Sport

Arsenal Frailties Exposed Once More as Birmingham Secure Carling Cup

A horrific mix up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny made sure that Arsenal’s long wait for a trophy continues as Obefemi Martins struck a crushing late winner to win the Carling Cup Final for Birmingham City 2-1. Zigic had struck in the first half, before Van Persie equalised in the thirty seventh minute with an exquisite volley. But it was the ex-Newcastle United man who broke Arsenal fans hearts as Martins pounced on a disastrous lack of communication between goalkeeper Wojciech Sceniczny and defender Laurent Koscielny.

It was a triumphant day for Birmingham City and their manager Alex McLeish who described it as the greatest achievement of his career as he and his players secured Birmingham City’s first trophy since 1963 with a performance of courage, skill, grit and organisation. Many expected Arsenal to cruise to success but Birmingham defied the odds and took the game to Arsenal. Zigic was the pinpoint of the attack; a distinct handful for the shaky Arsenal defence. The fact that Arsenal were missing their inspirational captain Cesc Fabregas and the blistering pace of Theo Walcott could only have encouraged Birmingham City that they could upset Arsenal’s rhythm of play. The players still had to thank Ben Foster who won the man of the match trophy for a second time. He has now made three appearances in the Carling Cup Final in a row winning all three. Foster was the saviour of Manchester United in the penalty shoot-out two years ago and a substitute the second. This year he proved to be the saviour of Birmingham City as he made several stunning saves, denying Andrey Arshavin at the near post with his feet, a swerving shot from Nasri and two distinct ones from Nicolas Bendtner and Samir Nasri in the second that kept Birmingham in the game.

The first half was played at a particularly pulsating pace with Birmingham unfortunate not to have had a penalty and the Arsenal keeper sent off when Lee Bowyer was called for offside when the replays showed he clearly wasn’t. Birmingham City looked more dangerous up front with their physical presence causing great problems for The Gunners. Arsenal had their best chance to take the lead through Andrey Arshavin who turned inside the box after being found by Nasri and fired a powerful left foot shot only to be denied by the stalwart Ben Foster.

It was the set piece that finally undid Arsenal as a corner was swept in with Johson heading the ball on to an unmarked 6’7 Zigic to nod it past the despairing Szczesny sending the blue half of Wembley into frenzy of delight. Tribute must be paid to the Birmingham City fans who rocked Wembley that day. They had good reason too and were nearly sent into dreamland when Zigic nearly swept them into a two goal lead but was denied by some decent goal keeping by Szczesny. They were made to regret the pressure they had Arsenal under and Arsenal started to exert some pressure themselves. The goal was inevitable and came after a terrific run by Jack Wilshere who hit a thunderous shot against the crossbar, the ball eventually found itself at the feet of Arshavin who whipped in a cross from the right for Van Persie to hook/volley into the bottom left hand corner beyond the stationary Ben Foster injuring himself in the process.

Birmingham had the best chances in the second half with Fahey hitting a cracking shot on the edge of box against the post. The second half was a midfield battle and less entertaining than the first but the determination of the Birmingham team was inspiring. The game was starting towards drift into extra time, but
then came the moment of madness that will haunt Arsenal fans for a long time. Koscielny went
to clear it, Szczesny went to scoop it up, Koscielny missed it and Szczesny was not expecting this and the ball found its way in to the path of Obefemi Martins, three yards out to stir the ball home. Queue delight and a spectacular somersault.

Birmingham deserve full credit for their victoryand played at their potential and beyond showing the guts and leadership that Arsenal lacked in the game. The Gunners looked destitute at the final whistle, shell shocked as another chance for glory evaporated before their eyes as naivety and lack of concentration undid them at the final hurdle, this recovery will take a long time and hopefully it will not lead to a downward spiral for a season that has looked so promising. They are still in the Champions League and hold a potentially promising position in the title race and shout in the FA Cup. But how many times have we heard potential and promise only to be disappointed by Arsenal’s ineptitude to seal the deal and become the real thing. Birmingham’s joy, Arsenal’s bitter despair.

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