Birmingham 1-1 Arsenal. Sucker-punch! We’re still in the race, though…

It was always going to be a difficult game, with Birmingham unbeaten at home since September, including draws against the likes of Everton, Man United, Chelsea and Man City. They’d had two defeats in a row prior to our game, but both were away from home. But with us having won our last 5 games- including a couple of tough away games- I was feeling confident that we could win, but I was under no illusions that it would be a walk in the park.

Our line-up was as follows:

Almunia

Sagna – Campbell – Song – Clichy

Denilson – Diaby

Walcott – Cesc – Rosicky

Bendtner

Arsene chose to rest Arshavin and Nasri, probably with an eye on Barcelona in mid-week. Having said that, I wouldn’t really call it a weakened team (apart from the enforced changes at the back), especially as Cesc was playing. Silvestre was missing completely from the squad- no idea why- meaning Song and Cesc were our CBs.

We started on the front-foot, with Rosicky creating a chance early-doors for Diaby, but his shot was deflected away from goal, off a Birmingham player. But Birmingham weren’t lying down and kept winning free-kicks in dangerous areas, and slowly but surely, our intensity dropped. Walcott did have a chance, after a lovely ball over the top by Cesc. Theo managed to get clear of the defender, but he couldn’t get past Joe Hart, who’d come out early to cut the danger.

Not much was happening in the 1st half, but it was up to us to find something, as Birmingham were keeping us at bay and would have settled for a draw. But there was the hefty challenge on Cesc, who was having trouble walking as a result but it was pretty obvious he didn’t want to go off, even though he wasn’t having the best of games.

So it was 0-0 at half-time, with Birmingham the happier team. Obviously. Our problem seemed to be in the final third, as we rarely troubled Joe Hart in the Birmingham goal. We were struggling creatively. It was also a bit of a worry as to whether Fabregas would come out for the second half because of the earlier tackle, but he made it out. I thought Arsene would take him off as a precaution anyways, but apparently, Cesc wanted to continue- fair play to him, especially with Barcelona on Wednesday. He definitely seems committed to the cause.

So no changes by Arsene at the start of the second-half. We had to increase our intensity, as it was a bit too easy for Birmingham to nullify us.

We started the second half pretty much the same we started the first, this time around it was Rosicky with the early effort- a typical Rosicky shot from outside the box- but Hart saved well. There were a number of niggly fouls by Birmingham, to be expected- we just had to ride that storm and not let it get to us. Despite the first half being pretty much rubbish, I was feeling confident that we’d have too much for Birmingham, as we tend to play better in the second half. Diaby had a good effort on goal, but it was straight at Joe Hart.

We definitely looked a bit better, and it was a matter of whether or not we could make the pressure count. But the clock kept ticking down and it was still 0-0, meaning loads of frayed nerves. With Chelsea absolutely hammering Aston Villa at the same time, the scoreline was looking more and more dissatisfactory. And to make matters worse, Birmingham almost took the lead, a loopy ball from a free-kick going across goal unto the post. The rebound fell to a Birmingham player, Scott Dann practically on the line, but it hit him and went over the bar! Definite contender for miss of the season, but a miss I’m sure all of us were grateful for. That ought to have been a wake-up call for us, but it didn’t seem to have that much impact, except on our nerves ofcourse! But haven’t said that, we were the only team that looked likely to score if we could only get our acts together.

With about 25 minutes left, Arsene made his subsitutions- Arshavin and Nasri on for Theo and Rosicky. We looked livelier with those two on and we really needed to up the tempo quickly, as the game was drifting. Soon enough, both players combined after Clichy coming from the right, fed the ball to Arshavin, but Nasri’s shot a few yards in front of goal, was well-saved by Hart.

Diaby did put the ball into the net, but Howard Webb disallowed it as he’d blown the whistle just earlier for a foul. Whether or not it was a foul is debatable, but the whistle had already gone before Diaby ‘scored’. Still though, it was very frustrating really, as we were desperate for a goal and if not for Webb being whistle-happy, we might have got it! Okay, he didn’t know we would score, obviously, but I’d ofcourse moan about him disallowing it, it being him!

Anyways, we were getting into the last 10-15 minutes of the game which of late has been particularly fruitful for us in relation to scoring goals, and I was fully expecting one. And sure enough, it came! Nasri was the goal-scorer and it was a peach! To be honest, even if it had been goal which went in off someone’s backside, it would have felt like it was the best goal ever! He picked up the ball on the right and was unchallenged really. He got to the edge of the box, picked his spot and rifled the ball across Joe Hart low on the ground, into the bottom corner!

