Blues 2 Arsenal 2 .. Match Report
Alex McLeish made one change from the team that drew at West Ham with Olivier Kapo returning from suspension and reclaiming his wide left berth from Gary McSheffrey. Arsenal lined up with loads of really good players, as usual.
Really and truly, the key incident in the game was very early on, and will be talked about lots. Martin Taylor fouled Arsenal's Croatian (well, he's Brazilian really, but who cares about nationality these days if you can play for a different national team?) striker Eduardo. Taylor was sent off and Eduardo nearly died.
Here's my take on it, which I suspect will be the take that most people have on it. I hope so anyway. It was clearly an horrific injury. Nine minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half tells you that, as does a medical entourage that rivals Fulham's away following in numbers. I'm a huge fan of Arsenal and Eduardo - he's an unbelievably gifted "natural" goalscorer - and so I feel very sorry for him in sustaining such an injury. It's horrible for him and I wish him the speediest of speedy recoveries. But a sending off for the challenge? Come on...
Now, we all know Martin Taylor and have our thoughts on him, but one thing that I reckon everyone who knows anything about him would agree on is that he's soft. He's 8'9" and a big centre half, but he makes a sponge look intimidating. He's not that type of player. It was a mistimed challenge. It was a foul. It's unfortunate that Eduardo sustained the injury that he did, but if there was any malice in the challenge from Taylor, then I'm Croatian. Or Brazilian.
I've heard that Arsene Wenger has claimed that Taylor should never play football again. Well, from a footballing point of view, I applaud Wenger, because it's a concern that Taylor can make a living as a professional footballer. On a serious note though, that's a ridiculous thing to say. It's all well and good for Wenger's captain William Gallas to lash out and kick Nani in a game one week because he juggled the ball a little bit, but a week later when an opposition player unfortunately mistimes a challenge and consequently inflicts a serious injury on a key player, well he should be banned for life. It's ridiculous. Mr Wenger, if you're reading this, which I'm sure you will be (?), then stop talking rubbish. You're a good man and an amazing manager, but that, quite frankly, is a load of bull. Martin Taylor's like a gentle giant and you can imagine him picking daffodils - he'd never try and maim an opponent and I'm sure he's hurting about what's happened. He'll probably take the daffodils to Eduardo in hospital.
After the longest delay in Premier League history, the game restarted, and Blues shifted things slightly to play a 4-4-1 formation before McLeish opted to take Mikael Forssell off and replace him with Stuart Parnaby meaning that the former Boro man went to right back, Stephen Kelly to centre half and James McFadden played up front on his own. A lot of Blues fans booed the decision to take Forssell off which is frankly ridiculous. McLeish had to do something really to keep a balance to Blues' game, plus Arsenal are actually quite good, so you can't play all sorts of people out of position.
Playing against Arsenal is pretty tricky, but to basically play a whole match against them with 10 men is really, really tough. As you'd imagine, Blues were up against it, but you have to say, Arsenal never pushed on as much you'd have expected against ten men. Maybe they were taken aback by the injury Eduardo suffered?
The last thing you expected was for Eduardo to come running back on and put Arsenal in front, and that never happened. The second from last thing you expected was Blues to take the lead, but they did courtesy of a superb McFadden free-kick. McFadden played tremendously well on his own up front and could have made it 2-0 just before the break, but his free-kick was excellent.
Blues led 1-0 at half-time, and you had to say that even if Arsenal came out and thumped them in the second half, it was a fantastic effort to lead at half-time with only ten men.
Sure enough, in the second half Arsenal came out and raised their game and were soon 2-1 up thanks to a couple of Theo Walcott goals. Game over, you'd have thought. You'd have thought that if Arsenal were at their best at the moment, but they're not at all, and they completely eased off. Maik Taylor made some fine saves before Arsenal went ahead (although he was at fault for the first goal, again) but Arsenal moved down a couple of gears after going 2-1 up. Blues were there for the taking, and you can't help thinking that Manchester United would have made it 3-1, then 4-1 and then maybe 5-1 before they slowed the tempo down, played keep ball and started timewasting. It's probably a sign of Arsenal's slightly more fragile confidence of late that they felt the need to timewaste against a relegation candidate with only ten men. Still, that's their call.
In stoppage time, what really didn't help Arsenal was Gael Clichy having a Maik Taylor-esque moment of hesitation and stopping in his penalty area and letting the dynamic, forward thinking Stuart Parnaby nick the ball off him. In fairness, Parnaby was slow too - it was like watching two blind men try and find something. Parnaby was slightly less slow than Clichy, however and slipped past him. Clichy's challenge saw Parnaby tumble, Mike Dean pointed to the spot, William Gallas had a fit and McFadden equalised with one of the last few kicks of the game.
As I say, difficult one to analyse for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sending off changed the entire game. Blues had set up to have a go at Arsenal, but when you're down to ten men very early on, well, you have to change that. As such, Blues didn't create a great deal, but took their chances when they arose. Secondly (or thirdly or fourthly - I've lost track), Arsenal were weird. I mean, they were sluggish in the first half, then came out firing for 15 minutes, then slowed down again. They should have beaten Blues, but didn't. More fool them. Second time this season, and the four dropped points against Blues could cost them the title.
So, you have to commend Blues for getting a point in such circumstances. In truth, it was a hell of a result and a fantastic performance - not in your standard "what a great display of football" way, but in your "digging in and grounding out a result" way. McFadden, Kelly, Johnson and Muamba were all excellent, and those I haven't mentioned shouldn't be forgotten either, as everyone played a part. Except for Martin Taylor, I guess, but I don't think you can fault him for that.
So, there you go, a valuable point, but sometimes there are more important things, and I hope Eduardo makes a speedy recovery and is pulling on an Arsenal shirt again soon. It looked a really bad injury, so I hope it's not career threatening or anything like that. Good luck to him, and good luck to Arsenal.