Monday, 28 February 2011

Arsenal's Ability To Self Destruct Costs Them Dearly In The Carling Cup Final.

Arsenal's quest for all four trophies is no longer on after yesterday's defeat to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final. It happened in a manner which Arsenal fans are all too used to at this stage, as it was a self inflicted defeat. The comical manner of Birmingham's winning goal was something fans of other clubs associate with Arsenal, and it seems that we just cannot eradicate it from our game. It was a bitter blow to take, as Arsenal looked to be the much stronger team with extra time looming, but such is the lot of an Arsenal fan.

Arsene Wenger picked the expected starting 11 with the possible exception of Tomas Rosicky filling in for the injured Cesc Fabregas. It meant Samir Nasri was playing on the right side of Arsenal's attack, and the team looked very well balanced. I wasn't too impressed with Rosicky's recent performances, and I was a little apprehensive when I saw he was included in the team. With Cesc missing I really felt Arsenal needed to have Nasri in a central role where he could influence the game a lot more.

I settled into my seat in the local supporters club along with a lot of other Wicklow Gunners in expectation of Arsenal's first trophy since our club was formed in 2008.  The early signs were not encouraging as Wojciech Szczesny took Lee Bowyer down in the penalty area in a one on one situation, but thankfully Arsenal were saved by an offside flag. The replays showed the decision to be incorrect, and it was a very lucky escape for Arsenal at that stage. If the penalty was awarded the chances are that Szczesny would have been sent off too, and Arsenal would have been a goal and a player down with 85 minutes remaining to play.

I hoped the early scare would wake Arsenal up, but some of the players seemed a little nervous to me, as passes were misplaced time and again. The closet Arsenal came in the early exchanges was when Nasri fed Andrey Arshavin in the box, and he turned and shot, but the keeper saved it with his legs. There were half chances at either end as the half progressed until the game really came to life with the opening goal. Unfortunately for Arsenal it was Birmingham who scored it through their giant striker Nikola Zigic.

Bacary Sagna played an awful pass to nobody in particular in Arsenal's half, and Birmingham won they ball. They immediately hit it towards Zigic at the far post but Laurent Koscielny managed to head it out for a corner. When the corner came in it was headed goalwards by Roger Johnson, and Zigic got up above the Arsenal defence to flick the ball into the goal with his head. It came from Birmingham's first corner, and it exposed Arsenal's defensive frailty from set pieces. Birmingham were ecstatic and the Arsenal players now knew they were in a real match with 28 minutes gone.

Arsenal tried to up the pace, and they took control as Birmingham dropped deeper and deeper. They were hoping to hit Arsenal on the break, as a second goal would have given them a huge advantage. They almost got that second goal, but thankfully Szczesny made a point blank save from Zigic, who didn't look as capable with the ball at his feet.

The equaliser  came only 10 minutes after Birmingham's goal, but it came at a price for Arsenal. Jack Wilshere smacked a great shot off the bar, and Arshavin collected the rebound. He did really well to get to the end line, and cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who had pulled away from his marker. He managed to volley the ball home with his chocolate leg, but he jarred his leg off the thigh of his marker. He immediately went down in pain, but he managed to come back into the game after a short spell on the sideline.

With Arsenal back in the game it seemed like only a matter of time before they would turn the game in their favour. Nasri almost managed it before half time, and as the second half progressed Ben Foster made impressive saves from three or four Arsenal efforts. Birmingham were still making Arsenal uncomfortable at the back on the excursions forward, but Arsenal certainly had the upper hand. On one of those excursions Keith Fahey hit the post and the ball rebounded back into play behind the helpless Szczesny. It was ca lucky escape for Arsenal, and I thought they would win as luck seemed to be on their side.

Unfortunately that luck didn't hold out as RVP went off after 68 minutes, and he seemed to be suffering from the knock he took in scoring the goal. The latest news would seem to indicate that he will be out for a while, but there's no word on whether he will recover in time for the trip to Barcelona. Arshavin went off eight minutes later, and he looked absolutely spent to me. It was the third game in a row that he had started, and it looked like they had taken their toll on him. With Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh on Arsenal still continued to press forward, and they looked the most likely to grab a winner before extra time would be needed.

That all changed in the last minute of normal time in bizzare circumstances. Zigic headed a long ball goalwards, but there was absolutely no danger as the ball rolled towards Szczesny. Koscielny was in front of him, and all they had to do was get their calls right, and the ball would have been safely in the keepers hands. However what happened next was a reminder of why some people think Arsenal are poor at the back. Koscielny swung a leg at the ball, but pulled out at the very last moment. Szczesny was so close to him that he couldn't react in time, and he could only knock the ball to Obafemi Martins who had the easy task of poking it into an empty net.

It was a dreadful mistake by Koscielny in my opinion, as he should not have pulled out of hitting the ball at such a late stage. He should have cleared the ball and dealt with any repercussions from his keeper afterwards. You cannot change your mind at the very last moment, and expect other players to read your intentions or react to them either. The joy among the Birmingham players and fans was obvious, and the Arsenal contingent looked dejected.

The referee added four extra minutes, but Arsenal couldn't muster a worthwhile attack in that time, and the Cup went to Birmingham. I have absolutely no doubt that Arsenal would have won if Cesc had been fit to play, but I thought it was a mistake to play Rosicky in his role. He played pretty well, but Nasri looked far better when he moved into a central role in the second half. Far too many of the Arsenal players contributed too little in a game where they should have given everything they had. The trophy was there for the taking, but unfortunately Arsenal threw it away in the end.

Without that mistake at the end I think Arsenal would definitely have had the upper hand in extra time, but they cannot expect to win games when they gift goals to the opposition. The cost to Arsenal season will be measured when the full extent of RVP's injury is known, but it could be huge. It was hoped that a Carling Cup win would put an end to the six year wait for a trophy, but the result only increased the questions being asked about Arsenal's ability to win big games.

The next game for Arsenal is on Wednesday night against Orient in the FA Cup fifth round replay at the Emirates. It will be a huge test for the Arsenal players to try to lift themselves after yesterday's disappointment, but they have to do it. They cannot afford to lose at home to a side two leagues below them in the FA Cup, or the vultures will be circling over their heads. If Arsenal fail to beat Orient it could destroy what confidence they have, and it could cost them their chances in the two most important competitions this season.

With "Manure" travelling to Chelsea tomorrow night and Liverpool on Sunday Arsenal have to bounce back with victories over Orient and then in the Premier League next Saturday against Sunderland. They are two crucial games to ensure the season stays on track, and nothing but two wins will do in those games.
I hope the Arsenal players are hurting as much as us fans today after yesterday's result, and I hope they can use that pain to push them on to greater things. I'm sure none of them had to make their way to work this morning with sore heads as well as dented pride, and had to listen to workmates telling them Arsenal are bottlers. Until Arsenal can show otherwise that tag will stick to them, and I can only hope they prove all of the doubters wrong by winning their next two games. After that it's Barcelona and possibly "Manure" in the FA Cup, and they will be opportunities to show that Arsenal are a real force to be reckoned with. If Cesc and RVP can be back for those games I'm still confident Arsenal have every chance of getting the results they need, but without them it's a huge task.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from yesterdays game with thanks to 101greatgoals as always.

See You Tomorrow. 


  1. Disappointing all round for me. Not a lot more I can add.

  2. My head is still thumping in work after I drowned my sorrows.