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It’s now or never for Arshavin to step up: match report and player ratings


Watching the screening of the game at the Emirates

IT’S horrible being right.

Last week after West Ham I noted that Fran Merida’s 78th minute goal at Bolton was the only time we’d gone into the last ten minutes of a 2010 league game with a two goal buffer.

I cautioned that amidst all the brilliance of our late, late goals at Stoke and then Hull, we risked something terrible befalling us late in a game if we were never sure of our points.

Today that terrible thing happened. With one Birmingham player offside but judged not interfering and with the ball having already hit Kevin Phillips suspiciously near the hand, Bacary Sagna’s perfectly reasonable attempt at a clearance deep into stoppage time smashed against the veteran striker, bamboozled Manuel Almunia and 1-1 it was.

More last minute heartbreak at St Andrews.

And yet it was so frustrating and so avoidable. Not the equaliser, which is one of those things that can happen and which I don’t really blame Almunia for. But what went before it.

Two gilt edged chances late, late in the game at 1-0, both spurned. Samir Nasri escapes too much censure for his miss because ten minutes earlier he had fired us brilliantly into the lead with a run and shot that smacked of a player desperate to drag us over the finishing line.

But for fellow sub Andrei Arshavin there can be little such mitigation. Found by Bendtner free and eight yards from goal he scuffed his effort woefully. It epitomised his contribution of late at a time when you would have hoped he as much as anyone would have come to the fore to drag us over the line.

The thing is we’d actually done very well on a terrible pitch against very tough opposition who were majorly up for it. Throw in a woeful Howard Webb and you had yourself a really tough ask.

Not least with Cesc Fabregas doing his ankle on 35 and frankly spending the next 30 or 40 minutes as a passenger. Arguably he should have been subbed but you had to admire the captain’s determination to stay with his side.

So the first half was bitty. The magnificent Abou Diaby had one deflected just wide early on, the very quiet Theo failed to convince when the keeper rushed to the edge of his box and they made life difficult for us.

In the second Birmingham missed an open goal after a very well taken free-kick was hooked onto a post. Then we really stepped it up. When Cesc went in for a tackle Howard Webb initially seemed to wave play on. But when Diaby slammed it home, typically he blew up.

Nasri then got the goal, creating pandemonium in club level at the Emirates. We’d done bloody well to break through. Then the equaliser came.

Player ratings, Almunia (6.5) was not to blame in my mind for the goal, Sagna (7) too was blameless and crossed reasonably, Clichy (7) did well but didn’t cross so well, Song was good (7), Sol (7) too. Denilson (6.5) got better as the game went on, while Cesc’s (6.5) contribution was severely limited by his injury.

Diaby (9) was imperious all game. Rosicky (7.5) caused trouble, Theo (6) didn’t and Bendtner (6.5) was OK. Nasri (7) came on and scored a far harder one than he missed and in fairness to him, Arshavin (6.5) did cause a lot of trouble when he came on. I just wish he’d chase back a bit more and had taken that chance.

In truth right now it does feel a little like St Andrews two years ago. The question is how this side respond to the disappointment. A realisation that we’ve gained a fair few points in similar circumstances of late should hopefully provide some perspective. A captain better able to cope than the last one will also hopefully rouse his charges.

But what strikes me more than anything is that now we need those who have not come into form of late to find it.

Cesc, Song, Vermaelen, Bendtner, Sagna, Almunia, Clichy, Sol, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, Rosicky have all stepped up recently to a lesser or greater extent.

Now more than ever it’s time for one or two others – here’s looking at you Andrei – to do their bit. I’m convinced we can do it. I’m convinced the squad is strong enough. But now they need to show it.

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