Gunners do the double


LONDON, AP

The power in English soccer shifted south of Manchester to London with a vengeance when Arsenal won the Premier League title for the first time in four years on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford.

Arsenal took the league title from the hands of nemesis Manchester United with a 1-0 win Wednesday for the first time in four years, condemning the defending champion to a season without any titles for the first time in four years.

Four days earlier, Arsenal won beat Chelsea 2-0 to win the FA Cup, repeating its feat of 1998. Since then, has finished runner-up behind United for the past three seasons. This season, it beat the Reds three times.

Sylvain Wiltord’s 57th-minute strike _ combined with Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Blackburn _ could even see the Reds finish the season in third place for the first time since the Premier League began in 1992.

“We won it this year and now we want to do it again next season,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “Since I arrived at Arsenal, we have won the title twice and United have won it three times. So they are 3-2 ahead and now we want to equalize next season.

“It’s just fantastic to win it here as they are the team we want to beat, who have dominated English football for the past three years.”

Arsenal set a series of milestones in its double win. It was Arsenal’s 12th consecutive victory, the club has 84 points with one game remaining and became the first team to be unbeaten away from home all season in 113 years.

The club won Wednesday without leading goalscorer Thierry Henry and captain Tony Adams. It had recovered from losing outstanding midfielder Robert Pires with a long-term injury in March with Dennis Bergkamp and Freddie Ljungberg finding top form.

But even with Bergkamp on the bench injured Wednesday, Arsenal’s second string strike force delivered.

Arsenal has lost just three games all season, all at home. United has lost nine, including six at Old Trafford.

It’s little wonder Wenger, who led the Gunners to the 1998 double, believes the power has shifted 160 miles (260 kilometers) south of Manchester to north London.

“We wanted tonight to be a shift of power and bring the championship trophy back to Highbury,” Wenger said. “We have 84 points, we’ve never lost away from home. We have scored every game, that’s absolutely tremendous.

“At the beginning of (Wednesday’s) game, I would have been happy with a point, in the second half we looked really solid and they never really threatened. At 1-0, Manchester United realized they would not win the game tonight.”

Winning the title at Old Trafford made it even sweeter for Arsenal.

“We didn’t just come here to get a point, we beat one of the best teams in Europe in their own backyard,” veteran Arsenal defender Lee Dixon said.

Longtime Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman also earned his second double.

“It’s brilliant to win here and keep the (winning) record going. We desperately wanted to do it tonight. The lads were calm, it just felt right, to win it here in Manchester is a great night for me.”

When Manchester United went through a slump in December, the title was tipped Arsenal’s way. Wenger said the club’s 2-1 win over Liverpool two days before Christmas changed the tide toward Arsenal.

“Anfield was the turning point, we had just lost (3-1) against Newcastle,” he said. “When we won at Anfield with 10 men, we found the resources to win the game. From Anfield on, I was convinced we would win the championship.”

Wenger said this season’s double was more satisfying that the first.

“That made it seem natural but to come back and do it again means even more as it is so hard to repeat success,” Wenger said.

“What we have done this year is stronger as we have beaten bigger teams in the FA Cup and we have already gained seven more points in the league and never lost away.”

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, who has spent the past months criticizing Arsenal’s resolve and determination, gave the club praise.

“It is not in question that they deserve it,” he said. “They have won their last 12 games and I don’t think they have lost a goal in their last seven games.

“We had the momentum for a good hour until they scored, but after they scored I thought we were never going to get back.”