Like us to subscribe
Who says the Carling Cup couldn't be exciting? An excellent game ends in surprising fashion with Obafemi Martins vaulting Birmingham City to their first major trophy in almost fifty years thanks to a bizarre error by Arsenal's young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. With Arsenal players looking as though they'd rather like the ground to swallow them whole, Birmingham and their fans are going mental - they've just beat the Gunners 2-1, won the League Cup, and have booked themselves a trip to the Europa League next year.
For huge swathes of the match, it looked as though Arsenal would win the game at a canter. Even after Nikola Zigic opened the scoring and City began to impose themselves on the match, Arsene Wenger's team of European superstars hauled themselves straight back into the match with a superb volley from Robin van Persie. They then proceeded to absolutely pepper Ben Foster's goal for the remainder of the first half and much of the second.
It looked as though Birmingham were going to be overwhelmed at one point, and that all they'd have to point to was luck - what if Lee Bowyer hadn't been incorrectly flagged offside in the first minute, leading to a red card for Szczęsny and a penalty after the midfielder was felled in the area? What if Keith Fahey's second-half shot had found the net rather than the inside of the post? What if Roger Johnson hadn't picked up that knee injury?
In one fell swoop, Martins consigned all of those what-ifs to the dustbin, smashing home from six yards in the 89th minute after Laurent Koscielny and Szczęsny collided to leave the ball sitting free directly in front of Arsenal's goal. There was no turning back for Arsenal or for City. Amazingly, astonishingly, Birmingham City are your 2011 Carling Cup champions.
What a way to lose a Cup Final that would be. Obafemi Martins has put Birmingham City 2-1 ahead with just seconds to go after Arsenal collapse at the back. Laurent Koscielny and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny both went after the same loose ball and took each other out, leaving the ball on the six yard line for the Nigerian striker to pounce, rolling easily into the open goal and sparking absolute bedlam in Wembley Stadium. It was possibly the easiest goal of Martins' career, but it may be the most important one he's scored in English football - the cartwheeling celebration shows he knows it too.
What an absolute calamity that was from Szczęsny and Koscielny though. That would be an embarrassing goal to concede at the best of times, but with the game level in the 90th minute of a Carling Cup final? Arsenal's trophy curse is a spectacularly strong one. Oh, and then there's karma:
Keith Fahey came incredibly close to putting Birmingham City back ahead earlier on in the half with a shot that beat Wojciech Szczęsny and crashed against the inside of the post, but the Irish midfielder will be playing no further part in the match as Alex McLeish has opted to replace him with on-loan striker Obafemi Martins in an attacking move. It's a dangerous option with Arsenal looking lively at the moment, but the wave of attacks by red shirts may well provide more opportunities for City to play on the counterattack - and based on recent evidence they can rely on goalkeeper Ben Foster to take care of things in his box.
With the game coming up to full time and a lot of tired legs on the pitch, each manager has but one substitution available to them. The match looks a near-certainty to be heading to extra time and possibly penalties now - can either team break through before they're faced with a further thirty exhausting minutes?
With Marouane Chamakh warming up on the sidelines, Arsenal are denied goals four times in quick succession thanks to great work by Ben Foster in the Birmingham City goal. Samir Nasri had a wonderful opportunity to set up Nicklas Bendtner, but opted to shoot instead, which was well saved by the England goalkeeper, and shortly after a Jack Wilshere two-footed lunge on Barry Ferguson went unnoticed and unpunished, Bendtner created something from nothing, cutting inside two Blue shirts and firing a shot goalwards. It picked up a deflection, but Foster made a scrambling save then grabbed the loose ball before Tomas Rosicky could pounce.
Eventually, Chamakh did made an appearance, coming on for Andrei Arshavin. The substitution brought no repreive for Birmingham, and Foster was called into action from a Rosicky backheel and a Nasri long-range piledriver with another pair of excellent saves. Tense times at Wembley, and it's all Arsenal with just ten minutes of regular time remaining.
Arsenal goalscorer Robin van Persie is being preserved for other games after picking up a slight injury while crashing that spectacular volley past Ben Foster. His replacement? Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, which should prove something of a relief for Birmingham City's defence. Bentdner's first act is to get knocked over for a free kick in a dangerous position, from which Alex Song's attempted header ends up about 15 yards wide of Foster's right-hand post.