There was huge relief all around, but with 10 minutes to go, we had to make sure we remained firm at the back (we’d hardly been troubled all game, anyways) and go home with all 3 points. We even had a number of chances to increase our lead- Fabregas’ fierce free-kick was palmed away by Hart; Arshavin mis-kicked the ball; Nasri in the box opted for a pass instead of a shot, and the chance went begging.

And then the unexpected happened- Birmingham equalised! Actually, maybe it was the expected, given our luck and the chances we only just missed a couple of minutes ago. Conceding goals hurt but this one hurt more than any goal we’ve conceded this season; probably because Birmingham didn’t deserve to be level and the fact that it wasn’t even a proper goal, if that makes any sense! It’s been 24 hours, but I’m still gutted about it all. One of the Birmingham players (I don’t really care who) chipped the ball into the box, it somehow hit Kevin Phillips who hit a regulation volley which Almunia thought he’d palmed it over the bar. But he was off his line meaning he simply palmed it into the net. Heart-sinking-to-toes moment, really. That was the last kick of the game, meaning it ended 1-1.

It looked to all the world that we had the points in the bag and to lose it in such a manner was just horrible. Scoring goals in injury time is our forte and to have that done against us just wasn’t a nice feeling. I guess that’s the way other teams feel when we do it to them, but either way, I hope we never have to go through that for the rest of the season.

As mentioned earlier, it was always going to be a tricky trip to St Andrews especially without our first choice CB pairing, but Chelsea winning 7-1 and Man United winning 4-0 on the same day just made it seem like the worst possible result.The only way I could feel better about it was to imagine it was Birmingham who scored when we did and it was us who equalised when they did. It didn’t help much, but at least it made me realised that a point is still better than nothing. But the fact that it could and should have been all 3, can’t be easily forgotten. We switched off when we really ought not to have.

I should mention though, that Diaby had a really good game and it’s a shame that the result somewhat over-shadows his performance. Song did well as a CB, but it would be great to have him back in the middle when Vermaelen returns next game, as he’s the best person for that role in the team.

Here’s some of Wenger’s thoughts on the game. I heard he swore at the press conference,probably to the journos, but I don’t blame him one bit!

“It is a disappointment because we had the game won and we had the chance to score the second goal. I believe the pitch was very difficult to play on and it was a scrappy game. We got slowly on top and played the second half in their half but they defended well and made the game difficult. In the end we got caught.”

“It is a big blow for our title, of course. We were in a position where we had to win all our games and not to win today is a big blow to our chances.”

And on Cesc’s injury:

“I don’t know medically. We will have to assess that tomorrow[Sunday]. He got tackled at the knee. We tried to take him of at first but after he said he was alright.”

I share Arsene’s sentiments that it was a massive blow to our title challenge, but I’m definitely not of the view that our challenge is over. We need the other two to drop points, but they play each other next week and a draw would suit us down to a tee. We, ofcourse, HAVE to win the rest of our games. Do-able ofcourse, but as this game proves, there are no easy games left.

I really hope we can do it, but we’ve just got to take it one game at a time. We play Barcelona on Wednesday at the Emirates and the boys need to pick themselves up quickly as that’s another massive game. A great result there would set us up for the next few games, so hopefully we show what we’re made of.

Come on Arsenal!

  • goonerman

    Nice post Debs very long as usual, i fully agree that our title challenge isnt over yet but it could be very soon if we dont get our acts together and start killing teams off!

    All this stuff about wenger swearing is stupid, the press ask him if the tackle of fabregas was bad and does he think teams are targeting us and they all want him to see yes so they can splash “whining wenger” on the front pages. The press are complete idiots to wenger and are always on the look out for something to blast him about were as fergie is the media’s golden boy even though he hates their guts, it just annoys me!

    birmingham game is done with and we have to move on becuase there are only 3 days till a huge and scary game, when i think about it i do think to myself how do we stop messi! i dont know how im gonna watch the game its gonna be a hard one on the heart lol. I just hope the lads put in a performance of a life time!!

    COME ON YOU GOOOONERS

  • devday

    Thanks Debs, great views on the game – the frustrating thing about the game really was those two chances that Arshavin and Nasri missed after we were 1-0….

