Birmingham City (2) - (2) Arsenal
Walcott (49′, 52′)
St Andrews, Birmingham
Obviously the main talking point about this afternoons game was the horrific injury suffered by Eduardo Da Silva only 2 minutes into the game. The injury was so bad that the expressions on the Arsenal players faces told its own story, and the 9 minute delay meant that the severity of the damage done by Martin Taylor was sinking in on the pitch. The only thing we know at this stage that Eduardo’s season is over, and our thoughts go out to a player who has made a fantastic impact in his short time with the club.
Expectedly, the following 20 minutes after the game restarted was one and two touch football from both sides - with the players hardly making a challenge or tackle worthy of note.
With Birmingham down to 10 men and the Arsenal players visibly shaken it was vital that team focused on the task at hand an won the 3 points for the fans and the stricken Eduardo. Unfortunately, with the exception of Flamini and the back four, Arsenal looked jaded and taken aback with the events of the early part of the match and just couldn’t get their game going at all. Adebayor, Hleb and Fabregas looked the most shocked, which you can’t blame them for - when looking at Eduardo slumped on the ground with a broken leg you don’t just see your teammate - you see what could happen to you.
The first half performance was not like Arsenal at all, and Birmingham took advantage on 26 minutes when James McFadden scored a freekick from just outside the penalty area.
Arsenal looked sluggish and you had the feeling with the this could be Arsene’s most important half-time team talk of the season so far, because on the first half showing we looked like the injury to Eduardo would hugely effect the outcome of this game.
Credit to the team, as soon as the second half started Arsenal looked sharp and really up for the fight. Whatever Wenger said to the boys had made a difference as Arsenal stepped up their tempo and really took the game to Birmingham, who quite honestly had it easy in the first period.
And after only 5 minutes of the Arsenal’s pressure paid off.
Fabregas had a fantastic shot well saved by Maik Taylor which was pushed out for a corner and the little Spaniard took the kick which was won in the air by Adebayor and Walcott coolly tapped in from close range.
The pressure kept growing and growing and with the Birmingham keeper made some good saves from Adebayor, Fabregas and Hleb from long range efforts, and on 55 minutes Theo Walcott lashed a stunning left-foot shot into the bottom corner. Theo hadn’t scored in the Premier League before today’s game - and I’m sure you know the cliche about London Buses.
It was a truly fantastic response from the boys to comeback with only 10 minutes of the second half played, and at the risk of being over-emotional I felt so proud of the players. I was as shocked with the injury as the players and fans watching the game, and to fight back like that was really something. It might be only against Birmingham City, but the release I felt when Walcott lashed in his second goal was massive. Joy, anger and redemption all rolled into one.
After that Arsenal were in control, with Birmingham sitting back and waiting for the last 10 minutes to get their equaliser. They held out, despite Arsenal having the ball mostly in the final third and wasting a couple of openings. The opportunity on 77 minutes was probably the best chance to get the third goal and kill off the game but Adebayor failed to slot the ball into the net after another good save from Taylor. Bendtner was available square but the Togan didn’t look up and pick him out.
Birmingham came out in the last 10 minutes, and in all honesty Almunia had nothing to do. Arsenal defended well and even the most nervous Arsenal fan couldn’t see the home side getting back into the game. Unforuntately, with literally seconds of injury time remaining an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration from Gael Clichy gave Birmingham a life-line. Flamini played the ball into the path of the left-back but Clichy just waited far too long and tripped Parnaby to concede a penalty.
William Gallas was in sheer disgust and in some kind of protest walked off towards the tunnel before McFadden stepped up for the decisive kick.
Despite Almunia’s best efforts, McFadden smashed the penalty into the net and rescued a point in a game Arsenal should have easily seen off. You can’t really legislate for a mistake like that and the high range of emotions this afternoon got the better of the captain and while his frustration can be understood it was well over the top.
A positive we can take from this game was the response in the second half, but talk about things going against you. The injury to Eduardo clearly rocked Arsenal and you could almost write off the performance first half. And after fighting back to get the lead to throw away the game so late in the match is so devastating, especially against 10 men - it’s just unexpected.
Talk about an emotional rollercoaster.
It might be hard to remember after all that but Arsenal are still in the driving seat and the destination of the Premier League Title is still in our hands.