There's more danger - but not much more - from a Samir Nasri shot from range after the Frenchman twisted the Birmingham defence inside and out at the top of the penalty area before opting to shoot with his left boot and sending a weak effort in the vague direction of the far corner, which the goalkeeper easily smothers. For all of Arsenal's possession in and around the Birmingham area, they haven't generated a clear-cut chance since Tomas Rosicky's miss in the opening minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, Roger Johnson is struggling on with a knee injury, which is severely limiting his mobility. Arsenal are already looking to exploit the resulting hole in Birmingham's lines, and if he doesn't come off soon his side could be in for a lot of trouble.
Some appalling defending from Arsenal is letting Birmingham City back into this match. First Alex Song manages to nutmeg teammate Johan Djourou from five yards, giving the ball straight to Nikola Zigic to launch a City attack (which was foiled due to sloppy passing) and then Samir Nasri contrived to lose possession in his own half, which led to the winger wiping out a Birmingham player with an off-ball charge that he's fortunately referee Mike Dean didn't notice. It's really sloppy play from Arsene Wenger's side, who could and should be doing much better in possession.
Despite their coming back into the contest, there's some very bad news for Alex McLeish's Birmingham, as centre back Roger Johnson, who provided the assist for Zigic's opener, goes down with what looks like a knee problem. He's taken off for treatment and reintroduced, but one of your centre halves hobbling like a 70 year old man isn't exactly a good sign for a team against Arsenal. If he keeps playing he'll be a major weak link in the defence.
Birmingham City have their reply to Arsenal's probing in the opening minutes of the half. Gael Clichy brings down Keith Fahey about thirty yards from goal in the right channel for reasons unknown, and picks up a booking for his troubles, joining Laurent Koscielny for Arsenal in Mike Dean's naughty list. The free kick is very dangerous, and Johan Djourou looked remarkably uncomfortable as he was forced to nod behind. Considering how Birmingham scored their goal, it's hardly a surprise that the Gunners weren't too keen to give them another corner, but this time the delivery was easily headed clear for Arsenal to advance back up the field.
The counterattacking play from Arsenal wasn't up to their usual standards, and Birmingham quickly found themselves on the attack again after a very poor pass by Jack Wilshere found its way to Jean Beausejour. Possession ended up with Keith Fahey, who advanced to the edge of Wojciech Szczęsny's area, beat the Polish goalkeeper with a far post effort, and saw his shot rebound off the inside of the post and to eventual safety. Hearts in mouth times for all.
The second half has began much as the first ended. Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri do their best to dance through a penalty area absolutely packed with Birmingham City players, and utlimately can't find any space for a shot. However, City's defenders can't nick it off them either, and the ball eventually pings out for Bacary Sagna, who swings a cross in for Jack Wilshere to meet. The 19 year-old midfielder doesn't really get it right, though, seeing his effort loop into the air for Ben Foster to collect, and then getting tonked in the head by his marker and going down in some pain. He should be ok to continue after some treatment on the sideline.
Being temporarily without Wilshere doesn't seem to be a major issue for Arsenal, however, and they just came within inches of scoring after fine work from Robin van Persie released Sagna for another cross. This time, the ball is cut back, where an onrushing Tomas Rosicky met it on the edge of the box with a crisp volley that flies inches past Foster's right post. Very, very close.
More bad news from Birmingham as Craig Gardner has picked up some sort of injury and won't be able to continue, Chile international Jean Beausajour replacing him. That's pretty much the last thing City wanted to see right now.
After the fourty-five minutes of the first half and then more than five minutes of injury time, honours are so far even between Arsenal and Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium, with Nicola Zigic's opening goal in the 28th minute cancelled out by Robin van Persie's spectacular equaliser. Arsenal, broughly, have been the better side, but the underdogs have had spells of dominance too, especially after Zigic's flicked header gave them their short-lived lead, and they should probably have been 2-0 up before Arsenal were able to recover.
