Birmingham 1 (Phillips 90) Arsenal 1 (Nasri 81)
On a day that Chelsea and United found opponents rivalling each other to see who could roll over the most pathetically, we dropped two points in the most agonising fashion, deep into injury time to a Birmingham side with a history of decimating our title challenges.
A win would have put us in a glorious position ahead of the meeting between our two rivals next weekend, but the draw, and particularly the manner of it, rips away the momentum we were building. It could be an absolute hammer blow.
However, it isn’t a fatal one. Clearly we need to get back to winning ways, but our next league game at home to Wolves gives us the perfect opportunity. A draw between Chelsea and United would leave us back to where we were. Of course both need to drop further points, but as I’ve been saying for ages, any away game is tricky, and there are plenty left for everyone.
As for the game itself, we were good in patches, without ever looking capable of scoring the couple of goals we needed to protect ourselves against the inevitable defensive lapse. But when Nasri burst through a tired defence to drill the ball into the corner, we seemed to have gotten away with it, and picked up another vital three points.
But with seconds left, a long punt caused havoc at the back, Sagna’s clearance bounced off Kevin Phillips and towards Almunia. The keeper was slow to react, palming it weakly upwards and backwards, and could only watch helplessly as it dropped into the net.
For the record, I don’t think there was anything wrong with the goal. Some have mooted the offside position of Benitez, but he was not interfering by the current rules, so the goal rightly stood.
It is easy to point fingers at Almunia, the pitch, the missed chances of Nasri and Arshavin to wrap the game up, but having taken off my rose-tinted glasses for a second I have to concede that Birmingham just about merited the draw. They should even have taken the lead, Dann inexplicably missing from two yards after the ball came back off the post.
As for the other topic, Howard Webb, I thought his game was mixed. Initially, I was ready to spew a torrent of anger at him, but some of the more robust challenges were actually fair, including the one on Cesc. And I do think Diaby fouled his man before the disallowed goal.
But where the frustration really lies for me in the complete inconsistency of yellow cards. Song was booked for his first (innocuous) foul, Clichy for his first ‘offence’, if you can even call it that. But a few Birmingham players got away with a string of far worse challenges before eventually being carded late in the game. Wenger was rightly furious, and it isn’t the first time. Sometimes it seems that the less skilled side are allowed greater leeway.
That said, I don’t believe Webb affected the result. On the day, we just weren’t quite good enough. Against Hull, we played in a similar way but got away with it at the last – this time fortune was reversed. The goal was a fluke, but you could similarly argue that Denilson’s shot a couple of weeks ago would normally be safely caught by a keeper. Sometimes, shit happens.
We cannot afford to focus on it. It is a blow, especially now that we can’t overturn Chelsea or United on goal difference given their massive wins. But we must bounce back with a win over Wolves next weekend.
Frankly, Barcelona is a bonus. I want the league.