|photo by Môsieur J. [version 4.0b]]
I can't remember a recent Cup final I was less excited about than Arsenal vs. Birmingham in the League Cup yesterday afternoon, but I found myself enjoying the match despite my initial feelings, especially the final few minutes when Arsenal totally lost their bottle and threw away the game. Regular visitors to this spot will know I find it hard -- almost impossibly so -- to root for Birmingham City (heck, I find it hard to watch Birmingham City), and I certainly wasn't getting too over-heated about Arsenal's attempt to end their silverware drought. It's in that admittedly humdrum spirit that I offer the following thoughts on Arsenal's shocking collapse, and Birmingham's unexpected victory in the Carling Cup:
- First things first: I hope the Arsenal players didn't spend too long debating whether or not Cesc should lift their non-existent trophy. Although it's hard not to feel a little bit sorry for him in the game's immediate aftermath, Arsenal's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny displayed either incredible arrogance or naivete (or maybe both) when he tweeted pre-game that he was "gutted" that he had learned that Cesc wouldn't be lifting the Cup if Arsenal won. Consider this a lesson, Wojciech: Nothing in this life is guaranteed.
- It was a shocking collapse by the Arsenal defense which cost them the Cup. Arsenal are very immature right up the middle of the pitch, and while people -- and the London-based media -- can keep talking about talent and potential, you're going to struggle in tight moments when your most composed player is only 23 years old (and especially when he's not even on the pitch). One just can't see a veteran 'keeper or center half making the mistake that opened up the goal for Obafemi Martens. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Arsenal will not win a trophy without a top notch goalie, or strong central defenders. Just won't happen.
- And just when every Arsenal fan was crowning the 20 year-old Szczesney as the next coming of Edwin Van der Sar.... Fabien Barthez? Maybe. Van der Sar? Not quite.
- I didn't realize how tall Nikola Zigic was until I saw him standing next to Bacary Sagna. At 6' 8", Zigic makes even Peter Crouch look short. I'm somewhat surprised Zigic is on Birmingham rather than Stoke City, although I was less surprised to see the opener come straight from the Stoke playbook, with Zigic scoring via his head on a set play.
- Another game, another Mike Dean and Co. special, and never mind it was a Cup final, 'cause Dean and his linesman blew another critical offside in Arsenal's favor right at the get go. Part-time thug Lee Bowyer was clear through and well onside, and only the poor vision of Dean's crew allowed Szczesney's scything action on Bowyer to go unpunished, disallowing a certain red card and penalty kick in one fail swoop. How long this guy will be allowed to keep officiating at this level is a total joke played on the football watching public by the FA, but as long as he's out there my crusade to bring his poor judgment to light will continue.
- Perhaps if they were better looking, the fact they were trophyless could be overlooked, but this Arsenal squad is a freaky looking team. Whether it's Alex Song and his blond afro and beard channeling Uncle Remus (or could it be Fred Sanford?!), Marouanne Chamakh with his laugh-inducing short-sleeves-and-snood look (either you're cold or you're not, guy), or Johan Djourou with his two-tone mohawk, the 2011 Gunners are a strange bunch.
- Ben Foster had a great game yesterday. The ex-United man is a good shot blocker, as he had ample opportunity to demonstrate yesterday, but I'm not so sure about his judgment. Time and again Foster seems to go on walkabout while in goal. I have to admit he's a great athlete, but every time I watch him I find myself holding my breath and wondering how he's going to screw things up. His great plays always seem to be of the reflex variety, when he doesn't have time to think. In any event, good on ya, Ben -- I'm guessing that Foster and his teammates celebrated a little this time, as compared to the last time Big Ben won the Cup.
- In closing, and for those of you wondering how injuries might affect the Gunners, I offer the following thought: Arsenal without Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas look like....Birmingham. Actually, they don't look like Birmingham, they just play like them. In truth, they don't play like Birmingham -- they pass the ball a lot more, though often to little effect -- they just score like them, which is to say very little separated the two sides yesterday before the ghastly error at the back which kept the trophy cabinet at The Emirates empty yet again.