  • Francis

    @ devday:

    I’ve been watching the premiership since its inception and i have concluded with a few friends that it is designed for Man Utd to be the winners most of the time.

    Debs, Dev mark my words as soon as arsenal came into contention i knew that there would be dubiuos decsions by refs. It’s been happening, just last weekend at the very emirates we all saw some ‘strange’ decisions. We all saw it again from ref Dean’s yellow cards to Song , Clichy…to do what? put the handbrakes on our game….yet b’ham players got away with incessant fouling. Steven Carr should not have been on the pitch…..

    and on the offside goal….refer to the refs and linesmans decision when b52 was in an offside position but the ball did not get to him….

    Since the departure of David Dein i knew it would be double hard for arsenal to win anything. Why? bcos he was the only influencial person in and around the FA/premier league assoc to protect arsenal.

    Teams, managers have openly and sometimes surreptiuosly ganged up against the likes of arsenal. The refs have also played their part in this ‘system’. Refs Mariner, Dean, Wiley (when he was in the game), to a lesser extent Bennet have all given arsenal a raw deal.

    Folks we’ve all seen officiating in Man U games…need i say more!!!!

    i am not saying that we lost exclusively bcos of these decisions but they did go a long way in influencing the outcome of the game…yes we had 2 chances to kill off the game…but the issue is what happens when you do not put the chances away and the officiating goes against you?

    Folks i have made a similar comment on Untold Arsenal where this issue has been highligthed!!!

    i have witnessed and suspected all these years that the premiership is not a fair league as folks would have you believe.

    i am sorry but folks, watch what happens to officiating in arsenal games if we get right back into contention… if man utd and chelsea draw this coming weekend.

    I just hope this ‘corrupt system’ does not drive wenger out of the english game.

  • Francis

    Sorry folks i meant Webb’s yellow cards to Song and Clichy!!!

  • vj

    winning the league now is going to be fairly impossible i think. even if there is a draw next week we still have to hope man u lose one game, chelsea draw a game and we winn all of ours, with spu*s away, city, blackburn away i am finding it difficult to see us win it, its going to have to take something special from the lads and the heavens above to see our team lift the title

  • Sam

    Like I’ve said in other places, some ref decisions make EPL look like WWE! It’s engineered towards the team that generates the most interest (i.e. Cash).

  • Yemi

    I think we had a good game against b’ham, though its tough not getting all 3 points and that even makes our job more difficult or almost out of reach. Remember if man u vs Chelsea does not end in a draw, and we win ours, we will remain in a 3rd. Chelsea has a better goal difference.
    All of a sudden we are no longer the top scorers in the league as both teams have overtaken us (is the fact that we don’t have a prolific striker telling?)
    Alumina has been good, but he is starting to look more and more like david james (how often do you see cech, van dar sar, friedel make horrible mistakes ?).

  • Yemi

    This is one of the games that i predicted a draw, but it does not faovor us cos i predicted a draw for man u vs liverpool, man u won so that was 2 extra points for them, i also predicted a draw for chelsi vs villa and we all know the outcome !!! We all knew we would drop points but these other teams are failing to drop points.

  • Berth

    It won’t be easy with our current postion. Finally one of Arshavin’s misses has cost us a game. I feel the media has really manipulated the guy to a melting point where he can’t score clear goals. TBH I did initially relied on Arshavin winning us the league single handedly but it has not been. I wont pick him as a victim in any way but he should learn how to control his talking, this is England and not Russia; the media will lure you and wait for you to commit before they devour you like bees deal with honeys.

  • Berth

    Did anyone see the threath to ban vidic for four matches. There could be light at the end of the tunnel afterall.

  • parsi

    can I ask you in which place we stand in the table ? Third from bottom ?
    Can I ask you where the pundits predicted us to be at the start of the season ?
    Can I ask you where you think we would have been at the start of the season as we clearly seem to have an incompetent manager ?

    About the press conference I haven’t seen this one yet but all the press conferences I have seen is that reporters ask questions and the managers answers. And as Wenger is a well educated man he mostly answers the questions. You could argue and maybe I would say to those reporters more frequently : “get lost you imbeciles with your stupid questions” but Wenger is to much a gentleman to say this and so he gives his opinion.

    If we are where we are now, and no one you included – apart from some losers like me, would have thought that we would be in this position than this is the work of that man that you think has lost it.

