On Sunday at 8pm I left the Oscar Wilde in Berlin, headed out into -10˚C night and shivered on my way home. I played the final goal over and over in my head, considering whether what I had seen was real or just some sort of horrible joke.
Two days later I am in Barcelona to enjoy a break from the Berlin cold before Arsenal play Barcelona in the return leg of the Champions League. The sun is shining and the world feels like a different place.
It is tempting to use the change in mood — indeed, the change in scenery and weather — to turn the page on our Carling Cup failure and look towards the future. But unfortunately it is not so easy.
The manner of Saturday’s defeat was such that the scars — both psychological and physical — will be smarting for some time yet. Losing via a mistake like this is truly exasperating, but the fact that we started the game in such a nervous manner, reflective of the importance placed on winning the final and the pressure that came with it, was even more disheartening.
Although Birmingham only had one shot on target in the second half — Obafemi Martins’ winner — I genuinely felt that the men in blue deserved to win the game. They started in a more focused manner, were denied the opportunity to open the scoring and play against 10 men for the remainder of the game after just two minutes, and generally played to their maximum potential.
I’ve written before how much I dislike this Birmingham team — and Barry Ferguson’s push on Koscielny after the final goal provided the perfect microcosm as to why — but they deserve credit for turning up on the day and playing their most effective football. They realistically could have been two or three goals up in the opening half hour as they held the ball reasonably well and used Nikola Zigic to great effect.
In contrast, until Robin van Persie’s fantastic equalising goal, we were well below par. If Birmingham played at around 90% of their potential then we surely didn’t go any higher than 60%. The passing was sloppy, the likes of Djourou and Koscielny were jittery throughout and without Cesc Fabregas we looked nervous. Only Robin van Persie and Jack Wilshere looked particularly calm and comfortable, the former to be expected and the latter a remarkable feat given his age and lack of experience.
I do not believe the mix-up between Szczesny and Koscielny was symptomatic of the nerves we showed early in the game. It was a freak incident, the kind that happens so infrequently as to be labeled as comical, but yet it decided the game.
It left us with the feeling that Birmingham didn’t win the Carling Cup, but that we lost it. Regardless of how highly you value the trophy, it is not an easy feeling to deal with and simply re-energises the notion that we are not capable of performing as a team when it matters most.
In terms of individual performances on the day I have been surprised by some reactions. Tomas Rosicky has been criticised for a poor game and Arsene Wenger slammed for persisting with him in such an important role. Yet those people appear to have forgotten that Samir Nasri, fresh from being used sparingly on the flanks, came into the contest as the game wore on and looked the one most likely to win the game.
Likewise there has been strange criticism of Wenger for substituting Andrey Arshavin, who enjoyed a fine afternoon. But he’s never, ever been a 90-minute player and a Cup final doesn’t automatically modify someone’s aerobic processes.
While I would like to sweep this game under the rug and move on completely, the truth is that I really wanted to see us win the Carling Cup. When you really want something it usually hurts when you do not get it and when you don’t get it because of a mistake like the one we saw the pain simply intensifies.
What’s more, with Robin van Persie joining our injury list the possibility of us being provided with the elixir that would come with overcoming Barcelona now looks unlikely. With Theo Walcott, the one player that Barca are genuinely fearful of, out of the game and big question marks hanging over Fabregas and van Persie’s heads our task has become more difficult. It’s certainly not impossible — just ask Birmingham! — but it is more difficult.
In the end the manner of our defeat and the tempered quality of our performance made for a disappointing day out at Wembley for both the players and the spectators. How we all respond to it will be telling.
Spread your love for Arsenal by leaving a comment.