Monday, 28 February 2011

On Your Arse! - Carling Cup Final 2011

The first winner of domestic silverware this season was decided on Sunday as a Birmingham City side consisting of Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell somehow managed to overcome second in the Premier League and recent victors against the best club side in world football Arsenal in a 2-1 win at Wembley Stadium.

Goals from Nicola Zigic and Obafemi Martins secured the Blues' first trophy of significance since the free love and copious drug-taking days of the swinging sixties. No stranger to winning paper cups or whatever it is they award for success north of the border, Alex McLeish won the biggest prize of his career on Sunday – disrespect very much intended to the SPL.

The ginger Scot's is first bit of bling in England came in unexpected circumstances and he deserves full credit for motivating his team of relegation battling underdogs to the point where for much of the game they matched their more illustrious opponents. Europe beckons.

The Blues started on the front foot and could have had an early penalty had Lee Bowyer not been wrongly flagged for offside before being upended by Wojciech Szczesny. Had the decision been given and the red card brandished, this should have been the young pole's last involvement in the game. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't...

Nicola Zigic gave Brum the lead with a header from a corner. The most likely goal his team were going to score and the most likely that Arsenal would concede. Robin van Persie restored parity before the break but unsurprisingly tore all his ligaments and broke every bone in his body while doing so. He was substituted in the second half and probably won't play again this decade.

The second half saw Arsenal attempt to take control and forced Ben Foster into a number of decent saves – well, saves you would expect any keeper that doesn't play for The Gunners to make. Birmingham's winner came courtesy of a comical mix-up in the Arsenal defence between Laurent Koscielny and Szczesny who mis-kicked and fumbled their way to presenting the "26" year old Martins with the easiest goal a player could ask for.

To cap it off, this moment of self destruction from the oft unreliable Arsenal backline came in the 89th minute. Being Oscar weekend and all, if you were to write a script it would rank up there as one of the most dramatic ends to a cup final in many a year. For Arsenal fans the situation played out like a horror movie.

For the neutrals however, it was more like a Leslie Nelson (RIP) Naked Gun style comedy as Arsenal continued to perform more like a 'spoof' of a good football team. For all their talent, Arsenal are something of a joke. You can almost always count on them to look good for long periods but with all the predictability of the Sun rising in the morning, never quite having the stones to finish the job. When things do go wrong, more often than not it is self-inflicted; the Szczesny–Koscielny cock-up being a prime example. You wonder why so many opposition fans hate Arsenal given the team's unrivalled tendency to provide such great moments of joy.

Of the 90 thousand odd people packed into Wembley, I very much doubt there was one single person who genuinely believed that the result was going any way other than in favour of The Gunners baring a major calamity. Like I say however, at Arsenal, these calamities are the norm and if trophies were awarded for the ability to snatch unlikely defeat from the jaws of victory then the North Londoners would be the most decorated club in the country by a good distance.

Forgetting the mistake at the end that ultimately cost them the match, the team Arsene Wenger put should have the beating of Birmingham 99% of the time despite missing injured captain Cesc Fabregas. Fortunately for the Blues, Arsenal were never really at the races and didn't perform anywhere near what would have expected for a side so desperate to win a trophy. The likes of Nasri, Arshavin and even goal scorer van Persie didn't justify the plaudits they generally receive and ought to take a good long hard look at themselves having been bested by footballing nonentities like Lee Bowyer.

The Arsenal have failed to fulfil their much [over]hyped "potential" for far too long now and in some ways, this result wasn't actually a surprise at all. It's not a question of ability but rather a glaring mental weakness that you would be pretty daft to try and deny no matter how much of a die-hard goon you happen to be.

The reason Birmingham players were doing a merry jig with that odd three-handled trophy was because they quite simple showed up and wanted it more than the Gunners. This kind of failure in big, important games has happened far too often in recent years and shows little sign of abating. If you can't get up for beating Birmingham in a cup final, what chance would you have against better sides? This is exactly the reason so much attention is drawn to their trophy drought. People make a big deal of 4... 5... 6 years without a trophy because Wenger's team clearly are good enough but always bottle it when the time comes to deliver. Over the last 11 seasons Arsenal have actually lost in finals of the FA, UEFA, Champions League and Carling (2) cups. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another team of such prolific failures. If the club was a woman, you'd have her uterus examined after so many miscarriages...

Despite still competing on three fronts, this uncanny ability to buckle at the crucial moment could see the famous drought continue not just this season but for a number of years to come. Just ask Birmingham City fans who will tell you about their 48 year wait which has only just come to an end.

Man of the Match: Ben Foster

Follow me on Twitter

No comments: