Arsenal’s defeat serves to demonstrate nothing but the perpetual existence of ‘dumb luck’ in football

Nothing could be further from the truth. That a team without these four factors can beat Barcelona, fight for the Premiership title and compete well in two cup competitions is sporting illiteracy. The defeat to the deserving and valiant Birmingham team on Sunday came down to one thing – the Midlanders created their own luck, and got the crucial bounce of the ball.

On Saturday, Bastian Schweinsteiger had a nightmare as his carelessness in possession helped Borussia Dortmund to take the early lead in a game they won 3-1 against champions Bayern Munich to move 16 points clear of last season’s beaten Champions League finalists.

The youthful and inexperienced Dortmund side look champions elect on current form, as they leave more experienced rivals, including Bayern, trailing in their wake. Yet on Sunday after Arsenal’s self destruction against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final, pundits and commentators alike were bemoaning the lack of experience and leadership in the Arsenal side. Yet in Germany, experience seems to matter less. Is it something in the tea we drink?

There have been many false reasons given for Arsenal’s defeat. One is that Arsenal lacked a leader like Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira. It is as though Arsenal never lost a cup final when Vieira or Adams were captain. Real Zaragoza in 1995, or Liverpool 2001 anyone? Or for that matter Liverpool’s spectacular last minute collapse against Arsenal in the epic 1989 title race? The wisdom now is that had Arsenal had Stephen Carr or Roger Johnson in their team on Sunday, or even Lee Bowyer, that they would have won. The implication is that football is no more complex than having a rough 6 foot defender shouting a lot and looking like he’s ready to throw himself at a brick wall if necessary. Which is simply ludicrous, when one considers that the greatest players the world have ever seen have been the precise opposite; Maradona, Pélé, Messi. 5”7 or under, slight, and rarely if ever shouting at a team mate.

The argument that Arsenal lack a leader is a weak one; if anything the opposite was true. With Laurent Koscielny shaping to clear the ball, Wojciech Szczesny wanted to take the responsibility and called to the French centre back to leave the ball, which he did with disastrous consequences. What else did Szczesny do if not attempt an act of leadership, albeit at the wrong time? If the team did not have a leader, Szczesny would never have called to Koscielny, and the winning goal may never have happened.

Another theory goes that Arsenal should have invested in another centre back. Again this is too simplistic. A Tony Adams style figure or a John Terry is not immune from error, even on the biggest of stages. Stuart Pearce infamously missed a crucial penalty, as did Terry himself to cost England and Chelsea the biggest prizes in international and club football respectively.

The usual criticisms of Arsenal in the wake of defeat are that they are a team of bottlers, with a weak spine, no leadership, a lack of quality in goal and central defence, more intent on weaving pretty patterns than killing a team off. As if somehow one unfortunate error between goalkeeper and defence can be that complex?

The reason these explanations are cited is because the English press tend to believe in the power of the figure of the blood stained warrior, the Paul Ince with blood seeping from his forehead in the height of battle. They believe in the ability of work rate to trump skill. Arsenal are the precise opposite of English football’s traditional philosophy, and any failure of theirs is cited as the lack of the English spirit and mentality. It is the narcissistic attempt of little Englanders to present Arsenal as the evidence of the folly of not conforming to the classic British style of play.

Yet Birmingham are the proof of the naivety of these arguments .That Arsenal’s lack of experience came back to haunt them on Sunday is to insinuate that Birmingham had more experience on the big stage. They have not competed in a major final for a decade. Few, if any, of their players have competed for a major trophy in that time. That Birmingham could win the Carling Cup defeats that simplistic argument. Some argue that Arsenal buckled under the pressure of the occasion. The reality is that Arsenal dominated for large periods, and the man who did more than anything to win the final for Birmingham, goalkeeper Ben Foster, was in the Sunday newspapers before the game talking of his relief at having left Manchester United because the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that existed at Old Trafford was not for him. Foster epitomises the futility of the argument better than anyone.

None of this is to say Birmingham did not deserve their victory. Birmingham were completely deserving of a hard fought and intelligent triumph. They pressed, pressured and battled with spirit, and counter attacked with intelligence and skill. They took two of their chances, and Arsenal could only take one. They deserved their win. But to cite their victory as the evidence of a myriad of failings on Arsenal’s part is nonsensical.

The truth is that Arsenal’s defeat came down to one simple factor. Dumb luck. You make your own luck in sport, and on Sunday, Birmingham made theirs and Arsenal did not. When the ball hit Szczesny on its way into Cameron Jerome’s path, it could have gone in any direction. It could have gone in front of him into the path of an Arsenal player, to his right to another Arsenal player, or behind him where they stood a chance of recovering to claim the ball. It could have looped into the air. It could even have got stuck underneath Szczesny. Yet it went in the one direction where there was a Birmingham player. To suggest that anyone, be they Tony Adams or Pascal Cygan, could have done anything about the direction the ball took after hitting the Arsenal goalkeeper, is to overestimate the power of the individual.

Sport is funny, and football more than most. The simple reality is that sometimes, there are days and matches where the result comes down to little more than a matter of unintended misfortune. A case of sheer luck favouring one team or another, the bounce of the ball falling in the wrong direction. Nothing more complicated than that.