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McLeish tactics lay foundation for superb win

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 00:39 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011

To those who dismiss the role of tactics in football matches, Sunday's Carling Cup final was a classic case of what can be achieved when a system and its players combine.

Was Birmingham's victory over Arsenal down to tireless effort by their midfield, a superb display by their keeper and a huge dose of luck for the winning goal?

Or was it because Birmingham boss Alex McLeish chose a system where his team could play to their strengths and expose Arsenal's weaknesses?

The truth is probably a combination of both elements, but it is worth underlining how some of the more human aspects of the match came as a result of the framework McLeish set up.

"For all the good things that Birmingham did, Arsenal were poor by their standards," said former Gunners full-back and Match of the Day pundit Lee Dixon.

"But that's taking nothing away from Birmingham. In every department, I thought they performed well.

"There was a lot of talk beforehand about the way that they would play, that Arsenal were going to pass them off the park, but that didn't happen. Birmingham stuck to their guns and their midfield was solid for the whole game."

Passes to Nikola Zigic show Ben Foster picked out the Birmingham forward most

Key to Birmingham's 2-1 win at Wembley was McLeish's decision to play a five-man midfield and employ a lone striker in Nikola Zigic.

Birmingham had tried this formation in both Premier League matches against Arsenal this season, only to lose 2-1 at the Emirates, where Zigic scored the opening goal, and 3-0 at St Andrew's where Cameron Jerome was preferred up front to the giant Serb.

Although the game at Arsenal was a lot tighter, Birmingham still had lots of problems supporting Zigic and it was clear from the outset at Wembley that the likes of Lee Bowyer and Craig Gardner were detailed to make thrusts into Arsenal's final third whenever they could.

This policy almost paid dividends as early as the second minute, when Zigic found the advancing Bowyer only for the midfielder to be denied what looked like a clear penalty when his run was incorrectly ruled offside.

The added benefit of starting with the 6ft 7in Zigic was that it would pressure Arsenal at one of their weak points. Arsene Wenger's team have conceded the highest proportion of set-piece goals in the Premier League this season - 52% of goals have been conceded in this way.

And so it proved at Wembley, with Birmingham taking the lead from a corner.

Blues defender Roger Johnson won the first header, Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou failed to mark Zigic properly in the six-yard box, and the Serb nodded home.

The build-up to the corner also involved Zigic, who has now scored four goals in his last five games, but to accuse Birmingham of simply lumping the ball up to him at every opportunity would be wrong.

Passes to Nikola Zigic show that many of them came from Birmingham keeper Ben Foster, including the one that they scored the winning goal from

From the pass map to the right, it would seem that many of the balls played into Zigic came from distance, with more than half of them courtesy of Blues keeper Ben Foster. But of Birmingham's 338 passes only 15% were hit over 35 yards. (Only 6% of Arsenal's 514 passes were the same.)

Much of that was down to midfielders Bowyer, Gardner and Blues captain Barry Ferguson who can all pass intelligently and recognise the value of retaining possession when defenders have won the ball back.

Having established a tactical foundation early in the game, Birmingham almost took a 2-0 lead when Zigic failed to lift the ball over advancing Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny following good work from Gardner.

Yet as the game wore on, more of the personal elements began to emerge.

Without injured skipper Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere was the driving force behind many of Arsenal's attacks. It was following a shot from the England midfielder - a shot that hit the bar - that the Gunners equalised through Robin van Persie on 39 minutes.

The fact that a 19-year-old was bossing proceedings for Arsenal showed what a supreme talent he is but he did not get the support he needed from his fellow midfielders.

Where other Birmingham players could draw strength from Bowyer's incessant pressing or Johnson's ability to dispossess Arsenal's forwards, the likes of Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky failed to make a telling impact for the Gunners. The Gunners' cause was not helped when Van Persie went off injured after 69 minutes.

Even as the game entered the final quarter and more room became available for him to unleash his lethal shots, Nasri could not find a way past the superb Foster.

At this stage, McLeish's side were hanging on, especially as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger threw on Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh to test the fitness of the injured Johnson.

But having established a platform for success - and his players having expended almost every ounce of their energy to stay in the game - McLeish took a last throw of the dice.

With only seven minutes remaining, the Scot sent on Martins to forage up front with Zigic - and the on-loan striker scored the match-winning goal in the 89th-minute following a horrible mix-up between Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny.

It was a fortunate denouement, no doubt. But with Zigic playing his part in the goal as he rose to flick on Foster's free-kick, credit must go to McLeish for his tactical acumen right until the end.

You can also discuss more tactical issues and suggest future ideas on Twitter

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It was a wonderful, wondeful thing. Although Zigic has an appalling touch he was great. Blues deserved it, I loved it. Ace.

  • Comment number 2.

    "Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger threw on Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh to test the fitness of the injured Johnson"

    Wonderful to see Arsenal lumping it up to 'The Big Men' in desperation! Didn't think that fitted with Arsene's Grand plan.

    Congratulation Birmingham, nicely done.

  • Comment number 3.

    Agreed. There will be hundreds of Arsenal fans who read this blog and vent their (unreasonable) fury over the lack of beautiful football in the world but when it comes down to it, Birmingham were great on the day and this was an amazing match for us neutrals. Arsenal fans will be quick to point out they hammered that goal and, were it not for Ben Foster (who is vastly overrated IMO - one game full of saves doesn't make him a great keeper. That game against Chelsea was pure fluke - I'm sorry but although he saved the match, his decision making was amateur at best) they would have won but they must remember that they should have been down to 10 men and probably 1 goal down too right at the start. I do feel sorry for Szezesny though - he's looking an amazing prospect and these mistakes just do happen sometimes. I think Koscielny was more at fault personally - you can't wave your foot like that in front of your keeper - either don't move or, if you already have, never stop! Hoof that leather! Still, I guess that depends on the call.

    All in all I thought it was a great, even, match. Extra time would have been fair but I'm happy to see Birmingham win, it's no more than they deserved even though I can't say Arsenal really deserved to lose...

  • Comment number 4.

    "Much of that was down to midfielders Bowyer, Gardner and Blues captain Barry Ferguson"

    Thought Stephen Carr was the captain. He led by example and his workrate was fantastic.

  • Comment number 5.

    Have i missed something ? McLeish is suddenly a tactical genius then ? But surely this is somewhat belied by their poor league position isnt it ?

    Their players played well, credit to them. But i think they played the only way they could against Arsenal. Of course if im wrong Brum will leap up the table and finish 9th or 10th. I dont think they will go down, but to start crowning McLeish, who is a kick and rush merchant at best as some sublime football tactician is a bit much !

  • Comment number 6.

    #4 CraigB You are right on both fronts, my mistake for the first one. Carr was fantastic, there were times in the second half where I was wondering where he got his energy from. Strange to think that a couple of years ago, he didn't have a club.

    I was very impressed by Bowyer yesterday and Johnson. Talismen.

  • Comment number 7.


    Please tell me I hadn't read in this very same blog that McLeish should NOT start Zigic upfront as he will not bother central defenders and Wembley is too big.

    Anyway I believe Mr McLeish is REINVENTING football tactics with his meticulous and diligent preparation of the keeper taking set plays and accurately kicking the ball onto the big man's head. These methods will be copied in training grounds and taught in workshops for years to come. 2 decades ahead of their time I say.




  • Comment number 8.

    nice to see a clubs tatic has finally paid off. when relegated blues could easily said good bye to the manager but choose to let him build the foundations. swift return to the prem and now have a solid built club and started to win things. other clubs should look at this and copy instead of getting rid after a couple of iffy results and only 6 months to turn other failiers around.

    as for arsenal seemed they don't have a great leader who can pull the others though tough situations. all great teams have one of these players. wilshire may be one in the future but will the others wait for this to happen.

  • Comment number 9.

    Congratulations to Brum, but their victory is one of kick-and-rush football over style and artisanship. I wonder what that trohpy will be worth if Brum go down this season. The contrast between them and Arsenal's opponents in 8 days time could not be starker!

  • Comment number 10.

    over style and artisanship
    ==

    Didn't look too stylish when Martins scored

  • Comment number 11.

    Classic case of over confidence, Arsenal just expected to turn up and win. Barry Ferguson should not have slapped Konsly, as it should have been Big Ek slapping Wenger as he should should the blame.

  • Comment number 12.

    Anyway I believe Mr McLeish is REINVENTING football tactics with his meticulous and diligent preparation of the keeper taking set plays and accurately kicking the ball onto the big man's head. These methods will be copied in training grounds and taught in workshops for years to come. 2 decades ahead of their time I say.

    ==

    Maybe Arsene should look into preparing his defence for this tactic? Isn't that what a shrewd manager would do? I don't know why Arsenal wouldn't mind long balls, cos it's effectively surrendering possession. It should be quite straightforward to defend against, if a punt up field can unlock Arsenal's defence, what hope do they have at the nou camp?

    But I guess it'll be easier to just whine about it for each of the 15 times it happens a season

  • Comment number 13.

    Serbian forward Zigic was on target when Arsenal beat the Blues earlier this season and it is clear that McLeish's team use him as an outlet.

    "I would play Obafemi Martins and Cameron Jerome up front, especially at Wembley with the big open spaces that exist," Keown argues. "Also, I don't think Wembley is a set-piece pitch because it is too big. You cannot reach the penalty areas with effective balls from too far away.

    "It's all about denying space and playing a pressure game and playing percentage balls into deeper areas. Then you can rely on free-kicks and corners to be effective.

    "If I was a centre-half playing in this game it wouldn't necessarily bother me too much if Zigic was playing. But if you have got pace and power playing around you then you've got more of a problem. That's what Martins will bring because he is rapid.

    ---------


    that was taken fromt he blog with your name on it (Obviously that quote is attributed to Keown, but I presume you agreed with it, given it was your blog.

    So the first goal was caused by the big man, from a set piece, both things that wouldnt work.

  • Comment number 14.

    Funny how the pre game football tactics page opted for Jerome and Martins upfront. For their power and pace.

    You only have to look at Peter Crouch's scoring record against Arsenal to see how Arsenal deal with tall forwards.

    So for me there wasn't really a debate to be had about what tactic Birmingham were going to use it was a total no brainer.

    Glad to see a different team pick up some Silverware for a change.

    Style and Artisanship??? If Simon Cowell ever has to judge who the winner of a football match is. Then I'm sure Arsenal will be one of the most successful clubs in the world. Until that day its just going to take old fashioned determination and commitment something Birmingham showed more of yesterday.

    Time Arsenal its manager and its fans joined us back on Planet Earth.

    Possession is a losers statistic !!!

  • Comment number 15.

    judging from young jack's weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, pretty sure he wouldn't have minded trading some of that style and artisanship for a wee bit of silverware.

  • Comment number 16.

    Very disappointed with the game, as I thought we were the better team. Foster was immense for Birmingham and well done to you - enjoy the victory as I know every Gooner would have!

    But to say we were outplayed is completely off the mark, in the last 20 minutes Birmingham were hanging on, and if it was not for the silly mistake by our defense it would have been extra time and IMO we would have won easily. How was this tactical genius on behalf of Mcliesh?

  • Comment number 17.

    McCleish is barely copying Harry Redknapps use of Peter Crouch over the years.

    Putting high hanging crosses in rather than flatter crosses which anyone who is first to the ball will win. By putting in high hanging crosses the ball reaches the head of someone 6ft 7in before then dropping low enough for any other defender to deal with. Common sense.

    Zigic should also peel off onto often shorter full backs and will prove even more of a nuisance. A tactic used by Niall Quinn back in the day.

    It has taken McCleish 6 months to work out how best to make use of Zigic.
    Rafa benitez never did workout how to use a tall target man like Crouch.



  • Comment number 18.

    Yawn... All this guff about how they got their tactics spot on is really becoming tiresome, it's lazy punditry at its best. Birmingham won because of a simple mix up between a central defender and a goalkeeper. The second half they were almost non-exsistent, Arsenal registered a superior number of efforts on goal and had more possession. Congratulations to Birmingham but lets not start proclaming the victory as a tactical masterstroke, getting your keeper to fling long balls forward is not a masterstroke.

  • Comment number 19.

    Montegooner

    I would guess it was that McLeish threw on Martins with less than ten minutes to go an his presence unsettled the Arsenal defense, resulting in a horrible mix up and the winning goal. That is in addition to the goal Zigic got and the penalty and probable red card Arsenal should have conceded to Birmingham's tactics in the opening minutes.

    You probably would have won in extra time, both centre backs were carrying injuries and the Blues had run themselves into the ground but McLeish made the right change in his tatics.

  • Comment number 20.

    Well done to #7 nibs, #13 jesus the teddy bear and #14 Osmond82, glad you are regular readers! You are right to suggest that Martin Keown thought Birmingham might be better off with two strikers. He said that if he was playing it wouldn't bother him if Zigic was playing alone, but I bet that Arsenal had a better record at set-plays than they do now.

    You could argue that Birmingham eventually won the game with two strikers on anyway, but like I said in the blog sometimes fortune and tactics play an equal part. What is clear, is that McLeish had a very good plan and by and large it brought its rewards.

  • Comment number 21.

    The biggest mistake Wenger made was to take off both RVP (OK injured) AND Arshavin to replace them with two bigger players - they were less comfortable on the ball and until that point Arsenal had been piling on the pressure but suddenly with two big forwards on, Birmingham came back into the game? I'm surprised no "expert" has picked up on that. Throwing on the big fellas to test Johnson was simply the wrong move, he doesn't need to be that mobile to challenge in the air does he?

    Despite the size of the Wembley pitch being hyped as a major advantage to Arsenal (forcing a more open game / preventing long balls to the big man upfront) the game turned out quite the opposite. Birmingham were able to play deep and narrow across midfield forcing Arsenal to try to play it wide and put in crosses for RVP against two large central defenders. Because of the narrow formation Arsenal were unable to get their fullbacks forward, neither Sagna nor Clichy made a major contribution to Arsenals attacks.

    Birmingham's midfield put pressure on Arsenals midfield trio, Larsson and Carr provided width down the right with Zigic often drifting more to the left, later Beausejour did the same down the left. For most of the game Birmingham effectively played with 4 central midfielders to crowd out Arsenals passing game and it worked to perfection. Bringing on Martins was designed to force Arsenal to play deeper but by then he had already scored and instead of providing a goal threat he was forcing Arsenal to chase him all over the pitch, wasting valuable time. So to say Alex McLeish tactic's were "kick and rush" does then a grave disservice. In fact if any team could be accused of being tactically naive, it was Arsenal.

  • Comment number 22.

    The 'tactics' of Birmingham were neither original or patented. It is a pattern perfected against Arsenal by Allardyce when at Bolton and laterly Blackburn.
    Whenever Arsenal had the ball get ten men behind the ball and when Birmingham had the ball hoof it up the pitch.
    It paid off for them and that is because Arsenal were very lack lustre right across the park. On most other occasions Arsenal have dealt with that type of 'tactic' easily enough.
    But to try and pass it off as some sort of 'tactical' genius indicates the calibre of analysis in English football.

  • Comment number 23.

    #22 But have learned to deal with tactics involving target men? The stats would suggest not as you regularly concede goals to set pieces.

    Arsenal fans pride themselves with their "superior" football but so the lack of titles would suggest it's not quite as superior as they would like to believe. In Wenger you have a manager who strongly believes in youth and attacking football but also seems to ignore the fact that you also have to defend in football. He continues to ignore his defensive problems.

    Also any Arsenal fan who believes that Birmingham resorted to long ball tactics is either a) Bitter or b) Has no understanding of football. For large parts of the first half Arsenal were left chasing the shadows of Birmingham's midfield, as Ferguson, Fahey, Gardner and Bowyer passed the ball around them on more than one occasion. Also did Birmingham's long ball game result in (what should have been) a penalty and sending off in the opening minutes of the game? Did it result in Zigic's chance to make it 2-0? Did it lead to Fahey hitting the post? And by the same token how many clear chances did Arsenal actually have? Most of them were shots taken from outside the box so to say that Birmingham only won because of luck, well Arsenal were lucky to have 11 men on the pitch for more than 2mins of the game!

  • Comment number 24.

    16. At 2:17pm on 28 Feb 2011, Montegooner wrote:
    Very disappointed with the game, as I thought we were the better team. Foster was immense for Birmingham and well done to you - enjoy the victory as I know every Gooner would have!

    But to say we were outplayed is completely off the mark, in the last 20 minutes Birmingham were hanging on, and if it was not for the silly mistake by our defense it would have been extra time and IMO we would have won easily. How was this tactical genius on behalf of Mcliesh?

    ---------------------------

    Neatly skating over the fact that your keeper should have been sent off after 2 minutes

  • Comment number 25.

    Congratulations to Birmingham on winning.. thats what counts in the end.
    Just one point though... at 88 minutes the score was 1:1 i.e Birminghams tactics = Arsenals tactics then Arsenal make an unforced error, so my conclusion is the game lost/won by a mistake, not really tactical. Sad way to conclude an excellent game.

  • Comment number 26.

    The biggest mistake Wenger made was to take off both RVP (OK injured) AND Arshavin to replace them with two bigger players - they were less comfortable on the ball and until that point Arsenal had been piling on the pressure but suddenly with two big forwards on, Birmingham came back into the game? I'm surprised no "expert" has picked up on that. Throwing on the big fellas to test Johnson was simply the wrong move, he doesn't need to be that mobile to challenge in the air does he?

    ------------

    What? Our best spell was in the 15 or so minutes AFTER Van Persie went off. Chamakh and Bendtner did well.

    What no one has mentioned is how big a loss Walcott proved to be. Birmingham were able to pressure us high up the pitch, something they wouldn't have done if the threat of Walcott's pace was there. For a 'tactics' blog you don't really discuss tactics do you? You go for the easy option every time, much like most BBC blogs.

  • Comment number 27.

    I suppose Martin Keown's analysis on how to beat Arsenal looks now like egg on his face. While reading that analysis I felt as though it had been written by someone wishing Arsenal to win. I know that Man Utd go on all big away matches playing 4-5-1 and, in many occasions, they return home with the result. This is why McLeish is a very good football manager, while Keown is a football pundit.

