Wembley, England. Birmingham won its first title in 48 years after a mix-up between Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny allowed Obafemi Martins to score an 89th-minute goal to clinch a 2-1 victory in the League Cup final on Sunday.
Szczesny and Koscielny both went for the ball from Nikola Zigic’s glancing header from a long pass into the box. The ball landed at the feet of Martins, who slid it into the net six minutes after coming onto the pitch.
“I think it was my second touch,” said Martins, who joined Birmingham on a six-month loan from Rubin Kazan last month. “I think this is the easiest goal I’ve ever scored in my career — and it’s very important.”
Birmingham, the 1963 League Cup winner who is sitting only two points above the Premier League relegation zone, overcame a side second in the standings at Wembley Stadium.
“A little misunderstanding had great consequences for the result,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose team hasn’t won a title since the 2005 FA Cup.
“It was a lack of communication and lack of determination as well because always when a ball is in no man’s land someone has to take responsibility and go for it, really.”
For Birmingham, the mix-up was retribution. Szczesny avoided being sent off in the second minute for bringing down Lee Bowyer in the penalty area when replays suggested the midfielder was wrongly adjudged to be in an offside position.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties had been exploited in the 28th minute when Zigic headed Birmingham in front, although Robin van Persie volleyed Arsenal level 11 minutes later.
“For a small club like Birmingham to beat the might of Arsenal is a dream come true,” Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said. “We weren’t given a prayer by the pundits and the bookies but we believed today. It was a titanic performance by the players.”
Three finals have been lost by Arsenal since 2005 as Wenger’s wait continues for his youthful side to have something to show for its eye-catching football.
That lack of success, Wenger conceded before the match, had placed “a weight on the team.” Only this season has Wenger selected strong sides in the League Cup, which he had derided in previous years and fielded young players.
Wenger hoped the final would show how far his side has matured, but Arsenal was sluggish and struggled to impose itself.
“Everyone is devastated in the dressing room, [the players] are destroyed, and I don’t want to add to that,” he said.
The Gunners looked nervy as passes went astray and had failed to heed the warning of Fabregas before the match that you are likely to lose when contesting the ball in the air with Zigic.
That transpired from a corner after Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna had conceded possession. Birmingham defender Roger Johnson soared above Koscielny to meet former Arsenal winger Sebastian Larsson’s corner and nodded goalward to Zigic.
Zigic, the Premier League’s tallest player at 2.03 meters, found space among five Arsenal players to head beyond Szczesny.
The equalizer came after Jack Wilshere hit the crossbar from the edge of the edge of the penalty area and the rebound was only partially cleared by Barry Ferguson’s header. The ball fell to Andrey Arshavin on the right flank and his cross was volleyed home by Van Persie.
But in the process, the Netherlands forward picked up a knee injury that forced him off in the second half when he was replaced by Nicklas Bendtner.
Injuries had beset Arsenal in the build-up to the final, the team having to cope without captain Cesc Fabregas’s influence in midfield and the pace of winger Theo Walcott.