It's been all Arsenal since van Persie's goal, however, and the injury time consisted mostly of a tide of red shirts racing at the Birmingham defence, with Ben Foster coming to his team's rescue after Samir Nasri absolutely laced a shot in in the 49th minute. Foster's had a strange game, making a number of mistakes but also denying Arsenal with some fine saves. It's still anyone's match right now, although if the Gunners keep up this sort of pressure it won't be for very long.
The break came at the perfect time for Birmingham - Alex McLeish will be doing his best to calm his side down during the interval and reminding them that they've already demonstrated they can hang in with Arsene Wenger's superstars. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see Birmingham coming out strong in the second half.
That's more like it from Arsenal. Birmingham City were in possession on the left and trying to swing in a cross, but the London side defend well and suddenly the ball breaks loose for Jack Wilshere to drive forwards. A quick series of passes sees the England international in too much space for anyone's liking 25 yards from goal, and he absolutely slammed the ball goalwards, easily beating Ben Foster - only to see the shot ricochet back off the crossbar and into play.
If Birmingham thought they were getting a repreive, they were wrong. Andrei Arshavin picked up the rebound, worked his way to the byling, and cut the ball back for Robin van Persie, who replied with a majestic scissor volley that scorched its way into the back of the net. He picked up a bit of an injury in the process, but what a beautiful goal that was. In the aftermath, Birmingham's understandably frustrated Sebastian Larsson picked up a silly booking. It's Arsenal and Birmingham at one apiece, with half time looming.
Long balls towards Nikola Zigic and set pieces are how Birmingham were going to try to score, and, well, it's worked pretty effectively here. A looping cross towards the Serbian was nodded behind for a corner, and Arsenal's nervous defence allowed Roger Johnson to nod the delivery towards Zigic, who was lurking in front of Wojciech Szczęsny in the six-yard box. As soon as Zigic managed to make contact, it was a certain goal, the giant flicking the ball off his forehead and into the net, with no Arsenal player managing to get anywhere near him to challenge. So, 1-0 to Birmingham City - not exactly what was expected, but full credit to Alex McLeish's team for taking advantage of their opposition's weaknesses.
Arsenal did almost reply immediately, but Robin van Persie's bullet header flew just wide of the post. However, the goal seems to have given City some added impetus, and nearly doubled their lead when a tussle at the edge of the box (midfielder Craig Gardner was fouled, but not in the area) fell to Zigic in acres of space and one on one with the goalkeeper. Unfortunately for the big striker, his footwork is somewhat less of a strength than his heading, and he rolled the ball straight at a relieved Szczęsny. It's been a bad few minutes for Arsenal.
Andrei Arshavin, sensing space opening up ahead of him, cuts in from the left wing, glides through the gap in Birmingham City's temporarily timid defence, and rips a shot towards the corner of Ben Foster's net. At least, that's what was presumably going through the Arsenal man's mind - instead he kicked ground about as hard as he hit the ball, which rolled out rather harmlessly for a goal kick. Meanwhile the little Russian did a half horribly embarrassed half hey that really hurt actually hop back down the pitch.
Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere are both doing excellent work for the Gunners, and if a goal is indeed coming for the favourites it looks as though one of those two will be heavily involved. For Birmingham, it looks as though long balls towards the head of Nikola Zigic and taking advantage of set pieces will be the strategy. It's an interesting contrast of styles from the teams.
I think the biggest news so far today is that it's been nineteen minutes since the match began and I don't think I've seen anyone fall over thanks to the turf. Previous games here have averages roughly one slip per minute played. Have the FA finally fixed the national embarrassment that is the Wembley pitch?
Arsenal's Samir Nasri certainly isn't doing any falling down right now, giving Birmingham's defence some major problems on account of running straight through three players as though they were training cones in his quest to get the ball to the touchline. Unfortunately for the winger, his run took him just too far to send in an effective cross, so the ball ended going straight back up the other end for Keith Fahey to lash in a long-range shot, which Wojciech Szczęsny collected easily.
Although Arsenal are looking good going forwards, I can't imagine that Arsene Wenger will be overly pleased with their defensive effort as of yet. Birmingham could easily cause them problems on the counterattack. It's still 0-0 with just under twenty minutes of Carling Cup final played.