    Arsenal were not outplayed yesterday. I do understand the exaggeration, though, from the expectation of many to override Birmingham City, who proved to be equals to the prematch favourites.

    Arsenal did push at the last 20 minutes of the match but, once again, RVP was missing and I don't really know how much faith you can place on Bendtner changing the outcome of the match in favour of his team.

    I can't help but give plaudits and credit to Birmingham City. They played without fear, they stuck to their game plan and they were worthy Cup winners, having had to overcome the early injustice, regarding the penalty incident given wrongly as an offside.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    Did Bendtner not dream that he scored the winning goal?? Or was he dreaming?

  • Comment number 30.

    Thanks you never give in Blues. Im 78 years and a supporter since 1946. My best day!.Harry Canada.

  • Comment number 31.

    Sitting in a pub in Lancaster, with pint in hand and fist in mouth, I honestky thought Birmingham deserved to win it, and whether their tactics were original or patented or whatever didn't matter. Clearly by playing the Allardyce long ball system, they took the Arsenal defence to pieces time and again.

    Having deserved a penalty in the first minute, and Sczsdefcjnaujnny having deserved a red card for that matter, they kept their heads up, and kept playing the same game for the full 90. Martins introduction meant he could terrorise the defence while Zigic kept on winning headers from Ben Foster (who was outstanding all game).

    Arsenal fans should be disappointed with that waste of space Koscielny for his performance, as he was awful all game, and Wenger should actually try spending a bit of cash on someone who isn't French for once. A Martin Skrtel or Kyriagkos sort of centre back (sorry, they're the only 2 I can think of) would have been able to handle Zigic all game not a problem.

    Well done Birmingham for upsetting the monopoly of the trophy winners, asides Pompey the other year of course, and I wish you well for more success in the future.

  • Comment number 32.

    It is yet again another game where criticism will be hurled at the arsenal defense and how suspect they looked. Personally i didn't really see much wrong with them apart from the two goals which we conceded, the first of which was from the team defending as a group. The winner was just a freak mistake, all great goalkeepers make one big mistake in their career and it will be down to how scezney reacts which will determine how good a keeper he is. I think that over the course of Vermalen being injured Kolcsieny and Djourou have been very good at the back, apart from the 4-4 game vs newcastle which was another freak game and the whole team on that day collapsed. It will b interesting to see who starts when vermaelen comes back to see who starts alongside him, it depends on whether wenger wants to go with strength in djourou or the player who is i think better on the ball in kolscieny. I would personally go with kolsciney and vermalen as i feel that kolscieny ha been the more consistent centre back out of the two and was particularly outstanding against barcelona. I don't think that wenger needs to buy a centre back and i think that scezney has looked very good in goal apart from yesterday's mistakes, wenger doesnt tend to buy alot of players anyway, instead choosing to produce them and praise must again be pushde the way of jack wilshere as he was the best arsenal player yesterday, it is astounding how good he is at only 19 years of age and he ill go onto be easily better than rooney and hopefully in the same bracket at messi.

  • Comment number 33.

    @gooner8

    Sczecney is not, or will never be a 'great keeper'. And that wasn't a mistake yesterday, it was a total nightmare. He might aswell have just placed the ball at Martins feet and walked off the field.

    Also, Koscielny has had a very ropey season (although I didn't see him against Barca, where he was supposedly very good), but surely this points out that Wenger needs to spend big in the summer to sort his defence out?

    Losing Gallas was a bad move IMO, as he's got the experience in the big games, and a lot of grit.

    Someone like Hangeland should be his priority now, as he has the bottle in the big games.

    Also, Fabregas? Staying or going Barca at the end of the season... Thoughts?

  • Comment number 34.

    I cannot believe I'm reading this. Tactical masterstroke?? I'd have thought it was essentially obvious that if you have a big player, you hit as many long balls to him as you possibly can. Unless you're referring to bringing on martins, in which case why on earth is he not the greatest striker in the world if his mere presence causes defenders to decide that not hoofing the ball is a better option. In my opinion, Birmingham were good but luck evens itself out in the end, as proved by this match for Birmingham. No penalty, fine, but how many times dyou expect to be given a gift like that come 89 minutes in? I really don't think you can argue that mcleish won any kind of tactical battle, considering as for large parts of the game his team were carved apart and reliant on ben foster.

    Also, with regard to arsenal not having a leader, we do. But it's hard for your leader to influence the game when he stuck on the injury list, and then when your stand in captain comes off as well you've lost two leaders already. Remember that by far our best defender is also injured, and if anyone thinks that vermaelen won't sharpen up our defence when he comes back should only think about the the likely state of man utd's defence without vidic in it. Rosicky was disappointing as well, and nasri should have played in the middle. But when Ramsey returns to us, hopefully well have seen the end of both Rosicky and denilson.

    As gutted as I am to say it, congrats to Birmingham for ending a trophy drought that makes ours look like a warm summer. But for these articles fawning over them and condemning arsenal, think before you post inane journalism please.

  • Comment number 35.

    @Andrew Joy

    Szczesny is 20 years old and has been playing regular football for Arsenal for about two months, and generally quite well from what I've seen... I think it's a bit early to tell how good he's going to be (he's already looking a lot better than the other two donkeys)

  • Comment number 36.

    Tactical masterclass? Their goalie hoofing it up-field to the big man? That's it? No wonder the home nations never make any progress in international competition. Utter rubbish.

  • Comment number 37.

    36. At 6:33pm on 28 Feb 2011, The Arshavin Codex wrote:
    Tactical masterclass? Their goalie hoofing it up-field to the big man? That's it? No wonder the home nations never make any progress in international competition. Utter rubbish.

    -------------------------------------------------

    All you're saying there is that utter rubbish is enough to beat Arsenal, even with key refereeing decisions gone against them.

  • Comment number 38.

    So you mocked Ashley Cole for missing his pen last week, what goes around comes around Mr Szczesny......................

  • Comment number 39.

