Blues earn Wembley glory
Martins nets late winner to stun Arsenal
Last Updated: 27/02/11 6:57pm
Birmingham lift the trophy
Birmingham shocked Arsenal in the Carling Cup final as Obfemi Martins capitalised on a defensive mix-up to secure a last-gasp 2-1 victory at Wembley.
With extra time looming, a header from Nikola Zigic caused panic in the Arsenal box and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny gifted the ball to Martins, who supplied the simplest of finishes.
Robin van Persie's equaliser had earlier cancelled out Zigic's opener in a pulsating encounter full of chances and controversy.
Arsenal's quest for a first major trophy in almost six seasons had dominated the build-up to the Wembley showpiece but it was Birmingham, without any significant silverware since 1963, who started the brighter.
There was a major talking point after just a couple of minutes when Szczesny brought down Lee Bowyer in the box but the flag had already been raised, incorrectly, for offside.
Alex McLeish's Blues were finally rewarded with the opening goal in the 28th minute as Roger Johnson headed a corner towards goal and the giant Zigic nodded home.
Zigic was denied by Szczesny when one-on-one with the goalkeeper moments later before Arsenal finally started to discover some fluency and equalised on 39 minutes.
Jack Wilshere struck the woodwork but the rebound fell to Andrey Arshavin, who did well to set up Van Persie for a fantastic volleyed finish.
Arsenal looked more comfortable at the start of the second period than they had in the first but were unable to take firm control against a Birmingham side playing positively and working hard.
The danger posed by Birmingham was evident just before the hour mark as Keith Fahey's low shot ricocheted agonisingly off the post.
Ben Foster then kept Birmingham level with a series of fine saves and it looked as though extra time would be needed to settle the sides until substitute Martins slammed home the winner in the 89th minute.
Arsenal were crestfallen at the final whistle, but Arsene Wenger must now lift his side for an FA Cup fifth-round replay against Leyton Orient before the return leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 clash against Barcelona to ensure another season which promises so much does not fail to deliver.
There was something of a sense of justice after a poor offside call inside the opening two minutes should have seen Arsenal reduced to 10 men and Birmingham awarded a penalty.
Bowyer ran from behind the last defender onto Craig Gardner's pass before rounding Szczesny, who brought him down. However, instead the assistant's flag went up and the Gunners went unpunished.
Arsenal slowly started to find their passing game as Arshavin's shot was blocked by Foster.
Samir Nasri then weaved through three markers into the right side of the Birmingham box but fired into the side netting.
The Blues looked to unsettle Arsenal in possession, and Martin Jiranek made a fine tackle as Arshavin broke down the left.
The Gunners, not for the first time, found themselves trying to break down two banks of four as Birmingham settled into a disciplined rearguard action.
Some careless possession, though, saw Birmingham break and Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to head the ball behind after it was swung into the Arsenal penalty by Fahey.
It proved costly as from the resulting corner, Zigic nodded the Blues in front on 28 minutes after Roger Johnson headed the ball back into the six-yard box.
Arsenal almost responded immediately when Van Persie sent a flying header over the bar from Bacary Sagna's cross.
Serbia striker Zigic almost doubled the Blues' lead when Gardner touched the ball through from the edge of the box but this time Szczesny was out quickly to make a smart block.
Arsenal were rattled, with Johan Djourou heading over his own crossbar, but after weathering the storm they were level on 39 minutes.
Wilshere broke quickly down the centre and when the ball came back to him at the edge of penalty area, the England midfielder crashed a 20-yard effort against the crossbar.
Arshavin picked up the rebound, turning it back into the six-yard box where Van Persie volleyed the ball into the left-hand corner.
The Dutchman then needed treatment after kicking Roger Johnson's leg in the process of scoring, and jarring his knee.
Fortunately for Arsenal, with the return leg against Barcelona less than two weeks away, Van Persie, skipper in Cesc Fabregas' absence, was soon back in the action.
The Gunners continued on the offensive, going into the break, and Nasri's 25-yard effort was well saved by Foster.
Tomas Rosicky almost put Arsenal ahead at the start of the second half when he arrived late at the edge of the area onto a Sagna cross but his volley flew just wide.
Despite all of their possession, Arsenal were almost undone again when Fahey crashed a 20-yard effort against the inside of the post.
As the hour mark passed, Birmingham continued to disrupt Arsenal's flow in midfield.
Arsenal withdrew Van Persie, perhaps as a precaution, on 70 minutes, replacing him with Nicklas Bendtner, who enjoyed a productive loan spell at Birmingham in the 2006/2007 campaign.
Nasri's shot was blocked by Foster following a quick Arsenal counter-attack, with the Birmingham keeper then denying Bendtner.
Foster was in action again to claw away Nasri's 25-yard effort.
However, a nightmare then struck for Arsenal with just a minute left when Zigic's knockdown was spilled by Szczesny, as Koscielny missed his clearance.
Substitute Martins swept the loose ball into an empty net to secure a famous victory for Birmingham and prolong Wenger's quest for a trophy.
Carling Cup final result
Birmingham's Carling Cup heroes have now set their sights on securing safety in the Premier League.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has told his devastated squad that they cannot allow Carling Cup final heartbreak to derail their season.
Johan Djourou has urged Arsenal to show their character and bounce back from losing the Carling Cup final.