Cracking start to the second half of the season as Arsenal coasted to a win in the hostile environs of St Andrews. It is not easy to win there and for the Gunners, any trip to Birmingham dredges up bad memories, very bad memories. But they turned in a scintillating performance against a club that has only lost once in 29 other occasions at home. The scoreline flatters Birmingham – in reality they should have lost by at least half a dozen goals.
Once again Andrey Arshavin found himself on the bench – coincidentally both matches without him in the starting line up have resulted in wins. Or maybe not? Walcott seems to be cementing his place. His pace and industry gave the Birmingham defense jitters even though his finishing left much to be desired. He’s also much more adept at covering for Sagna than Arshavin is for Clichy.
The first goal had a touch of controversy. Robin Van Persie already linked to Juventus went tumbling theatrically on the slightest of contact with Scott Dann. His free kick would have been handled quite comfortably by Ben Foster but the ball took a fortuitous deflection of Lee Bowyer, last week’s hero and went past him. Van Persie wasted two other opportunities, one an absolute sitter – clearly he is missing his touch.
The second goal was a combination of Fabregas and Nasri with the latter finishing off with a fine touch – stroking the ball between Foster and the near post. The duo were once again involved minutes later in the third goal as Fabregas overlapped Nasri after a brilliant exchange of passes and lashed in a shot which resulted in an own goal by Roger Johnson after the ball bounced off Dann.
Nasri obviously has been the star with 14 goals so far but it was great to see Fabregas get his just reward for some very fine work. He complimented a crisp display with an emotional lift as he urged on the visiting fans celebrating the third goal.
There were a few anxious moments for Arsenal when Seb Larsson’s swerving free kick was parried out by Lukasz Fabianski. His fine effort got him a pat on the back by Fabregas. A few minutes before the half, Johnson’s volley blazed over with just Fabianski to beat.
Johnson also caused the most angst when he clattered into Fabregas’s leg with his studs up. It left the Arsenal captain writhing in pain and clutching his shin – evoking very nasty memories of Eduardo’s grisly injury caused by Martin Taylor three years ago on the same ground. Fortunately, this time around no major damage was done. But the Birmingham centre back should have gotten his marching orders. Instead Peter Walton settled for the yellow. Lee Bowyer was another player who should have received a red when he stamped on Bakary Sagna deliberately.
Here we must mention the Arsenal defense – it always gets brickbats. But this game saw a disciplined and organized defense that did not panic on set pieces. They were very gritty with their tackles too – Song and Wilshere get a lot of credit. Johan Djourou has been outstanding and he really should be pairing Vermaelen when the Belgian center back returns from his injury layoff. And Fabianski looked decisive when handling those corners and free kicks. A clean sheet will undoubtedly bolster his confidence which seems to wax and wane.
On Jan 5th, City comes knocking with their tails up – they’ve been on a fine run and Wenger has to ensure that there is no flagging in the team’s focus. Every loss or draw will be a further setback to their chances in this tightest of seasons.