Gunners blow big chance by shooting themselves in foot

ARSENAL (1) vs BIRMINGHAM (2)

● Birmingham snatch Carling Cup with gift of a late winning goal

● Scapegoats Koscielny and Szczesny ‘destroyed’ by costly blunders

CRESTFALLEN Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger called on his players to prove they have the resilience to resume their quest for long-awaited silverware after surrendering the Carling Cup to Birmingham with a catastrophic late defensive howler.

Wenger admitted centre-back Laurent Koscielny and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were both “destroyed” last night after their mix-up gifted Blues substitute Obafemi Martins the easiest of 89th-minute winners at Wembley.

To cap a miserable afternoon Robin van Persie, who had earlier kept alive Gunners’ hopes of a first trophy since 2005 with a volleyed equaliser that cancelled out Nikola Zigic’s opener, sustained a knee injury.

But Wenger, whose side are second in the Premier League and still in the hunt for the FA Cup and Champions League, urged them to show strength in adversity and ensure their season does not collapse completely in the coming weeks.

“Congratulations to Birmingham, they took advantage of the mistake and took the trophy,” he said. “Of course it hurts us tremendously but I’m proud of our attitude and continue with our belief, pick ourselves up and face the other challenges we have, because the team is very, very disappointed and we face a lot of questions after that mistake tonight.

“We have to be strong enough to stand up and it’s a good opportunity to show we have the mental strength to respond.”

Wenger blamed the disastrous late goal on “a lack of communication and determination”, adding of Koscielny and Szczesny: “Both of them are destroyed.”

Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster was named man of the match for a string of second-half saves to deny Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Tomas Rosicky as Arsenal pressed for a winner.

The favourites were lucky not to concede a penalty and lose a man inside two minutes when Szczesny felled Bowyer, only to be saved by an erroneous linesman’s flag.

Reprieved and relieved, the Gunners showed their teeth but Birmingham took the lead on 28 minutes, Johnson nodding a corner into the six-yard box where the towering Zigic applied the final touch.

Zigic was denied a second by Szczesny before Arsenal mounted a response, Arshavin squirming to the byline and dinking a cross for Van Persie to volley across Foster and into the far corner.

The winner came as extra-time loomed. Szczesny was set to gather a goalbound ball when Koscielny, a yard in front of him, swung a boot at it and missed, and the Pole spilled straight to Martins, who gleefully rolled into an empty net.

KEY MONENTS | HOW CARLING CUP WAS WON – AND LOST
2 mins: Bowyer is brought down by Szczesny but the Pole in goal is saved by a more than generous offside flag

28 mins: Johnson beats Koscielny to Larsson’s corner and Zigic gets between Van Persie and the goalkeeper to open the scoring

39 mins: After Wilshere hits the bar Van Persie’s dextrous finish from Arshavin’s cross draws Arsenal level

79 mins: Foster, who denied Nasri four times, blocks Rosicky from point blank range

Full Time: Gardner and Blues skipper Carr celebrate in style after the final whistle

HOW THEY RATED ARSENAL
4
Wojciech Szczesny
Should have been sent off and was partly to blame for ghastly winning goal

5
Bacary Sagna
Shaky in the first-half but provided a real attacking threat after the break

4
Laurent Koscielny
For Gus Caesar in 1988 read Laurent Koscielny in 2011. Just what was he thinking?

6
Johan Djourou
Composed on the ball and coped about as well with Zigic as could be expected

5
Gael Clichy
Not his fault he’s over a foot smaller than Zigic, but his lack of height was exposed

5
Alex Song
Lethargic maybe, jaded certainly. Arsenal’s water carrier is starting to feel the pace

8
Jack Wilshere
Unlucky not to score and did as much as anyone to make up for the loss of Fabregas

3
Tomas Rosicky
Handed extra responsibility in the absence of Fabregas and shirked it. Woeful

7
Samir Nasri
Troubled Birmingham all day but lost out in a personal battle with Ben Foster

6
Andrey Arshavin
Inching back to his best but with the body count falling Arsenal need more from him

6
Robin van Persie
Superbly executed goal but at what cost? Arsenal’s man of glass is broken again

Substitutes
Bendtner (Van Persie (68)) 5, Chamakh (Arshavin (76)) 5
RATINGS BY JAMES GOLDMAN