Sometimes the better team on the day doesn’t just fail to win—they don’t deserve to win.
That happened Saturday at Emirates Stadium.
Apart from one minute of luck for Birmingham and a very brief spell of attack for the Blues, Arsenal dominated every aspect of the game—except goal scoring.
And the only team responsible for Arsenal’s lack of cutting edge was Arsenal.
I know some will say that Birmingham defended well and fought hard to get the draw, but that gives Birmingham credit they simply don’t deserve, flattering a team that got lucky and faced an opponent who were in self-destruct mode.
When it comes down to it the only Birmingham player to turn in a solid ninety minutes was Liam Ridgewell—and his performance was nowhere near enough for Birmingham to walk out of Emirates with a point.
Moreover, to suggest that Birmingham played a good game this weekend is an insult to Middlesbrough, who actually deserved their win against Arsenal last month, and Sevilla who thoroughly whooped Arsenal at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
The blame for Arsenal’s draw falls squarely on the shoulders of Arsenal themselves.
In his post-match interview, Arsene Wenger admitted that Arsenal “thought it was going to be too easy.” And that sentiment showed throughout the match.
Arsenal dominated the first half in the way Arsenal dominate, holding possession, passing brilliantly, winning the ball back quickly and playing at a high tempo. It was obvious from the grins on the players’ faces that they were having fun.
Too much fun, as it turned out.
Arsenal were so enamored of their own skill that they looked like a pair of drunken father’s playing keep ball with their five year olds at a summer picnic.
And as soon as that attitude set in they were bound to drop points.
Fast forward to the second half and the Gunners were completely asleep when O’Connor popped a weak header off Fabregas’ immobile leg and past a flat footed Almunia.
Arsenal's confidence and swagger evaporated, and they panicked.
From that point on Arsenal reverted to their 2006-2007 form. Last season they were infamous for letting bad teams draw level and shut up shop while Arsenal tried desperately for a goal that would not come—and suddenly they were in the same situation.
Their foolishness rightfully cost them.
Arrogance is important in football, particularly when you are a top team, but it must be tempered with realism. Against Birmingham Arsenal had the former in abundance, and were justly spanked with the latter—teams will never win if they don't take their opponents seriously.
Birmingham at Emirates will likely prove to be Arsenal’s most important game of the season.
Either they will learn the right lesson, regain their seriousness and continue fighting for the title, or they will implode.
Back in November, they were classily outplayed at Sevilla by a team who beat them at their own game. It was an honorable loss, which was easy to bounce back from. And Arsenal easily bounced back.
A month ago they were tactically beaten at Middlesbrough by a tough, dedicated side. Another honorable loss that was easy to bounce back from, and Arsenal easily bounced back.
But on Saturday Arsenal scraped by with a dishonorable draw against a Birmingham side that they had insulted for the entire first half of football. Their display was an insult to the Blues, the Blues fans, their own fans, and most importantly themselves.
And one must wonder whether they will be able to bounce back.
If they don’t smarten up then Saturday will mark the end of their promising season, coming as it does at such a critical moment in the schedule.
Arsenal have presented themselves with their most important test to date.
Will they be able to pass this test? I hope so, but I will have little sympathy for them if they fail.
And neither will my family, since they will have to put up with me being a crabby bastard until the 2008-2009 season begins.