The 2011 Carling Cup Final is underway and referee Mike Dean and company are already having a shocker. First, Arsenal forward Samir Nasri is blocked off in rather vicious fashion whilst attempting to run onto a through ball, only to see Mike Dean wave play on, and then not thirty seconds later Lee Bowyer finds himself clear in the Arsenal penalty box, one on one with Wojciech Szczęsny. The goalkeeper got nowhere near the ball in his despairing lunge, sending Bowyer tumbling - it would have been a clear penalty and red card for Szczęsny - except for the fact that the linesman already had his flag raised for offside. The replay showed that Bowyer was onside by at least two yards, played on by left back Gael Clichy. Oops.
Despite that early defensive scare, Arsenal are settling in fairly nicely and looking very dangerous going forwards. They're going to have some trouble dealing with the height of Nikola Zigic when Birmingham launch long balls forward, but they've already shown their attacking intent - Andrei Arshavin was denied brilliantly by Ben Foster after the Russian international created space in the box to turn and shoot, and Robin van Persie has also been looking fairly menacing. Arsenal starting the better here.
It's the big one, ladies and gentlemen. Arsene Wenger's nearly-boys against Birmingham City, who deserve to win trophies like I deserve to start for Brazil. After years of denigrating the Carling Cup as some sort of meaningless piece of metal, Arsenal now find themselves in the unfortunate(?) position of going to Wembley and actually playing for the thing. They can't really afford to lose this game, either - not if they want to shed their reputation as chronic underachievers in the trophy department.
The Gunners have to make do without captain Cesc Fabregas and speed merchant Theo Walcott, replaced by Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin respectively, while Birmingham City have to make do without talent. But they've come this far already - why let that stop them now?
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Rosicky, Song, Wilshere; Nasri, van Persie, Arshavin.
Subs: Almunia, Denilson, Squillaci, Eboue, Gibbs, Chamakh, Bendtner.
Birmingham (4-5-1): Foster; Carr, Johnson, Jiranek, Ridgewell; Fahey, Gardner, Ferguson, Bowyer, Larsson; Zigic.
Subs: Taylor, Murphy, Phillips, Jerome, Martins, Parnaby, Beausejour.
Though the match started slow for West Ham, the home side ended-up with a comfortable victory over Liverpool, staking goals from Scott Parker, Demba Ba and Carlton Cole to a 3-1 win. With the three points, Avram Grant's side climbs into 18th place, with only goal difference separating the Hammers from safety.
Through the first 20 minutes, West Ham played the part of cellar dwellers, giving Liverpool's defense little to consider. Then in the 23rd minute, a burst of activity from Scott Parker allowed Thomas Hitzlsperger to send his captain in on goal, with a right-footed stab from the edge of the area catching Pepe Reina off-guard. Beating the Liverpool `keeper at the left post, Parker put West Ham up 1-0.
Though Liverpool would quickly generate a chance for Dirk Kuyt, the Reds were largely silent in response to the goal, allowing West Ham to double their lead just before half time. A ball out of the back from Robert Green was won by Demba Ba, the Senegalese striker heading down and to the right flank before turning toward goal. Gary O'Neil found Ba, unmarked, for a lunging header, beating Reina into the upper right corner. The goal sent West Ham into half up 2-0.
Liverpool failed to change the match's story after intermission, having to wait until the 84th minute to threaten for a point. Then, Luis Suarez created a goal for Glen Johnson, sending a ball across the six from the left, allowing the Reds fullback to run on for an easy goal.
But the Reds were unable to create any momentum from that goal, and seven minutes later, West Ham sealed the match. In the first minute of stoppage time, a ball out of West Ham's end found Carlton Cole, who beat Martin Skrtel and raced toward Liverpool's goal. Pulling-up from 17 yards out, Cole beat Reina near post with a left-footed shot, giving the Hammers a 3-1 victory.
The win moves West Ham to 28 points and 18th place, with goal difference slotting them between Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool misses a chance to put distance between themselves and seventh place Bolton, who remain two points behind the Reds.
Whatever hope Liverpool had after Glen Johnson's 81st minute goal was extinguished seconds into stoppage time. Then, a long ball out of West Ham's half found Carlton Cole, the substitute's great individual effort creating West Ham's third goal.
