Posted on Monday, 28th February 2011 by Alastair Bayliss
What Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny did was a freak accident, and nothing more than that. They could play in a hundred more Wembley finals, and nothing like that would ever happen again. The question does have to be asked, however, of why Arsenal were in that position in the first place, and why the rest of the display up to that point was distinctly average?
Birmingham did play at a level which appeared well above their normal capability, but that is what one would expect from a team looking to win their first trophy in nearly half a century. On the other hand, Arsenal were insipid throughout, and looked as if they just did not possess the same thirst for victory as their opponents. Wembley finals are about game-raising, or at least about maintaining one’s natural level, yet Arsenal went backwards. On the day, few would begrudge Birmingham’s victory, simply due to their work-rate and incredible defensive effort. But for Birmingham to win in any circumstances, it would take a poor performance from Arsenal, and that is exactly how it transpired.
All the usual arguments can be dragged out again, normally pertaining to Arsenal’s perceived lack of mental strength or experience to win big games, but that would seem unlikely given that they had already beaten Manchester City away and Chelsea at home in the Premier League this season. It seems more than likely that there were other factors which made an imprint on the game yesterday. Tiredness will surely have been an issue, and also the fact that Arsenal were once again forced to play an important game without their best players on the pitch. Thomas Vermaelen, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and for the last twenty minutes, Robin Van Persie, were all missing from the side, and it’s very difficult to overcome that.
Injuries can easily be trotted out as some kind of excuse for failure, but there does come a point where their number can become infinitely prohibitive to the team’s performance. Should that have prevented Arsenal from beating Birmingham though? Even with the injuries, one can argue that the team were better than their opposition in almost every position. Therefore, perhaps there is something in the mentality debate. Although it is often over-hyped as a cause for Arsenal’s woes, there is perhaps a lack of experience of victory through-out the team; a problem only exaggerated by the absence of the captain.
It is of utmost importance that this defeat is a springboard for Arsenal, and not an event which sparks their downfall for this season. It is a really poor result, but it has to be remembered that the team still has a real opportunity to win three competitions. Perhaps it is a little optimistic to say they could win all three, but for this season to be deemed any sort of success, Arsenal essentially need to break this winless streak as quickly as possible.
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