The winning run stopped at St. Andrews. Repetition, sometimes can be cruel. We lost 2 points on our title chase 2 years ago, and yesterday a similar thing happened. Birmingham draw level with virtually the last kick of the game to realistically snuff out Arsenal’s chances of winning the Premier League. Even for someone like me that always is optimistic beyond normal when it comes to Arsenal, I think the title is out of our reach now. 6 more games and 4 behind United. Any other result other than a draw between them and Chelsea next week, would effectively kill any hopes that we have left.
We did not exert our usual influence on the game and were made to pay for it. The first half was a very poor effort from both sides and it took 2 substitutions to bring life into the game. Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin were brought on, in place of Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky midway through the second half. The effect was immediate. Suddenly, we were on the surge and keep the majority of the possession. The goal came when Nasri picked up the ball on the right hand side and with no Birmingham players remotely near him, he drove towards goal. The closer he got to the box, the more you expect him to take a shot. Take a shot, he did and what a marvellous one at that.
For the next 10 or so minutes left in the game, we were in total control. In fact, we had another glorious oppourtunity to seal the game. On that day, if there was any player you want to be at the end of the chance, it is Nasri. From a sumptuous Fabregas pass, Nasri was through on goal but the latter decided to pull the ball back for Arshavin instead of going for further glory. Sufficient to say, Birmingham got their players back in time to prevent the ball from reaching the Russian. Overplaying things can sometimes be our Achilles heel. However, let’s not be hypocrites and deride those kind of things, because when those works it is a thing of beauty. When it doesn’t come off, then there will be moans.
Out of nothing, Birmingham got their equaliser. An almost similar incident happened earlier when the ball hit the post and rebounded off Scott Dann and over the bar. This time, the deflection was not in our favour. A straight forward punt up field from Joe Hart to Cameron Jerome. Diaby and Campbell were both attacking the headers but neither won it. When the ball found Craig Gardner on the right, Diaby did not track Kevin Phillips who had ghosted into the penalty box.
The initial ball from Gardner into the box looks to be offside. Benitez did not get to the ball but he sure was definitely going for it. That already signals intent but unfortunately the linesman did not raise his flag. Sagna’s attempted clearance rebounded off Phillips and headed straight for our goal. Therein lies my problem. What Almunia was trying to achieve by running out from the goal line was not known to me. The deflection was also a soft one and one that he could’ve easily caught or punched out. Almunia’s touch only served to loop the ball over his head and into the empty net. Crestfallen is the right word here. For all his endeavours, this is a part of him which sometimes can make you wonder why Wenger did not go for a keeper every summer since the departure of Lehman. It’s those individual errors and wrong decision making which have cost us dearly over the season.
Howard Webb is a sorry excuse for a referee. Alex Song and Gael Clichy only had to make one foul before the yellow was flashed to them immediately. Stephen Carr and Gardner had to reach double figures of fouls before any was shown to them. Refereeing consistency is rubbish in the English game. There is a distinct difference between what is acceptable for English teams and then, there’s a different set of rules that applies to Arsenal. Some of fouls committed by the Birmingham were much worse than all of the fouls that Arsenal committed, put together. Lee Bowyer’s wild lunge at Theo Walcott drew no cards. If there is consistency, Birmingham would’ve been down to just 9 outfield players before Nasri even took to the field. Absolute rubbish.
Mathematically, we are still in the title race but after the events of yesterday, it just got a little bit more harder to do it. If it does come down to goal differences, Arsenal are probably not going to nick it. That is unless we have continuous 3 goals winning margin for the remainder of the 6 games. After such a long and trying season, to have been outdone like that is very very disappointing. Whether we still can get anything from the league is now dependant on the other two dropping even more points that we thought initially. It’s going to be a painful end to what could’ve been a very promising season.
More thought tomorrow. Thanks for reading.