The looping pass from just inside West Ham's end fell for Cole, marked by Martin Skrtel. The Hammers forward won the physical battle with Skrtel, sending him to ground, before racing toward the Liverpool goal. Jamie Carragher kept Cole from cutting-in, limiting the attacker to a left-footed shot from 17 yards out.
The ball would normally be saved by Pepe Reina, but the Liverpool `keeper was out of position from the near-post attempt. The shot got beat Reina to his right, going just inside the post for West Ham's third goal.
And with the goal, West Ham can count on the three points they'll need to climb out of last place. Should this result hold, the Hammers would finish the day in 18th place, passing Wigan and West Bromwich Albion.
Liverpool has life late at Upton Park. Spending the first 35 minutes of the second half chasing two goals. the Reds pulled one back in the 82nd minute, with Glen Johnson banging in a goal at the far post, finishing-off the good work of Luis Suarez.
The Liverpool attacker gained possession to the far left of the West Ham area, turning no the ball and beating his mark to the byline. A left-footed pass through the six yard box was met by Glen Johnson, racing in from the weak side. Robert Green, electing to stay on his line and not play the cross, had no chance on the shot, with Johnson making it 2-1.
With eight minutes and stoppage time left, Liverpool has a chance to erase what's been a disappointing afternoon. West Ham came into this match in 20th place but have had control since Scott Parker opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. While a draw at Upton Park would have been a disappointing result at the start of the day, that's now Liverpool's goal.
A disappointing first half from Liverpool ended moments after a great individual effort from Demba Ba put West Ham up 2-0 on the visiting Reds. Building on Scott Parker's opening goal, Ba finished into the upper left hand corner with a diving header in the 45th minute, exploiting a Liverpool defense that may have been adjusting to a new formation.
Moments later, a long ball from West Ha, won by Demba Ba, saw Gary O'Neil in possession on the right flank, the Senegalese striker running unmarked toward goal. O'Neil lined the cross in toward the near post, with Ba lunging onto the redirection. The shot went just inside the right post under the crossbar, doubling West Ham's lead.
West Ham has struck first at Upton Park, with Scott Parker using the outside of his right foot from 16 yards out to put the Hammers in front. Beating Pepe Reina to the goalkeeper's right post, the goal gives last place West Ham a surprise lead, threatening to halt Liverpool's eight match unbeaten streak.
The shot came after an exchange between Parker and Thomas Hitzlsperger, the German making his first league start of the season for West Ham. Parker had played a square ball to Hitzlsperger from the right flank before making a run toward the Liverpool box, Hitzlsperger played a ball in front of his teammate, allowing the midfielder to run not a ball at the edge of the area. After a touch to his left, Parker stabbed at the ball with his right foot, putting an unconventional shot toward the left post. The diving Reina could do little to stop the shot, leaving Liverpool a 1-0 deficit.
At 8:30 a.m. Eastern, the first of two English Premier League matches kick-off, matches set to be played in the shadow of Sunday's League Cup final. West Ham, now bottom of the table after Wolverhampton Wanderers routed Blackpool on Saturday, host the day's first match, welcoming sixth place Liverpool to Upton Park. Wrapping up the day's league action, Mark Hughes returns to Eastlands, leading Fulham against Manchester City.
For Liverpool, Sunday's match represents a chance to solidify their hold on a Europa League spot. With Sunderland losing Saturday while Newcastle and Bolton drew, the Reds have a chance to put themselves five points clear of the Trotters and Black Cats. To do so, Liverpool will have to replicate the result of their first meeting with West Ham, a 3-0 victory at Anfield in November. Should that happen, the Hammers would stay last, two point back of Wigan Athletic.
At 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Manchester City welcomes former manager Mark Hughes back to Eastlands, the first time he has return to City of Manchester Stadium since being dismissed last season. His first match against City as Fulham's coach did not go well, with the Cottagers on the wrong end of a 4-1 outcome in London. Unbeaten in their last three league matches, Fulham will look to increase the three point distance between themselves and the drop, while City will hope to take advantage of Tottenham's mid-week loss at Blackpool and solidify their hold on third place.
The action starts at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. SB Nation Soccer will be updating you on all the major events throughout the day.
We'll email you a reset link.
If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
Choose an available username to complete sign up.