Arsenal 1 (Adebayor pen 21) Birmingham 1 (O’Connor 48)
Fate has been smiling kindly in recent weeks, but sooner or later a poor performance was going to be punished with the dropping of points, and so it proved on Saturday, when a surprisingly below par Arsenal were frustrated at the Emirates.
With Clichy, Hleb, Fabregas, Adebayor, Almunia, and Flamini back after a two game rest, it stood to reason that the team would be refreshed and focused, but the clinical edge wasn’t there, that extra 10% you need against most opposition. You can’t just roll teams over without full application in this league.
It started fairly well – a wonderful left wing cross from Hleb was somehow headed straight at the keeper by Eduardo, who puts those sort of chances away in his sleep, before the lead was gained via a slightly fortunate penalty. The tackle on Eduardo clearly won the ball, but with the defender tackling between the legs rather than around them, the decision must’ve been given for a tackle from behind. It was somewhat harsh.
Adebayor coolly placed the penalty in the corner and it seemed a routine victory was on the way. The trouble was, the players appeared to feel that way also.
Early in the second half, Birmingham won a corner, and Larsson’s delivery was headed down by a poorly challenged O’Connor. With Almunia probably comfortably saving it, it deflected off Cesc’s heels and into the net.
With over half an hour to play, the goal at least came at a time when Arsenal could respond, but other than another Hleb cross that Gallas narrowly failed to connect with, chances were few and far between. Given that Jerome also forced Almunia into a good first half save, you could easily argue that Birmingham deserved their point.
After the game, Wenger was unusually candid about the team’s failings:
“I felt that we were caught by the feeling that it would be easy to win the game – and we lost our focus.”
In other words, don’t take any game for granted. The players must be frustrated, and it’s a shame that there is no midweek match – many of them are well rested and could easily cope with another fixture. That said, they should be raring to go against Fulham at the weekend.
The strangest thing about this result is the reaction is has garnered in certain corners. With United winning impressively against Newcastle, it’s a one horse race if you believe some reports. And with some of the more hysterical Arsenal fans now calling for Adebayor or Walcott never to play for the team again, I don’t think it’s only the team that needs some sense of focus.
These are the same players that tore teams apart earlier in the season. It will happen again. A solitary draw is not the end of the world. Disappointing, yes, but when was the last time a team won the league without dropping any points?