    By the way : have you read that both Arshavin and Nasri had little problems with injury’s ? So please inform yourself before you ask questions that have being answered on saturday if you would have paid attention.

  • parsi

    @ Francis, I try to explain you why it was a foul. Gardner plays the ball with his right foot and until that moment there is no foul. BUT after the ball is gone (Gardner knows the ball is gone as it is him who kicked it away) he kicks Cesc with his other foot under the knee.
    Now to most people who watch football and think they know the rules they see Garnder kicking the ball and say : he played the ball so no foul. But if you after you have played the ball kick another player with the leg that has not played the ball it is a foul. If it would have been the right leg from Gardner you could have said : it was because of the natural movement when kicking the ball that caused him to touch Cesc. But it was with his other leg/foot that he kicked against Cesc and this leg/foot had nothing to do with kicking the ball and he should have taken care that he not would have touched him. He stuck out his left leg to make contact and so it is a foul and Webb should have punished him.

    But it is not that simple. Let me give you an example. The ball is coming to your head. I jump up and kick the ball away just before you try to head it and unfortunatly after I have kicked the ball I hit you in the face with my other foot flying 1,80 high. According to the simplicity of some people, maybe like you, one could say : played the ball, no foul.

    Left alone the fact that this is dangerous play just to show you that the simple fact ‘he played the ball, no foul’ is not correct.

    Let me give you another example you see a lot. You have the ball and I jump with 2 feet in to you and you jump up to save you legs from being broken. And because you jump up I manage to play the ball. Most refs in the EPL don’t give a foul for that. Also maybe according to the wrong thought: he played the ball, no foul. But in this example it is always a foul even if you don’t touch the player (because he jumped up to save himself) and even if you played the ball.

    When I hear the rubbish sometimes about what is allowed and what not, I really think sometimes that they should only let people in the ground that have followed the course for becoming a ref and have done an exam with succes.

    Sorry for the length of my reply, but I really could be going on about this for ages.

  • dampatti

    I think first of all you have to take a more realistic assessment of the situation. I have never believed we would win the league this season – even when we were, briefly, top. I just don’t think, man-for- man, we have quite got the personnel, good though our team is. So when all this talk about our easier run-in started I just thought – rubbish. But Gooners did start to become very excited and that excitement is infectious. Suddenly it seemed everyone was anticipating manure and the chavs to slip-up and we would happily waltz through our ‘easy games’ and win the title.
    In fact Gooners have been living in dream-land for the past few weeks. Now the reality of the situation has hit and it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Even if we had beat Brum we’d still be third. Waiting for the front two to fail. Both of them. And in reality that’s a pretty desperate attitude for a supporter to have. ‘We might win something if the others fuck-up.’
    I think our boys have made a pretty good fist of staying in contention, really. They have shown they can battle…some of the time. But we are the third best team in the country – and that will be shown, clearly I believe, come the end of the season. Both the chavs and manure put us away easily. They are currently obliterating teams with goals. If we somehow win the title now then you can throw the form book right out the window.

  • Kuka

    @Dampatti: – I beg to differ with your assessment in paragraph 1 of your post. I do not think that any gooner or at least those on WOA have been living in dreamland. For a very long time, we have been very aware that the league is not in our hands. It was depended on the results of other teams and that has been made clear by multiple multiple posts. So were gooners living in dreamland? NO my friend. They were being realistic. They were saying that we need to win our games and hope that the other title contenders drop points.

    Do you agree that at one point we were 11 points down? You know what happened? We won our games, and the other top teams dropped points. That is what has happened since. So I do not think there is any gooner who showed up and assumed that all it takes is for us to win games and bang, we win the league. That is what makes this game that we love.

    I was watching Chelsea play Villa on Saturday eve. You should have heard the roar by the Chelsea fans when B/city equalized. You would have thought that they have won the league. That is what each game means to each of the top teams. I do not think there is any team seated there thinking the league is well tucked in.

    I am sure Chelsea will drop points and so will United. That I am willing to put money on. The true signs of a champion is taking full advantage of that. Arsenal has done so well on that this far. If that is dreaming, I am willing to continue DREAMING.

  • kodjo

    Folks

    i want to mind my own business(which is arsenal’s) but i keep wondering about the accumulation of own goals in favour of man u. i watched jlloyd samuel’s goal over and over agains and it begers belief. how could that be an own goal when from his position it was easier to kick the ball out than to score an own goal!!!