Arsenal
1-2
Birmingham City
Van Persie 39

 

Zigic 28
Martins 89
   
Ref: Mr M Dean    Attendance: 88,851

By Tony Leighton

A dramatic late winner by substitute Obafemi Martins gave Birmingham the Carling Cup to send the trophy-starved Blues fans ecstatic with delight.

The West Midlands side had not won a major trophy for 48 years but the long wait was over when Martins, a minute from time, tucked the ball home after goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had collided with his central defender Laurent Koscielny to spill the ball into the striker's path.

Arsenal, searching for their first trophy in six years, had controlled most of the game but were denied time and again by goalkeeper Ben Foster who - for the second time in three years - was named Man of the Match in the Carling Final.

Foster was beaten by Arsenal captain Robin van Persie six minutes before half-time, that goal equalising Nikola Zigic's 28th minute opener, but the former Manchester United keeper - a 2009 Cup winner with the Red Devils - then stood firm to deservedly collect the Alan Hardaker Trophy for the second time.

His first notable save arrived after just six minutes, keeping out Andre Arshavin's 10 yard shot following a fine move by the Gunners.

Alex McLeish's team responded with their first effort on goal, but left winger Keith Fahey's 20-yard curler was comfortably saved by Szczesny.

In their next meaningful attack, however, Blues went ahead as former Arsenal winger Seb Larsson's corner was headed goalwards by central defender Roger Johnson and Zigic rose highest to head the ball into the net.

The Birmingham fans, seated at the opposite end of the stadium, went wild with delight but were almost silenced within seconds as Arsenal broke forward from the re-start for right back Bacary Sagna to send in a cross that Van Persie headed just wide.

And it was the turn of the Gunners to celebrate when Van Persie equalised with his 14th goal of the season. Midfielder Jack Wilshere's 20-yard drive bounced off the crossbar, but when the ball fell to Arshavin he crossed for Van Persie to hook a 10 yard volley beyond the reach of Foster.

Wenger's side ended the first half in the ascendency, Nasri having a 25 yard drive punched clear by the diving Foster.

And after the break they picked up where they left off as Sagna broke down the right flank to cross for midfielder Tomas Rosicky to flash an 18-yard effort narrowly wide.

Arsenal were threatening to take control but in the 57th minute Blues went desperately close to re-taking the lead when Fahey, following good work by substitute Jean Beausejour, fired in a low 20 yard shot that came back off the inside of the far post.

The Gunners were soon back on the offensive though, and it took some excellent work by Foster to keep them at bay. In quick succession the keeper brilliantly saved goalbound efforts by Nasri and substitute Niklas Bendtner, then in the 80th minute he dived full length to turn Nasri's 20 yard shot past the post.

And Foster's fine work received its due reward when then keeper himself floated in the deep free-kick that lead to Zigic heading the ball on and Martins taking advantage of Arsenal's mix-up to shoot home the trophy-clinching winner.

Arsenal (4-2-1-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Song, Wilshere; Rosicky; Nasri, Van Persie (Bendtner 70), Arshavin (Chamakh 77).

Substitutes: Almunia, Denilson, Squillaci, Eboue, Gibbs.

Birmingham (4-5-1): Foster; Carr, Jiranek, Johnson, Ridgewell; Larsson, Gardner (Beausejour 50), Ferguson, Bowyer, Fahey (Martins 83); Zigic (Jerome 90).

Substitutes: Taylor, Murphy, Phillips, Parnaby.