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.
It has been four years since Arsenal contested in a final. In February 2007, Arsenal faced Chelsea in an enthralling match which saw the Blues come from behind to win, thanks to two goals from Drogba. Many cup finals fail to live up to their hype, but the Carling Cup final in 2007 did not disappoint. Hopefully, Arsenal vs Birmingham will also be an exciting game of football. For Arsenal, there is a real chance of finally ending this barren run. If nothing else, it should shut up the Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs fans!
Arsenal should have an advantage due to the pitch. Birmingham’s pitch is notoriously poor, but the Emirates pitch was supplied by the same company as the one at Wembley (thanks to my dad for this piece of information!). Despite the criticism, Wembley is not too dissimilar to Ashburton Grove. This should allow the Gunners to excel in their passing game.
- 6 years since Arsenal last won a trophy
- Birmingham have only won one major honour in the last 136 years
- This will be the second of five games for the Gunners within 14 days
- Arsenal are unbeaten in 8 games vs Bham
- Arsenal have only lost one in the last 15 vs Bham
- Arsenal have scored 13 and conceded twice in the Carling Cup (5 games)
- The Gunners have lost 4 out of their previous 6 finals
- Bham have not kept a clean sheet in their last 9 league cup matches
- Arsenal have the best form in the Premier League, with 5 wins and one draw in their last 6 games
- Bham are 8th in the Premier League form table, with two wins, two draws and two defeats in their last 6 games
Arsenal: Fabianski, Fabregas, Frimpong, Vermaelen and Walcott are all out, while Diaby, Koscielny and RVP are likely to feature, but are returning from injury.
Birmingham: Bentley, Davies, Doyle, Dann, McFadden and Valles are unavailable for the Blues. Hleb, Jerome, Jiranek and Ridgewell are fighting to regain fitness.
It seems that Cesc really wants to be involved in this match – and who can blame him? He has waited so long to win a trophy, and now a hamstring injury is holding him back. If I were Wenger, I’d introduce the captain early in the second half (between 55 and 70 minutes, depending on the scoreline). Of course, if Fabregas can’t even run then this won’t be possible. But Cesc should be able to manage half an hour without worsening his injury. Not only will that make Fabregas happier, but it would give the whole team a boost if we aren’t playing well. Just look at the matches in the past when Cesc has come on and galvanised the team – it is a fantastic weapon for Wenger to have at his disposal.
Arsenal and Birmingham have met twice this season, with the Gunners winning both matches. Birmingham came to the Emirates and defended in numbers (along with some of the worst time-wasting tactics I have seen for a long time), and despite Zigic’s first half goal, Nasri and Chamakh scored either side of the break to win the game. I distinctly remember Diaby having an interesting game that day, he was strong in the centre and dribbled well, but failed to play the correct final ball. At St Andrews, Arsenal won 3-0 in a comfortable match on New Year’s Day.
Much has been made of the loss of Fabregas and Walcott, but there is no doubt that Arsenal have plenty of attacking talent. It should be far too much for Birmingham, who may be without two of their best defenders in Dann and Ridgewell.
Some people have asked me if I would rather win this final or beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Without thinking, I said I want to win the final. Every Gooner wants a trophy. What do you think? Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts.
Despite comments made on Twitter yesterday, it would seem that Cesc might as well just give up and get some much needed sleep. No amount of training or exercise will help him to heal in time for the game on Sunday against Birmingham and Wenger has officially ruled El Capitán out of the Carling Cup final. Our inflential midfielder will therefore be unable to lead the team out at Wembley as they look to win their first major trophy for 6 seasons.
“It is a very small injury but certainly Cesc will be out for Sunday… For how long [beyond that] I don’t know. He is disappointed. We all feel sorry and sad for him. The only way we help him now is to win the Carling Cup as he contributed a lot in this competition.”
Whether Fabregas will be fit again in time for the second leg of the Barcelona tie in 10 days time is up for some debate. Wenger would not give too much information when questioned about how long Cesc would be sidelined for saying “It is very difficult to give a deadline. It is impossible.” However, club physio Juan Ferrando, said: “In principle, he has a micro-fracture and may play in the Nou Camp on 8 March without problems.”
The other bad news is that Theo Walcott has a sprained ankle and will be out for up to two weeks. This means that he definitely misses the Birmingham game, and is a major doubt for the Champions League clash at the Nou Camp and our FA Cup quarter final match against Manchester United (should we beat Leyton Orient in the fifth round replay).
Now onto the good news. Abou Diaby returns from a three game suspension, as do both Laurent Koscielny and Robin Van Persie, having recovered form minor injuries. All three will be be included in the squad for Sunday. Despite the absence of Fabregas and Walcott, a team that includes Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere, Alex Song, Andrei Arshavin and Van Persie (who will probably wear the captain’s armband) should be more than capable of leading us to Carling Cup glory.
Arsenal were certainly not at their best tonight. We did, however, manage to gain all three points and keep the pressure on Man Utd. It was a very professional performance from a rapidly maturing team. After the game, Wenger said that “we did the job in a very professional way. We faced a Stoke team that defended very well, very compact, but we were intelligent, calm, patient and overall I believe that we were resilient as well when Stoke had their strong moments because we didn’t give in when they did what they do very well.”