    Arsenal were well below their best and Birmingham must take a lot of credit for that. They never let Arsenal play at their own pace and their midfielders were neat in their use of the ball when they did have possession. No way were they just pumping high balls and there's nothing wrong with winning a game with set piece play. The winner was freakish but their first goal was good play. In the main Arsenal's efforts on goal were long range and Foster made good rather than great saves.

    I hope and believe Birmingham have enough good players (including Bentley) to stay up.

  • Comment number 40.

    "It is yet again another game where criticism will be hurled at the arsenal defense and how suspect they looked. Personally i didn't really see much wrong with them apart from the two goals which they conceded... The winner was just a freak mistake... Kolcsieny and Djourou have been very good at the back, apart from the 4-4 game vs newcastle which was another freak game... I would personally go with kolsciney and vermalen as i feel that kolscieny ha been the more consistent centre back out of the two and was particularly outstanding against barcelona. I don't think that wenger needs to buy a centre back and i think that scezney has looked very good in goal apart from yesterday's mistakes..."

    I really need add little more. This is the kind of denial about defence that has left Arsenal on trophyless instant replay door 6 seasons in a row. That's right, Arsenal's defence is great, apart from letting in goals. Oh, and all the goals are freak occurrences. By the way, next season is OUR YEAR - or so I've said for the last ten years.

  • Comment number 41.

    In my mind Arsenal lost it the moment they turned up in tracksuits and Birmingham wore Wembley dress suits with pride. For Arsenal another game against inferior opposition, for Birmingham the biggest game of their lives and it showed on the pitch. Two of Arsenal’s top player’s value would probably buy the Blue’s team and ground, but you can’t put a price on respect. Arsenal showed none for Wembley tradition and got what they deserved….kro

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 43.

    Until Wenger cares about defence the same way he does about young, pacy attack, they will win squat. Until he gets a defensive mid to rival Vieira (perhaps Wilshere, one day), center-backs to rival Adams and Keown, and full-backs who actually defend and don't go AWOL trying to score, like Winterburn and Dixon, you will never get the success those players had. Unfortunately, Wenger inherited most of these but couldn't permanently replace them, which rather proves my point. Some fans won't like to hear this, but I say it's kinder than lying to you and saying "ROLL ON SIX MORE YEARS OF THIS"

  • Comment number 44.

    I thought lost it Arsenal lost it the moment they turned up in tracksuits and Birmingham wore Wembley dress suits with pride. For the mighty Arsenal another game against inferior opposition, for Birmingham the biggest game of their lives and it showed on the pitch. Two of Arsenal’s top player’s value would probably buy the Blue’s team and ground, you can’t put a price on respect, Arsenal showed none for Wembley tradition and got what they deserved….kro

  • Comment number 45.



    I thought lost it Arsenal lost it the moment they turned up in tracksuits and Birmingham wore Wembley dress suits with pride. For the mighty Arsenal another game against inferior opposition, for Birmingham the biggest game of their lives and it showed on the pitch. Two of Arsenal’s top player’s value would probably buy the Blue’s team and ground, you can’t put a price on respect, Arsenal showed none for Wembley tradition and got what they deserved….kro

  • Comment number 46.

  • Comment number 47.

    In my mind Arsenal lost it the moment they turned up in tracksuits and Birmingham wore Wembley dress suits with pride. For Arsenal another game against inferior opposition, for Birmingham the biggest game of their lives and it showed on the pitch. Two of Arsenal’s top player’s value would probably buy the Blue’s team and ground, but you can’t put a price on respect. Arsenal showed none for Wembley tradition and got what they deserved….kro

  • Comment number 48.

    Hey, great post. the utilisation of Zigic was paramount to the success, and the mistake which gifted Birmingham the cup came from one and the panic that Koscielny was under.

    http://www.suite101.com/content/dont-say-its-just-the-carling-cup-a353751

  • Comment number 49.

    I'll say again gooners possession is a losers statistic.The score is a winners statistic.

  • Comment number 50.

    "Personally i didn't really see much wrong with [the Arsenal defence] apart from the two goals which we conceded"

    To be fair, neither goal was one of those freakish "You couldn't do anything about it" types, were they?

    My boat's fine, apart from that one hole in the bottom...

  • Comment number 51.

    Having looked at all the posts today I can see how much it must hurt for the Arsenal fans. But lads, just have the grace to accept that yesterday was not your day, be patient and your time will come again soon. In general the country admires the way you play and our league is a lot richer for it, imagine what it would be like if all we had to watch on a saturday night was Man Utd, with their strong arm media pressure tactics, (Mr Rooney, you know who I'm talking about).
    But Gooners, please spare a second for Birmingham fans who's victory will mean more to them than you winning the Premier League and Champions League in the same season. Losing is not easy, take it from me, i've been experiencing this for the last 40+ years. I was condemmed to support this team due to the 'map and a ruler' route of selection and so didn't choose my team because they were top of the table, or had just won a cup. Just be grateful that trips to Wembley are pretty common for you and show a little respect for supporters all over the country who can only dream about days like yesterday.

  • Comment number 52.

    Birmingham have had problems all season with their forwards firing blanks.
    Until Zigic found his feet (head) their top scorer was midfielder Gardener.Some of their winning goals have come late from fresh legged substitutes.I would say that,s the most effective tactic McLeish used.

  • Comment number 53.

    I'm agm Arsenal fan and Birmingham fully deserved their victory yesterday. They used Zigic to highlight the floors in our defense, but even having said that they were first to the second ball with far more regularity than we were.
    The diagonal balls up to zigic from Birmingham's centre backs served to ensure he was competing aerially with clichy and sagna, and it was no competition. Song, Rosicky and Arshavin all failedv to inspire and the lack of pace in the Arsenal front five allowed Birmingham defend high up the pitch, increasing the congestion in midfield and denying arsenal time and space.
    Teams now know how best to play to beat arsenal, but the plan still needs to be executed, which Birmingham did well.
    Traveling back fron the games yesterday I didn't hear a single arsenal

  • Comment number 54.

    fan complain, and we don't have any right to duo so.
    Birmingham deserved it. The sods.

  • Comment number 55.

    @Andrew Joy
    How many genuinely big games has Hanged played in...?

  • Comment number 56.

