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Romford Ray's stunning strike

"Oh no, he got through! Oh, it's alright it's only Ray Parlour...", former Soccer AM presenter and Chelsea fan Tim Lovejoy said to his Fanzone commentary partner Bradley Walsh as the curly-haired midfielder burst through on goal in the 70th minute of the 2002 FA Cup final in Cardiff.

Moments later the ball was resting in the back of the Chelsea net and, as Parlour's former club Arsenal prepare to face the Blues again in the Cup this weekend (this time in a semi-final at Wembley), the sight of Parlour's stunning strike lives long in Gunners fans' - and undoubtedly Tim Lovejoy's - memory.

Arsenal won the double that year, ending a four-year spell without a trophy, but while the headlines went to 17-goal Fredrik Ljungberg, 13-goal Robert Pires and talismanic captain Patrick Vieira across the midfield, it was Parlour who embodied the work ethic of the side - wracking up 39 appearances in a team where the English influence of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and David Seaman was beginning to wane.

Listen to Ray on the latest ESPNsoccernet Podcast

Lovejoy's comments at the time epitomised the way that rival fans regarded Parlour: simply a workhorse with no flair or talent to the degree that you could find elsewhere in the Gunners' midfield. But he would prove his doubters wrong and etch himself into FA Cup history by hitting that fabulous goal in their 2-0 win at the Millennium Stadium.

Not known for his goalscoring exploits, Parlour was in his 11th season with the Gunners and a veteran of 300-odd games for the club. The midfielder was often criticised for his negligible goal return, but was always capable of the odd long-range strike, as Blues fans found out that May afternoon.

Upon collecting the ball from Sylvain Wiltord's pass, Chelsea could have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief when they saw it was Parlour, and not Thierry Henry, in possession. William Gallas and Marcel Desailly, two of the finest defenders in the game, stood between him and Carlo Cudicini in the Chelsea goal, while behind him the Blues' midfielders were closing in fast.

Looking like he would lose possession for a second, Parlour then exploited the space as Gallas dropped off to deal with the run from Wiltord and, turning the ball onto his instep, smashed the ball beyond the despairing Cudicini from 25 yards. The Italian got a touch, but was unable to keep the ball out; and, six minutes later, was picking the ball out of the same corner of the net when Freddie Ljungberg sealed the win with his own curling effort. With the four-year drought laid to rest, Parlour would get his day in the sun.

Manager Arsene Wenger said after the match: "I made Ray my man of the match today and not just because he scored. He has a huge engine and a tremendous physical presence too and that first goal was vital."

Parlour himself has his own memories of the day: ''My dad used to make me watch every FA Cup final when I was a kid, so to play in a Cup final was a big factor in my life,'' he says. ''To score such an important goal was amazing and has to be up there with one of the best moments of my career.

''It was a fantastic moment for myself. The game could have gone either way, Chelsea had just had a couple of really good chances and then suddenly I got to 25 yards and thought 'What am I going to do with it now?'

"Luckily enough, I had a shot and it went in the top corner, but usually they go in the stand. I think the crowd behind the goal must have ducked when they saw it was me."

With his old club set to face the Blues in the Cup again this weekend, Parlour believes that Arsenal can exploit the weaknesses shown by Guus Hiddink's defence in recent games.

''I would say to the wingers, take on your man and get the ball into the box,'' he says. ''I think Petr Cech has had a nightmare in recent games. He was all over the place [against Liverpool], every cross that came in he was flapping at and made some bad mistakes. He's a great keeper but he's low on confidence at the moment and if you're Arsenal, you want to exploit that.

''It's the most important week of their season, for me. The Chelsea game is a lot harder [than Villarreal]; with the players Chelsea have got and the fact it's a Cup game and they could really make a difference to the title race as well [when they face Liverpool next Tuesday].''

Parlour may have jinked away from William Gallas to score his goal [when Gallas was playing for Chelsea] and, now the deposed Arsenal skipper is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Parlour believes that if they stay true to their attacking philosophy, the defence will take care of itself.

''Gallas is a big miss,'' he says. ''Arsenal have had a few bad injuries in the past week or so. Gallas, [Johan] Djourou and [Gael] Clichy have all been out and Mikael Silvestre has come in and done well. Kieron Gibbs has also done really well, and looks a good deputy for Clichy.

''It's all about attack for me. With the likes of [Cesc] Fabregas back in the side; you can see that the attacking players are blending together and playing with confidence, which is a major factor in them doing so well.''

May 4, 2002 saw the side win the FA Cup for the first time since Wenger's double winning season in 1997-98 and they would go on to win the Premier League as well, sealing the title by seven points against Man Utd at Old Trafford with a 1-0 win, just four days after their Cup success.

''It was an amazing week because we won the double as well,'' Parlour remembers. ''The adrenaline was pumping and it was a tough place to go, but we played really well and controlled a lot of the game. Everyone knew their jobs and it was a great way to end the season. The coach journey on the way to the airport was great, because the lads really achieved something special.

''We went to Old Trafford and we knew what we had to do. We had a big party for about three days after the United game, because you could do that at the end of the season. I certainly had a drink to celebrate.''

London-born Parlour was the difference for Arsenal towards the end of the 2001-02 season, although the lack of young English players in the current Gunners line-up is of no concern for the man once dubbed 'The Romford Pele'.

''He [Wenger] will do whatever he thinks is right,'' he says. ''He's not scared to put English players in. If anything, he might think that young English players are a bit overpriced - which they are - but he's always looking to save the club money, which is a good thing.

''Jack Wilshere has made his debut at 16 and Kieran Gibbs has come through as well. If you're good enough, you'll get a chance to play. He's never gone for them in the transfer market, but there's plenty coming through the youth ranks and if they're good enough they'll get into the first-team.''

Parlour's impact on the Arsenal side waned when Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva was signed that summer, but the following season he starred and captained the side to a 5-1 win over Inter Milan at the San Siro in 2003; before stepping in for injured captain Patrick Vieira to help the side to another FA Cup win that same year, this time over Southampton.

He left Arsenal as a double double winner, but also as one of the 'Invincibles' that went the entire 2003-04 season unbeaten and won the league by 11 points from Chelsea. And Parlour believes that such a feat may never be achieved again:

''I think it would be very difficult to do that again,'' he says. ''Teams are a lot more competitive now and we didn't really realise what we were achieving as it happened. Until about April time when the press started talking about the unbeaten season, we were fine. But then it got nerve-wracking in the final few games and we managed to grind out results. It was such an amazing achievement and I really do think it would be hard to do again.''

As for the game against Chelsea, Parlour believes that a win for Arsenal over their London rivals could kickstart their push for a first trophy since 2005. A four-year drought was ended by the under-rated midfielder in the FA Cup and, as another four years approaches, history has a chance of repeating itself.

'' I think Arsenal can definitely get a result, without a doubt,'' he smiles. ''On occasions like this, anything can happen, and a little bit of magic from one of the players could win the game.''

•  "ESPN Classic (Sky Channel 442) will be showing the best Arsenal v Chelsea derbies of yesteryear, Exclusively NOT Live, on Saturday April 18 from 8:15am. For details visit:"

•  "Catch unforgettable Liverpool v Arsenal clashes, Exclusively NOT Live, on ESPN Classic (Sky Channel 442) April 20 & 21 from 11:40am. For details visit:"


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