Nigeria International, Obafemi Martins was the hero as Birmingham City grabbed victory over favourite Arsenal to win a landmark fame once again in the English soccer history.
Ironically, a side striving not to fall out of the Premier League, Birminghma reached a peak in their soccer history by defeating Arsenal who took far too long to discover impetus and get the desired rhythm for a winning side in this Carling Cup final.
After 89 minutes, substitute Obafemi Martins thrived on hapless defending, exploiting it to notch the winner.
Indeed, it is Manager Alex McLeish‘s finest hour as his team had brought the club their first trophy since taking this prize in 1963.
Arsenal’s defects warrant prolonged examination, but the real priority is to salute Birmingham.
They are inferior in almost every respect to Arsène Wenger’s team, as the 3-0 loss to them at St Andrew’s in January emphasised, yet their powers of endurance were remarkable and not only for the saves that Ben Foster produced when Arsenal seemed bound for the winner.
There was boldness to Birmingham, who understood that a cup final is not to be wasted by cowering in the hope that luck comes your way.
Nikola Zigic may have been the man who most caused disquiet to the opposition. The Serb had scored only seven goals before this occasion, but he exposed the unsatisfactory defending of Arsenal and, in particular, of the centre half Laurent Koscielny.
The Frenchman made a ruinous nuisance of himself with a minute remaining. Koscielny moved as if to kick a long ball from Foster and distracted his goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. He then let possession spill to the Nigerian Martins, who came to Birmingham last month on loan from the Russian club Rubin Kazan.
No matter how brief his stay in the Midlands turns out to be, he has a permanent place in the memory of every Birmingham supporter.
Arsenal, for their part, were co-conspirators in this result. After six years without a trophy, it is impossible to believe they were complacent. It is more likely that we were witnessing nervousness as they rolled the ball around to very limited effect in the first half. There were intimations even then of vulnerability in the ranks.
Zigic regularly highlighted that. He not only scored the opener but should have added to it.
After 28 minutes, Sebastian Larsson put a corner towards the fringes of the penalty area and Roger Johnson got the better of Koscielny to nod the ball into the goalmouth, where the Serb diverted the ball into the net with his head.
Arsenal’s apprehension was marked well before that. Although they were behind then, the situation might have been far worse. Szczensy would have been sent off in the second minute for bringing down Lee Bowyer, following a pass from Zigic, had it not been for the mistake by the assistant referee Ron Garfield in raising the flag for offside. McLeish’s side showed a desire to seize the opportunity, while Arsenal lost track of where they were and why.
This may have been the least of the four prizes that Wenger’s side were pursuing, but there will be further misery if they continue to be so brittle.
Arsenal might as well have been out to illustrate every defect that is suspected in them. So it was that tension prevented them from showing fluency. Birmingham were close to recording their second goal much earlier in the second half, when a Keith Fahey shot came back off the crossbar.
It was to be expected that McLeish’s men would raise their game. There was nothing to fear when almost everyone had taken it for granted that they would fall to inevitable defeat. The side’s great feat was to believe in themselves for so long. There was nothing that resembled an Arsenal onslaught until well into the second half.
When Arsenal at last achieved impetus, there was a string of saves from Foster, particularly when Samir Nasri and then the substitute Nicklas Bendtner forced him into action. At that stage in the second half, Arsenal might well have achieved total command.
Instead they drifted away from a target that seemed well within reach.
That should be at least as disquieting to Wenger as the fact that a prize has eluded him. The side’s focus and standard of play were both prone to being blurred.
It would have been better for Wenger if Cesc Fábregas and Theo Walcott had not been absent through injury, and many could have anticipated there would also be a craving for the presence of the defender Thomas Vermaelen, who has been absent for almost all of this season.
Birmingham behaved from the outset as if every player had been convinced by McLeish that there was glory to be had if they attacked the Arsenal central defence with confidence.
There might have been a second goal for Zigic, who displayed zest and mobility that had been well disguised on other occasions.
Birmingham could have extended the lead 11 minutes from the interval. Jack Wilshere’s challenge on Craig Gardner merely knocked the ball to the Serb, but he did not connect properly and Szczesny blocked without difficulty.
Arsenal may attempt to trick themselves into thinking that nothing of real worth has escaped.
There are greater honours to be sought, but this was an outcome to plant new doubts in men who were starting to develop faith in themselves.
The immediate priority is to inch back to normality by beating Leyton Orient on Wednesday.
The requirement for a replay in that FA Cup came with an 89th minute leveller for the League One team.
We should appreciate then that this continues to be an Arsenal team in the shadow of their prolonged fallibility. The weeks to come do, of course, include the return with Barcelona in the Champions League.
There is much that could go wrong and Arsenal have heightened the apprehension by falling to admirable Birmingham.
“It is our finest hour”, says City boss
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish said his side’s Carling Cup final victory over Arsenal at Wembley is his “greatest achievement” as a manager.
Obafemi Martins scored in the last minute of normal time to complete a 2-1 victory over the Gunners.
“I am so pleased for the fans, they have craved victory for a long time,” McLeish told BBC Sport.
“Relatively speaking, it is my greatest achievement. For a small club like ours to beat Arsenal was a titanic effort.”
Birmingham had taken the lead through Nikola Zigic but Robin van Persie equalised for the Gunners at a packed Wembley.
A Kevin Fahey strike hit the Arsenal post, while Blues goalkeeper Ben Foster had to make several crucial saves to keep his side on level terms before the decisive moment in the 89th minute.
A mix-up between Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny as they failed to clear a Zigic flick-on allowed Martins, who is on loan from Russian side Rubin Kazan, a simple tap-in for the winner.
McLeish led Rangers to two championships and five cup wins in five years at Ibrox and managed Scotland to a famous victory over France in 2007.
He explained: “With Rangers I was expected to win trophies, even though it is difficult against Celtic. To come to England and for a club like Birmingham to beat the might of Arsenal is a dream come true.
“It is especially so for the fans who have had a long wait, those long-suffering Blues fans. No-one gave us a prayer, we were underdogs. But sometimes the bookies don’t get it right.
“After the goal I really did have the vision of the cup in my hands.”
Martins, who had a three-year spell at Newcastle earlier in his career, also paid tribute to the hordes of Blues fans who had travelled down from the Midlands to see their team win a first major trophy since 1963.
“It means a lot to the fans and the players because Birmingham really needed this trophy,” Martins commented.
“I’m really glad to score the winning goal. I had to be careful of my touch so I tried to my best not to make a mistake and we won.”
Birmingham had centre-back Roger Johnson hobbling with an injury for the latter part of the game but they withstood some close calls as Foster saved from Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner before triumphing.
“We said all week it’s 90 minutes of football and anything can happen. That’s why we all love football so much,” added Foster, who was Manchester United’s hero when they beat Tottenham on penalties in the 2009 final.
“The main thing was that the lads kept fighting. You could see how tired we were but we just kept working and working. That’s the spirit we’ve got.”
On the goal, Foster added: “Thank God it fell to Oba. He doesn’t miss from there. I think I could have scored that.”
Right-back and Blues captain Stephen Carr believes the mindset of the Midlands outfit helped them win their first silverware since 1963.
“That will make their [the supporters] year, make their life probably,” said the ex-Tottenham full-back. “A lot of people have been waiting a long time for this.
“We knew if we got right in [Arsenal’s] faces we could get the result. We kept going and we just got that little bit of luck at the end.”
Source: BBC Sport