    @ bowserred who wrote:

    "Have i missed something ? McLeish is suddenly a tactical genius then ? But surely this is somewhat belied by their poor league position isnt it ?"

    Err, yes bowserred, you've missed something rather obvious. Though to be fair so has many a professional pundit that makes the same basic error.

    Birmingham City has two games in hand over every team below fifth place in the Premier League save for Everton (against which it has one game in hand). If we win one of those two games we would effectively be in 12th place. Win both and we could be as high as 10th.

    While it is true to say the league is so tight this year that no team from 10th place down is safe, it is quite another to suggest that Birmingham's position is 'poor'. Right now we could easily finish as high as we did last season.

  • Comment number 57.

    Have to laugh at the supposed tactical masterstroke that mcleish pulled. He won the game because arsenal have a very young goalkeeper and one of the worst to centre backs in the premiership (the other being the back up squillaci).

    Kicking a ball to a tall man isnt what i would call an unusual tactic against arsenal, as crouch and carroll both had fun with that terrible defence.

    Sczezny had a poor game granted and should have been sent off however i believe he is already a great keeper and 1 mistake can be forgiven. I wou however love to know why wenger persists with the that defence instead of buying someone decent.

    Finally how has anyone not pointed out how useless rosicky actually is. His passing is terrible, he cant tackle and cnt even shoot anymore, i would love to see arsenal results in which he has started because if i remember he started in both the draws against leeds and Leyton Orient. Cant figure why we would loan out Ramsey when our cover for fabulous (sorry Fabregas lol) is a man who cant play football anymore.

    Anyway rant over, Congratulations Birmingham on an entertaining game which on balance u just about earned against a very poor arsenal team.

    P.S Foster had an average game, the long shots required saves that you would expect keepers to make. Still no quality englih keepers about, (except perhaps Hart)

  • Comment number 58.

    Birmingham won because they never allowed arsenal to dominate them, they employed tactics that unsettled them, they fought for every ball and had the belief they could win, Mcliesh is a born winner, just look at his record with Aberden, Rangers and Scotland ..it's no accident he can turn a fairly average team into winners..

  • Comment number 59.

    21. At 2:47pm on 28 Feb 2011, Keanos Boot - Bin 606 wrote:

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    26. At 4:32pm on 28 Feb 2011, Wengers Optician wrote:

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Spot on comments.
    This Football Tactics Blog on the BBC is not really in-depth enough. A lot of it tends to be just quotes and opinions. Maybe a blog written with more analysis is in order?

    Once again, congratulations to Birmingham. Well-fought and deserved win. Barry Ferguson on the other hand is a classless git. Why did he need to hit our boy on the head like that while he's on the ground.

  • Comment number 60.

    It would be more accurate to say he got the team right, as for the tactics you hardly need a coaching badge to get your head around their approach.

  • Comment number 61.

    @ thouston who wrote:
    "It would be more accurate to say he got the team right, as for the tactics you hardly need a coaching badge to get your head around their approach."

    - - -

    Not sure that's the point really. Tactics don't always have to be complicated. They just have to be effective. And if your tactics are transparent and you STILL frustrate a team that's very much stronger on paper they are just that.

    While there's admittedly a healthy dollop of post rationalisation in this (and probably any) tactics analysis, Birmingham undeniably had a plan. And they pulled it off.

  • Comment number 62.

    57. At 11:28pm on 28 Feb 2011, jamesxfm wrote:

    Have to laugh at the supposed tactical masterstroke that mcleish pulled. He won the game because arsenal have a very young goalkeeper and one of the worst to centre backs in the premiership (the other being the back up squillaci).

    Kicking a ball to a tall man isnt what i would call an unusual tactic against arsenal, as crouch and carroll both had fun with that terrible defence.

    ---

    Whilst kicking a ball long in football is much derided in some quarters, it is still a sometimes necessary approach to the game, at least for some teams. The fact that McLeish recognised that there were problems with Arsenal's defence and goalkeeper, and exploited that with a combination of well-drilled and executed pressing across the midfield and defence to deny Arsenal the opportunity to play, whilst utilising the threat of a tall centre forward with back-up from midfield wherever possible in an attempt to get goals, whilst maybe not a tactical masterstroke, does show very good management in a football sense. That we managed to hold on for the 20 minutes when we were outplayed is testament to the determination that the players themselves had to stick to the way that had been told to play.

    From the way Birmingham played as a team, sticking to a plan and using their strengths whilst understanding their opponents weakness as well as their own, shows good management and coaching.

    And surely there isn't a team in the world, who, when given a free kick with 2 minutes to go in a cup final, at 1-1, wouldn't like to get the ball into the opposition box as quickly as possible in a bid to win the game.

    We are a team in the process of building for success, whilst needing to use the resources we have at our disposal - a very fine balancing act for a club like Birmingham. There are times when it is frustrating to watch McLeish's 4-5-1 tactic week in, week out, particularly when it doesn't pay off. However, I admire that fact that he sees what he has and is able to use that to good effect, whilst drilling the players to play in a way that suits the skills and abilities they have. I'm sure even Arsene Wenger would say that was admirable, even if the style of play isn't one he would ever endorse.

    As a Birmingham fan, to be at that game, having supported a team for so long without having what would probably be considered by Arsenal fans as even the smallest of success, and to see us win a cup against a team that I don't think even the most ardent Birmingham fan could disagree are superior to us, in terms of talent and success, was amazing. Truly, truly amazing.

  • Comment number 63.

    @Torresblue #38

    nobody's laughing and Ashley Cole mate, we all know he can shoot!

  • Comment number 64.

    I do quite tire of this blogging.
    The long ball is a tactic which, on the day, exposed Arsenal frailties. On another day the story may have been different. I am glad Birmingham won, it shares the silverware about but would these tactics win the league?
    I agree that tactics do not have be complicated to be effective and for all the whinging it is down to the opposing team to counter them whilst remaining effective themselves. Arsenal did not do this sufficiently well to win.
    I don't necessarily credit McLeish. The tactics were familiar but didn't the players execute them well. Congratulations to Brum!

  • Comment number 65.

