Where Do Arsenal and Birmingham City Go From Here?
After Birmingham City’s shock victory against Arsenal to win the 2011 Carling Cup, it makes me wonder what the future holds for both teams. The last minute goal by Obafemi Martins, after Laurent Koscielny’s critical mistake, puts Birmingham City into next season’s Europa League. It also gives them a massive confidence boost, which will presumably help lift them out of the Premier League danger zone near the bottom of the table especially if they can take this victory and translate it into points in the league.
It’ll also help them in their upcoming FA Cup quarter-final match against Bolton Wanderers where they’ll be just one game away from qualifying for the FA semi-final, which would mean another trip to Wembley. Could they go all the way to the final? There’s certainly a decent chance given their performance Sunday.
For Arsenal, it was a devastating blow to lose this match especially when the man of the match, in my opinion, was Birmingham City goalkeeper Ben Foster who made several decisive saves to keep Arsenal to their solitary goal. Where Arsenal goes from here is completely up to them. Mentally, the loss will deal a massive blow to their egos and confidence. But it’ll be how they respond to this that will depend whether they can pick up a piece of silverware such as the FA Cup, Champions League or Premier League title. Arsenal could easily melt away and become unable to surpass the obstacles ahead of them which block their chances of winning something this season.
With Arsenal, it’s always hard to predict. One night they beat Barcelona in an amazing match. And another day, they fail to keep a 4-0 lead against Newcastle and crumble to a draw. While Arsenal didn’t have a poor match against Birmingham, the team from the Midlands was the one who fought tooth and nail to win this match. In the second minute of the game, Birmingham City should have been awarded a penalty kick after Bowyer was brought down by Wojciech Szczesny. However, the assistant referee had raised his flag for offside just seconds earlier and Arsenal was awarded a free kick. The TV replay showed how the assistant referee and referee made the wrong decision.
As I mentioned on Friday, the first goal of the match was going to be decisive. In this case, Birmingham scoring the first goal not only put the Brummies out in front, but it was also a huge psychological advantage because Birmingham could feel that Arsenal was there for the taking. They battled hard for every ball. They defended well and won the battle in midfield. But most importantly, they believed in themselves. Even after Andrey Arshavin cut through the Birmingham box and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Robin van Persie to equalize, I felt that the game wasn’t out of reach for Birmingham. In cup finals, anything can happen. There was only going to be one winner, so what did Birmingham have to lose other than to try to prevent Arsenal from scoring again and hoping to find a last dash winner, which they did.
While Birmingham’s win will hopefully spark their performances for the rest of the season, the win was also an important victory for “The Other 16″ in the Premier League, the clubs who are out of the Big Four. The ones who historically are also-rans. Seeing Birmingham City go all the way in the Carling Cup will provide motivation to other teams out there that if you’re willing to take risks and play with incredible pride and passion, that anything is possible.
Congratulations to Birmingham City and their supporters, and commiserations to Arsenal and their supporters. While it wasn’t the best cup final I’ve seen, it was entertaining. It felt like how a cup final should feel. And, as a neutral, it was wonderful to see Birmingham City celebrating at great lengths after the final whistle was blown.
The question is, though, was that the final whistle on Arsenal’s chances of winning silverware this season? What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments section below. And where do you see Birmingham going from here? Was that a flash in the pan or can they surprise teams in next year’s Europa League?