Arsenal failed to snap its six-year trophy drought after a defensive mixup gave Birmingham a 2-1 win in the League Cup final and its first major title since 1963.
Obafemi Martins secured the victory in the 89th minute at Wembley Stadium in London yesterday, knocking the ball in from close range after Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny failed to clear. He celebrated with a trademark somersault.
“We made a mistake that left us no time at all to respond,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said in comments on his club’s website. “The team is very disappointed and we will face a lot of questions after that mistake but we have to be strong enough to stand up.”
Birmingham will now play in European soccer’s Europa League next season after winning its second League Cup title following a victory against Aston Villa over two matches 48 years ago.
“We weren’t given a prayer by the pundits and the bookies but we believed,” Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said. “It was a titanic performance by the players.”
Nikola Zigic put the Blues ahead after 28 minutes, with Robin van Persie replying for the Gunners on 39 minutes. As the match appeared set for extra time, Martins got what he called “the easiest goal I scored in my career” to settle it.
Birmingham could have been ahead as early as the second minute. Lee Bowyer went clear on goal and was brought down by goalkeeper Szczesny, though the assistant referee signaled for offside. Television replays suggested Bowyer was onside.
Arsenal struggled to break down Birmingham’s defense and fell behind as Zigic headed into the net. Van Persie headed over the bar at the other end shortly after.
The Gunners were level 11 minutes later. Jack Wilshere fired a 20-yard shot against the bar and Andrey Arshavin collected the rebound before finding Van Persie, who volleyed past goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Tomas Rosicky volleyed just wide at the start of the second half as Arsenal began to control possession, although Birmingham almost took the lead again when Keith Fahey hit the inside of a post from long range.
Foster, who was named man of the match, made several stops to keep Arsenal out, including two efforts from Samir Nasri.
With time running out, Martins, on loan from Russian club Rubin Kazan until the end of the season, scored from close range when Szczesny spilled the ball after a mixup with Koscielny.
“He doesn’t miss from there,” Foster, who played in Manchester United’s 2009 League Cup final win, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “I could have scored that.”
Birmingham, which is 16th in the Premier League, remains on course for a trophy double this season, with an F.A. Cup quarterfinal against Bolton next month.
Arsenal trails first-place Manchester United by four points in the league, leads Barcelona 2-1 after the opening match in the Champions League round of 16, and will play United in the F.A. Cup quarterfinals.
“It is a massive disappointment for the team, but we have massive challenges in front of us,” Wenger said. “I am confident we have the character and this is a good opportunity to show it.”