    #59

    Barry Ferguson on the other hand is a classless git. Why did he need to hit our boy on the head like that while he's on the ground.
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    Ferguson may well also have been saying 'Well done mate' but it doesn't matter as the banter is art and part of the game and something the best players have done and do regularly. Easy to play the 'mock offended' card though.

    More importantly there are few secure moral high grounds in football and you would hardly associate Arsenal players (e.g. their treatment of VNistelroy and the likes of Fabregas) and Wenger in particular as models of good sportsmanship. Wenger was his usual lacking in grace towards the opposition after the game but fortunately couldn't quite come out with any purist nonsense about Birmingham as a team of jouneymen against the silky beauty of Arsenal.

  • Comment number 66.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 67.

    Cannons of Rhetoric - Johnson did not hit the defender whilst he was on the ground, he mildy ruffled his tonsorial arrangement in a sign of "thanks". I understand actually that it was more a pay back for the gobsh**e that he had from Willshire all match - boy is he a gobby lad for a nipper. Somebody will fill that for him one day. Clearly suffering from SAS. Short ArseNal Syndrome.

  • Comment number 68.

    McLiesh for England!

  • Comment number 69.

    He got the tactic right and it worked

  • Comment number 70.

    McLeish was very pragmatic, and Wenger wasn't. He's holding back his Arsenal team with his insistence on playing 'his' way. It's frustrating, because he's done all the hard work, but won't be flexible enough to allow his team to win. See an excellent blog about this here: http://upper90magazine.com/2011/03/01/arsenals-flair-stifled-by-blues-pragmatism/

  • Comment number 71.

    ohhh no er we go CC Victory Mark2

    tactics?

    master plan?

    the 1st reports suggested that mccliesh spent lots of time with his
    keeper to get his punts up the park acurate, now we are being given
    more info about this master tactician.

    then we have had those that say Arsenal " choked " and " bottled " it

    the reality of course it was an error of huge proportions that cost
    Arsenal extra time and thus perhaps go on to win well due to the tired
    BC players who spent so much energy closeing down Arsenals midfield.

    i think claims of master plan and tactics should be reserved until McCliesh and Co have actually won something which requires slightly more tactics than hoof up the park from Keeper to Striker, lucky bounce etc ball ends up in net.

    i do agree however that AW it seeems failed to deal properly with Arsenals tactics but can say had Walcott been fit it would have been a totally different story. note i said Walcott and not fabregas although it has t be said he also could have cut BC open.

    anyways no worrys i wille njoy reading all the comments of hw great and good McCliesh and BC are.

  • Comment number 72.

    "the reality of course it was an error of huge proportions that cost
    Arsenal extra time"

    Or an error of huge proportions that cost BC a penalty and saved Arsenal going to 10 men!

    BC did win something! Written off beforehand, they beat you and deserved to do so.

    AW failed to deal with McLeish's tactics. Big Eck was bigger and better than AW on the day. In cup finals that is all that matters.

    You won't enjoy the comments at all. Not one bit!

  • Comment number 73.

    Quite funny how this is yet another team not good enough to share a pitch with Arsenal, and yet they walk away with the trophy.

    Arsenal fans talking about tactics exclusively meaning loads of pretty passing are embarrassing

  • Comment number 74.

    i think claims of master plan and tactics should be reserved until McCliesh and Co have actually won something which requires slightly more tactics than hoof up the park from Keeper to Striker, lucky bounce etc ball ends up in net.

    ==

    What tactics did Wenger employ? Do people like you not stop to think there are defensive tactics, off the ball running, and positioning for when a team has the ball/loses the ball?

    Maybe your total blindspot to these requirements of the game are brought on by your manager's poor defensive approach? Either way, this just confirms what the last football tactics blog had to say about Arsenal fans like you.

  • Comment number 75.



    72. At 1:34pm on 01 Mar 2011, Strange_UBoat wrote:

    from you yesterday after the event of course.


    " Nice to see some gooners protesting too much that the CC is not worth it "

    this Gooner has aways maintained such a trophy was and is not worth the bother. I also hold the view that the only mistake AW actaully made was taking such a comp seriously in the 1st place, he should have played mored kids .

    even if we had of won my view would not have changed on jot! which is why i might be the only Gooner who is not crying in his cornflakes or lager over this result.

    meaningless comp and meaningless trophy.

  • Comment number 76.

    this Gooner has aways maintained such a trophy was and is not worth the bother.
    ==

    Repeatedly. Across several blogs.

  • Comment number 77.

    even if we had of won my view would not have changed on jot! which is why i might be the only Gooner who is not crying in his cornflakes or lager over this result
    --------------------------

    There, there, there!

  • Comment number 78.

    " Repeatedly. Across several blogs. "


    exactly but still it seems the message has failed to get through to some that this Gooner is not that interested in the CC never has been never will be.

    thats not to say i dont mind reading what others have to say

  • Comment number 79.

    thats not to say i dont mind reading what others have to say

    ==

    Not sure there will be many that reciprocate

  • Comment number 80.

    " Not sure there will be many that reciprocate "

    do see me worrying over that? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 81.

    well as a blues fan I am undeniably biased. I am not bothered about the experts view really as it was between Arsenal and Blues - that is whwere it was won and lost, My thoughts were : Arsenal turned up in tracksuits - image projected not good and one of laissez faire. From le professeur not the best start. Stating that Fabregas would pick up the trophy - highly arrogant. Arsenal had Walcott and Fabregas out - Blues had key players out as well - remember Hleb ? No complaints from Blues.
    Beginning of the match - Arsenal team announced by forename only. Blues team, by full name. Image, Arseanl players are so famous they don't need announcing. Just pure and total arrogance.

    The game : I was surprised that both the goalie and the defender (can't spell their names - sorry) shouldn't have even been on the pitch to make that cock up. Goalie off after a minute, and the defender off for the tackle on Bowyer, whom if he had committed that foul would have walked.

    Apart from that Arsenal fans have made it clear they are not interested in this competition. Shame they fielded their strongest side for it. Should have kept some back for the "big one" against Barcelona.

    So thanks for the trophy..

  • Comment number 82.

    do see me worrying over that? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ==

    well, yes, you were complaining in your previous post that the message wasn't getting through.

  • Comment number 83.

