungberg gave them a 1-0 win over Sheffield United in their FA Cup semi-final Sunday.
Later, Southampton set up an all-Premier League final next month as striker Brett Ormerod and a Paul Robinson own goal secured a 2-1 win over Watford at Villa Park.
Ljungberg put Arsenal in front in the 34th minute when he fired into the roof of the net with his left foot from six metres out after Sylvain Wiltord hit the post and then had a shot blocked following good work by Francis Jeffers.
United were unfortunate in the build-up as Arsenal defender Sol Campbell clattered into forward Wayne Allison, but referee Graham Poll allowed play to continue and then collided with United’s Michael Tonge, allowing the Londoners to break forward.
“To lose to a goal like that in the manner that we lost was an absolute disgrace,” disappointed United manager Neil Warnock told the BBC. “There’s no justice whatsoever, but my lads were brilliant today.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told Sky Sports: “I don’t think the players should have kicked the ball out. If it’s not a free kick the game goes on. Of course, it was a controversial decision but that happens as well on the other side.”
United’s best chance came six minutes from time when substitute Paul Peschisolido saw his point-blank header from four metres brilliantly clawed away by Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman, making the 1,000th appearance of his career.
The underdogs pushed the holders all the way with a stirring second-half display.
Arsenal began with top scorer Thierry Henry and Dutch strike partner Dennis Bergkamp on the bench — a clear indication that Wenger had one eye on Wednesday’s potential Premier League decider against Manchester United at Highbury.
In came Wiltord and Jeffers to lead the line in what was — the injured Robert Pires apart — arguably Wenger’s strongest possible starting line-up as he welcomed back Martin Keown and Ashley Cole to the defence.
But with 34 minutes gone, Arsenal scored the crucial opening goal with their first genuine chance. United felt aggrieved at the start of the move as referee Poll ignored Campbell’s foul on Allison and then inadvertently ran into United’s Tonge.
Within seconds Jeffers’ cut-back from the by-line fell perfectly for Wiltord, whose first-time shot came back out off the foot of the post. However, Wiltord reacted first and when his follow-up shot from a tight angle was blocked, Ljungberg was perfectly placed to rifle home the loose ball from about six metres.