We currently sit one point behind United who face Wigan and Chelsea in the next week. Both teams have managed to take points off of us this season and we hope that they can do us a favour and do the same against our title rivals.
The game started promisingly with a flurry of chances in the first ten minutes. Following a beautiful run from Wilshere, Theo was put through on goal by our captain. Theo was very unlucky not to score as he saw his effort strike against the woodwork and before rebounding into the keeper’s arms. We kept up this early pressure and soon enough we converted it into a goal. Bendtner did well to earn us a corner, and then return the ball across the face of the goal to allow Squillaci to nod it in. With a goal so early on, the Emirates faithful were looking forward to a feast of goals. However, it was not to be as our captain sustained a recurrence of his hamstring injury shortly after the goal. As he departed from the pitch, so too did our spark. The rest of the first half was pretty lacklustre in terms of chances. While Arsenal did dominate in terms of possession, we failed to create much in in the final third. The second half was not much better. Arshavin and Nasri grew into the game as the Stoke team tired. Arshavin was fairly effective, and at times showed his brilliance. With perhaps his best run of the night, he set up Theo who spurned the opportunity when an open goal was presented.
Theo had a very mixed night. He was very ‘hot and cold’. His positioning in the first half was excellent. In the second half, it looked as if nothing was working for him until he jinked past a couple players on the edge of the box, before being floored by a rough challenge. Surprisingly, the referee did not see this as a foul. Unfortunately for Theo, this was the end of his night as he was stretchered off. Theo will miss the final on Sunday with an ankle sprain.
Apart from his assist, Bendtner was poor throughout the game. He was given a rare starting opportunity, and did little to impress. He did not manage to link up well with the midfield or his fellow strikers. Regardless of the fact that in the past he has provided vital goals, he has been highly unimpressive of late and in my opinion, he is a class below the other strikers at the club. He will need to work much harder if he is to become a fan favourite, let alone achieve his self-proclamation of being the best in the world.
Stoke did not really threaten much throughout the game, with most of their attempts coming from set pieces. This meant that Szczesny was largely untroubled throughout the match. However, he did make a superb save late on in the first half to deny Carew.
Szczesny – 7.5
Clichy – 7
Squillaci – 8
Djourou – 7.5
Sagna – 7.5
Song – 7.5
Wilshere – 8.5 MOTM
Fabregas – 7
Nasri – 7
Bendtner – 6.5
Walcott – 7
Arshavin – 7.5
Chamakh – n/a
Denilson – 6.5
It is a worry that our injury list is growing. With the final only days away and the return leg at the Nou Camp looming, the fact that we are currently without Fabregas, Walcott, RVP and Koscielny is cause for concern. As to whether the latter two will be available for the final is unknown and according to Wenger, “we will know more on Friday.” Walcott will definitely miss the final, but the severity of his injury is currently not possible to determine. Wenger is also unsure of the nature of Fabregas’ hamstring problem. He said that “Fabregas has a hamstring problem but we will assess that tomorrow, tonight it is impossible to say how serious it is. We will know more about it tomorrow.”
Looking forward to Sunday
All three of the writers here at Straigh Talking Gooners are going to be at Wembley for Sunday’s final against Birmingham. We are all really excited for the occasion and hope to be writing a positive review in 4 days time. We hope that we can end the trophy drought and finally bring some much needed silverware back to the Emirates.
A statement from the Swiss FA has confirmed that the injury sustained by Johan Djourou is not as bad as initial reports suggested, and the Swiss international should be back in training next week. Severe swelling and bruising are thought to have delayed the diagnosis.
Djourou limped off at the beginning of the second half of the game against Newcastle on Saturday, having scored his first competitive goal for the club earlier in the match. Reports emerged yesterday that indicate that he could be out from anywhere up to four months – meaning he was likely to miss the end of the season – but these have since been proven to be pure speculation.
With Arsenals defensive players coming under heavy criticism this season, it is interesting to learn that Djourou is currently on a 26 game unbeaten run in the league. Since his return from a loan spell at Birmingham, Arsenal have won 23 of the 28 league games in which Djourou has featured, keeping 16 clean sheets. His only defeat came in the 3-0 loss to Manchester City at Eastlands.
Although these statistics clearly show that Djourou has tremendous potential as a first-choice centre-back, he has only played 51 games in two and a half seasons (he spent the whole of last season on the sidelines due to a knee injury). If he can keep fit, he could be a great partner for Thomas Vermaelen, who is also due to return from injury within the next few weeks.
As things stand, Squillaci and Koscielny are our only two fit centre-backs for the Wolves game this weekend. It is not known if Djourou will be ready to return to the starting line-up in time for our Champions League clash with Barcelona next Wednesday.
Todays game at the Emirates has been called off due to dangerous conditions for pedestrians and drivers and many tube closures. Only two of todays Premier League matches have survived the wintery weather. Sunderland will still host Bolton (who will be only 2 points behind Chelsea if they win), and Blackburn are still on against bottom of the table West Ham.