    " What tactics did Wenger employ? Do people like you not stop to think there are defensive tactics, off the ball running, and positioning for when a team has the ball/loses the ball? "

    i think you will find the above was done to good effect against barca recently and will be employed again at the Camp Nou.

    as for " about Arsenal fans like you "

    what irks me is the sudden shift in the wind when speaking about Arsenals Defence from Blog to Blog Surporter to Surporter it changes.

    then there are words such a " bottlers " etc etc in reality it was a defensive error that gifted a goal! not McCliesh's tactics!

    for BC fans and others to call Arsenal " bottlers " etc etc when it was clear why we lost seems to suggest they also know naff all about Tactics.

    it was a clear as Rooneys Fore Arm Smash which it seems is to go unpunished, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm what sort of " tactic " would you call that?

  • Comment number 84.

    " it was a clear as Rooneys Fore Arm Smash which it seems is to go unpunished, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm what sort of " tactic " would you call that? "

    not from Rooneys perspective of course but from Clattenburgs?

  • Comment number 85.

    #81

    Good post sort of sums it up. Enjoy the victory. Nice for the neutrals to see BC play football and triumph over arrogance.

    #83
    in reality it was a defensive error that gifted a goal! not McCliesh's tactics!
    ----------
    From Foster's kicking which by your admission he had been told to improve on in terms of accuracy. Boy did he force that error. Great tactics are those that work and this one did it for the Arse(ne)(nal)

  • Comment number 86.

    i think you will find the above was done to good effect against Arsenal recently and will be employed again at St Andrews

    ===


    agreed

  • Comment number 87.

    another comment if this is so much based upon tactics...

    if the linesman had been up to the job, AW would have been rethinking his game not only with 2 players out, but his top goalie off the pitch for pretty much the whole game, and his replacement about to face a penalty...which outfield player would he have bought off ? VP ? So 2 mins in, a goal down (potentially), new goalie, rearranging the front line down to 1, and a sub used already....hmmm.

    All in all, carp on about using Zigic, about the mistake that led to the 2nd goal, but in reality Arsenal's beautiful football would have been a darm sight more frenetic with 10 men - end of. B'ham rode their luck and took what bit they had to win. Arsenal were gifted luck by not having the goalie off and a penalty 2 mins into the game.

    Anyway, despite all this, Arsenal 11 lost against B'ham 11.

  • Comment number 88.

    even if we had of won my view would not have changed on jot! which is why i might be the only Gooner who is not crying in his cornflakes or lager over this result.

    meaningless comp and meaningless trophy
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Don't kid yourself, its more meaningful than any thing you won in 6 years.

  • Comment number 89.

    it was a clear as Rooneys Fore Arm Smash which it seems is to go unpunished, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm what sort of " tactic " would you call that?
    ==

    good defending from Rooney. Good to see our friends at the FA agree

  • Comment number 90.

    " Good to see our friends at the FA agree "


    along with the various refs a little to " friendly " for many surporters likeing but a glory boy like you wont mind that will you that 19th Title is so very important you have most of the officials wanting you to get it.

    only one problem though

    theres a few teams are trying to ensure that wont happen, one of them is Arsenal so i would not get to smug yet.
    plus i her rummours that there is to be an in depth enquiry into the conduct of officials i wonder what such an enquiry will expose.

    we will wait and see.

  • Comment number 91.

    along with the various refs a little to " friendly " for many surporters likeing but a glory boy like you wont mind that will you that 19th Title is so very important you have most of the officials wanting you to get it.

    ==

    pretty much

  • Comment number 92.

    only concern I've got is whether Riley gets a winners medal or not, I think he hasn't played in enough games for United this season yet

  • Comment number 93.

    good article and spot on in my opinion

  • Comment number 94.

    #90
    plus i her rummours that there is to be an in depth enquiry into the conduct of officials i wonder what such an enquiry will expose.
    -----------------------------------------

    It must be really serious if the 'voices' in your head are holding an enquiry! Tell us what they say when they've finished talking!!

  • Comment number 95.

    Quite simple really.

    Tall defense. Tall forward. Short midfielders.

    Plan A: Hoooooooof!
    Plan B: Possession play in midfield.

    If plan A and Plan B fail, just be really annoying in defense and make sure that you grind out that 0 - 0 result with the possibility of a late winner.

    Birmingham's tactics down to a tee.

  • Comment number 96.

    It goes without saying that Birmingham were never going to outplay Arsenal by playing football that would please the purists.

    The tactics that Birmingham deployed may have seemed obvious, but it takes skill to instruct, modify and play them in ''real-time'', and Birmingham certainly stuck to their task admirably.

    Only the most churlish Arsenal fan would say that Birmingham didn't deserve to win; it was a pretty even game, but Birmingham - from a neutral's perspective - just shaded it.


    Also, to those criticising Martin Keown's pre-game tactical suggestions:

    He was just offering his opinions on what he thought was the best way for Birmingham to beat Arsenal.
    The fact that Birmingham won by deploying a different tactic, doesn't invalidate Martin Keown's initial views.

    For all we know, Birmingham may have still won if they had gone with Keown's tactical suggestions.



  • Comment number 97.

    I think Birmingham deserved the win. They played the game (not the occasion) and yes Ecks tactics were spot on.
    The top shocker for Gooners was Ben Fosters long range free kicks as pointed out in the grid plus 9 other takers. Confuse your opposition or what?
    The last 20 mins admittedly we were backs to the wall BUT the important thing is to know how to defend and counter attack. Foster played out of his skin and he is improving.

    It's unfair to single any Blues players out because they all gave 100%.
    Our team is made up of £3-5 million pound players. We've never won anything of note before.
    Arsenal are one of the top teams in Europe as proven when they beat Barca. If Fabregas and Walcott had been fit I'm confident we would have still edged it because we NEEDED to stay in the cup!

    Give us our day and accept tactics played a huge part. It doesn't make us all of a sudden a better team than the Arsenal or world beaters but they've set the bar for the rest of the season.

    Anyhow the tactics against the Baggies is the next priority.

  • Comment number 98.

    It was nothing to do with tactics they won by a flukey goal and we didnt take our chances.

 

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