Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham City | Mugged by McLeish

Actually, to say we were mugged isn’t really a correct analogy. More like Koscielny & Szczesny went over to Alex McLeish, tapped him on the shoulder and politely handed over our wallet.

I don’t like to single out Koscielny or Szczesny after the great strides both have made this season, culminating in imperious displays against Barcelona, but that was such a shocking error at such a crucial moment of such a big match it needs to be said. The look Wilshere gave them as the Brummies ran off to celebrate spoke volumes.

It was especially cruel because we’d dominated possession and chances despite not playing as well as we can. There is no doubt we missed Cesc and Walcott, and once van Persie departed the scene followed by Arshavin, we were left with an attacking quartet of Bendtner, Chamakh, Rosicky and Nasri. Hardly ideal. And it showed when we created a few chances in a purple patch 20 minutes from time which all went begging thanks to poor approach play, poor finishing and great goalkeeping by foster.

Jack Wilshere in the Carling Cup final

What the fucking hell was that boys?

Van Persie’s smart link up play was especially missed. Bendtner may think he is a footballing god but he isn’t in the same league technically as our brittle Dutchman. Ditto Rosicky for Fabregas. I think it was unfair of Wenger to ask rusty Rosicky to fill Cesc’s boots while leaving Nasri out wide. Why not switch them over and allow Nasri – who had a fine game – to effect the play more from the middle? We badly missed Cesc’s penetrating passing as I feared we would and Nasri would’ve offered more than Rosicky in that vital role.

That said the chances we had should’ve been enough to win the game. Brum stuck to their game plan of launching long diagonals to Zigic and trying to win the second ball. Djourou tried to win a few headers off him, but he was no match for the giant Serbian, leaving him unattended for his opener from a simple corner routine. Wenger’s stubborn refusal to buy a strong, dominating centre half in the ilk of Vidic, Carragher or Terry came back to bite us in the arse once more. It would be good to have such a player in the squad instead of four centre halves who have similar strengths – mobile, good on the ball, fine athletes. Why not have one tall, strong clogger who can head anything that comes his way and compete properly with tall yet limited journeymen like Zigic? One of those plus Djourou, Koscielny and Vermaelen seems like a much more sensible and balanced set of centre backs.

McLeish’s men were just worth their lead considering Bowyer was incorrectly ruled offside just before Szczesny brought him down for what would’ve been a penalty and most likely a red card. Szczesny then saved well from Zigic and Djourou headed away a dangerous cross from under our bar as we started rocking.

I said to my friend we needed to make it to halftime at 0-1, but it suddenly got better than that when we broke away and scored a fantastic equaliser. The chance seemed to have gone when the impressive Wilshere hit the bar with a long range effort (he is growing in confidence and shooting more lately, which is good to see) but Arshavin gathered the rebound, beat his man and picked out van Persie to hit a neat right foot volley across Foster. A great volley with his weaker foot, which he’s obviously been working on and is paying dividends.

I thought we’d up the tempo and take the game to them in the second half and although we dominated possession, Birmingham still looked dangerous, rattling our post, while Rosicky sent a half volley wide and for the last 20 minutes we pummelled them. It seemed to be a matter of when we’d score, not if, as Nasri, Arshavin and Bendtner all brought good saves from Ben Foster as the Blues tired.

With the match poised to go into extra time, Zigic won his 843rd header of the afternoon, Koscielny & Szczesny panicked and the keys to the Emirates trophy cabinet went back in the drawer.

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