Arsenal win denies Taylor due reward

Arsenal 1

Birmingham City 0
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As it was, the 34-year-old Northern Ireland international allowed a bobbling 25-yarder from substitute Robin van Persie to bounce over his body after taking a deflection off the outstretched boot of Birmingham midfielder Stephen Clemence. Just eight minutes remained on the clock. No wonder Taylor, whose sequence of saves had included one from Robert Pires's 27th minute penalty kick, looked as if he wanted to sink beneath the turf on which he lay.

In the recent absence of that French masterpiece, Thierry Henry, Arsenal have been all gilt frame and no canvas. And despite much fervent activity they looked increasingly likely to draw a blank until the young Dutchman's late intervention.

Birmingham's manager Steve Bruce reacted with the wry smile of an old pro who has seen this sort of thing happen many times before. But it clearly hurt.

"What could you say to Maik?" he asked. "He just knew he's had possibly his best game ever, the game of his life, and unfortunately it's ended like that and been spoilt.

"It's hard enough coming to Arsenal with 11 men. But to hold out for more than an hour with 10, and then lose out when you are eight minutes away was cruel."

The Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger also paid tribute to the visiting custodian. "I thought he was outstanding today," he said, before adding, in a reference to Taylor's equally fine performance in the World Cup qualifier against England last month, "I hope he doesn't play for Austria and Poland."

The England manager Sven Goran Eriksson chose this match to attend shortly before announcing his squad for those two upcoming matches, and would have been heartened by the displays of Arsenal's centre back Sol Campbell and left back Ashley Cole, who appeared to be playing Birmingham virtually on his own for the opening period.

After just three minutes, Cole was on hand to clear the ball off the line after Emil Heskey's shot had been parried by Jens Lehmann, and thereafter he became a major source of Arsenal's enterprise.

Arsenal's hopes rose dramatically when Ljungberg, sent through on goal by Gilberto, was levelled by a steam-shovel tackle from the Birmingham captain Kenny Cunningham that could have come from his old days as one of Wimbledon's Crazy Gang. Like an honest batsman, Cunningham walked, passing his captain's armband on to Matthew Upson.

Within two minutes the home side appeared set to capitalise on their numerical advantage when a grounded Damien Johnson halted Ljungberg's charge in a flurry of legs and the referee pointed to the spot. But Taylor dived to his right to block Robert Pires's kick, and the Frenchman drove the rebound into the side netting.

From then on, Taylor continued to deny a succession of Arsenal efforts, notably diverting a Ljungberg shot over the bar and tipping a close-range Pires effort onto the post. But with 82 minutes played, a leg-weary Julian Gray miscued a clearance and Francesc Fabregas swiftly transferred the ball to the man who was about to break a goalkeeper's heart.

The final twist of the knife came after 87 minutes, when Olivier Tebily's headed goal from Jermaine Pennant's corner was disallowed because the ball had gone out of play before reaching him. Television pictures suggested it might have been legal...

Goal: Clemence og (82) 1-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, Cole; Hleb (Bergkamp, 60), Fabregas, Gilberto, Pires (Van Persie, 70); Ljungberg (Flamini, 87), Reyes. Substitutes not used: Cygan, Almunia (gk).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Tebily, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham (Forssell, 87); Pennant, Johnson, Clemence, Gray; Heskey, Pandiani (Lazaridis, 55). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Painter, Aluko.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Birmingham Clemence; Sent off: Birmingham Cunningham (25).

Man of the match: Taylor.

Attendance: 37,891.