February 27, 2011 4 Comments
The only way to describe the disappointment after that game is a feeling of deflation. After all the pre-match hype, the 6 years of waiting, the decent run of form in 2011, the clear weaknesses of the opposition… Arsenal bottled it. It wasn’t that the Reds didn’t play well – far from it. Wenger got the team right, and almost every player had a good game. But it’s that winning mentality and the ability to finish teams off, do we have it? On that performance, I think not.
We lost, after leading for around an hour, against Barcelona in 2006. We lost, after a youthful Arsenal side held their own against Chelsea’s billionaire team. In both 2007/08 and 2009/10, Arsenal had great opportunities to win the Premier League. But both times, the Gunners failed to deliver at the last hurdle. There are plenty more examples, but there is no reason to depress our readers any more.
Birmingham played with grit and determination. They never stopped running, but were unable to stop Arsenal from slicing through their defence. They were always (and only) dangerous from set pieces. Unfortunately, Arsenal weren’t prepared for the aerial threat of Zigic, just like in the last match against Birmingham at the Emirates.
However, Arsenal could have easily prevented the first goal by being less sloppy. There was a spell of around 5 minutes where Song and Sagna kept giving the ball away, without being under too much pressure. As Birmingham saw more and more of the ball, they brought men forward, eventually pushing for a corner. Their fans went mental – they knew that corners were probably the best chance for a goal. And, thanks to a great delivery by Larsson, the ball was headed towards goal. Zigic rose above every Arsenal player and redirected the header past the oncoming Szczesny.
It is also important to note that Szczesny should have been sent off after the first few minutes, when he brought down Bowyer. It was called offside, but the game could have been very different had that decision gone Birmingham’s way.
Robin Van Persie‘s goal was fabulous. It came after a beautiful counter-attack, with Wilshere at the helm. As Jack received the ball on the edge of the box, his shot smacked the crossbar. The rebound fell to Arshavin, who held up the ball well, before sprinting round the defender and chipping the ball into RVP. The Dutchman twisted his body and fired the ball into the net. It was all square at the break.
The second half was almost all-Arsenal. Nasri took loads of long-range shots, Rosicky had a few good chances, as did Bendtner. It seemed that it would be heading to extra time, but Arsenal were in the ascendency. The fans were chanting loudly, the team were playing slick football.
But then Clichy made a silly foul in the Birmingham half. Foster took the free-kick and his long ball was knocked on by Zigic, the big centre forward who caused problems all day. Zigic was very slow, but his presence was an issue for our defence. As the ball looked like it was rolling into the keeper’s arms, Koscielny tried to clear the ball. And he missed the ball. Yes, a professional footballer tried to kick the football but missed it. The ball hit Szczesny on the knee and fell kindly to Martins, who scored one of the easiest goals of his career. And probably the most important.
Many people are saying that we didn’t play well. But I disagree. From the beginning of the second half until the last few minutes, Arsenal controlled the game. Chances flowed and everything seemed to be going our way. But football is all about results, and Birmingham got the result. They fought hard but weren’t the better side, like some of their players and pundits were saying. But let’s move on, we have three competitions to focus on, so we need to forget about this defeat right now.
Szczesny 7 Despite two great saves from Zigic and Martins, the cock-up with Koscielny will continue to haunt the nightmares of Gooners for many months to come.
Sagna 7 Constantly gave the ball away in the first half, but shored up in the second. However, he provided little attacking threat, bar the Rosicky chance in the second half.
Djourou 7.5 Struggled against Zigic in the air, but was composed on the ground. Grew into the game like many Arsenal players, but wasn’t at the level that we are used to seeing.
Koscielny n/a Laurent had a good performance for the first 88 minutes. His howler cost us the trophy, and although Wenger refuses to apportion blame to Koscielny and Szczesny, every Gooner will be rueing that painful mistake.
Clichy 7.5 Solid performance in both attack and defence, however he did sometimes stray forward, allowing Birmingham to attack down his wing.
Wilshere 8 MOTM Controlled the midfield for large portions of the game. Always lively and deserved a goal with his superb strike.
Song 7 Not great, but not terrible either. Birmingham rarely threatened on the break, so he didn’t have to break up too many attacks.
Rosicky 6.5 Continued with his poor run of form, although was involved in some good moves. His final pass was often lacking, and he should have scored when he tried to flick the ball through his legs.
Nasri 8 Started quite poorly, but became better and better throughout. His Porto-esque run was exceptional, and he sent a flurry of shots at Foster when Arsenal pressed in the second half.
RVP 8 Scored a quite spectacular goal, netting his 13th goal in 11 games this calendar year. However, he managed to injure his knee in the process, in true Van Persie style.
Arshavin 6.5 Despite some strong runs in the first half, his delivery in the second half was abysmal. Rightly substituted.
Bendtner 7 Came on and made an impact, unfortunate not to score.