At this stage of the season three points seem more important to me than anything else. For that reason, I’m quite happy with the result of this game. On the whole it seemed like a patchy performance as some good, dominant possession football was interspersed with dull moments and the ending was more nervy than I’d have liked. Despite that, the visitors rarely threatened except for a well-taken goal and that bodes well for future games.
Arsene picked the same midfield and front three that he’d selected at Stamford Bridge. We dominated the game from the start and I got the feeling a goal is just a matter of time. Squillaci scored with a header from a set-piece but was flagged off-side. It was a marginal call but credit to the assistant for getting it right.
We had some other chances; Clichy went close with his right foot after stealing possession inside the Birmingham box, some shots from distance were blocked, and Foster came out to smother an Arshavin shot. The thought developing in my mind was that the final ball didn’t have enough quality. We controlled the tempo well, even broke on the counter a couple of times, but no one was able to create a clear chance.
It seemed like a combination of factors; players not on the same wavelength, not used to their roles (Diaby), out of form (Arshavin), and a degree of hesitancy or lack of confidence.
Birmingham, to their credit, didn’t play rough at all. They also didn’t resort to the long ball that often. The Blues tried pressing us in the middle third and tried to work the wings, which was to be expected. Zigic did well as a target man and brought his team-mates into play quite well. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t attack his lay-offs better.
The Brummies got the first goal, somewhat against the run of play, in a manner that we’ve seen all too often. They had a throw in deep on our right hand touchline. It was a 3v2 situation and Fahey was able to cross without an Arsenal man within five yards of him. Zigic did well to pull away from Djourou and his header was sublime as he cushioned the ball into the far corner past a despairing dive by Fabianski.
We can’t really blame Clichy for not winning the aerial battle with the Serbian. Nor can we blame Fabianski as there wasn’t much he could have done. Could Djourou have marked his man better? Perhaps, but it’s difficult to say. I guess this is the kind of a goal where you just say “well done” to the opposition. They got half a chance and took it.
The response from Arsenal was immediate and we camped in their half for the next few minutes. The pressure told as Chamakh was tripped in the box and the Morrocan showed he’s as good as Rooney at going down. The commentators were shockingly biased but thankfully in the US we had Warren Barton at half time and he got it right.
I won’t criticise the striker even though I’m not a fan of this approach. The only real risk here is that we can be sure the media will focus on it and label him a diver, even if the facts are that he’s no worse than any top English player. This could lead to some complications in the future games. We all remember how many penalties we were denied after the witch hunt against Eduardo.
Nasri stepped up and converted with some style. I like a player who looks confident while taking the penalty kick and the Frenchman’s technique was worth appreciating.
It was clear that the visitors didn’t like the penalty decision. I’ve no sympathy for them in this case because it was a needless and somewhat dumb tackle in the box, something you risk when your game is based on numbers in the box and multiple tackles inside your own penalty area.
From the equalizer till half-time the quality of the game fell but there was some edginess about the players. Nasri and Ridgwell were involved on the right touchline at the halfway line. The Birmingham full-back swung a leg towards Nasri while on the ground, and the Frenchman responded with a knee to his backside. To be honest, we’ve seen red cards for such reactions but I thought the ref handled it well as he’d have been forced to send them both off if he decided to give a red. Nasri got a yellow for his petulance.
Then there was a moment when Roger Johnson rose high above Chamakh to win a header but clattered into the Arsenal striker with his elbow. I thought that was a naughty/nasty one and a deliberate foul. Unsurprisingly, the imbeciles in the commentary box were still blaming the Moroccan for simulation even though he was clearly hurt.
I was happy when the ref blew for half-time as that allowed our players time to compose their thoughts and focus on the football. Straight from the restart we were in the ascendancy and it didn’t take long for the winner to arrive. Interestingly, the two supposedly defensive midfielders, Wilshere and Song, played a one-two on the edge of the Birmingham box and the youngster put Chamakh through with a deft touch. Scott Carr pulled out of the challenge and Chamakh did well to stay on his feet, take the ball away from the Centre Back, round the Keeper, and slot it into the net from a couple of yards.
I was hoping we will move on from that and close out the game. Instead, an old problem surfaced as some of our players stopped playing. Our off the ball movement reduced drastically and that made it easy for the visitors to win the ball back and put us under pressure. While they didn’t really create any clear chances, we all know such leads can be lost within seconds if we lose our concentration.
We conceded some silly free-kicks and the corner late in injury time made me really nervous. In the end we held on to the lead and credit to the Keeper, defenders and the midfield for maintaining their focus and discipline.
Fabianski: Another excellent game from the Pole. I like the way he was talking to the defenders, he took charge of his area, punched well (except once), caught whatever had to be caught, and even his distribution was quite good.
Eboue: Not spectacular but effective enough. I thought he could have contributed better in attack and even in defence. His tackle late in the game was a bad one even though he got the ball and I don’t like all the talking he does with the ref and his assistant.
Squillaci: Did fairly well against someone like Zigic. Read the game well from the back and dealt with many of the balls in the box. Scored a goal, even though it was off-side, I’d like to see more of such co-ordination on set plays.
Djourou: Swept well behind the captain. Was caught out by Zigic on a couple of occasions but was solid overall.
Clichy: I think he had a very good game. The visitors targeted his side with some aerial balls but he dealt with most of the situations. Also made a decent contribution in attack. Would have been nice if he’d scored.
Song: He’s still bombing up and down the pitch but thankfully in this game Wilshere and/or Diaby did a good job of covering. I thought Song showed a great deal of energy and was almost always there to win the second ball, especially in front of our box. There were times when he was caught out and ended up chasing the ball. I’m hoping he develops a better understanding of when to hold position and when to press.
Wilshere: He was superb in this game and was my man of the match despite the stupid, reckless tackle at the end. Those who’ve been watching him since pre-season know that this was bound to happen sooner rather than later and I’m glad it came in the 92nd minute of a home game that we were leading. I loved the way he kept the game ticking. Also made the occasional forward run and should get the assist for the second goal.
Diaby: I’m not sure what to say. He had some moments of magic when he took players on and made direct runs. I also liked the way he was able to control possession and hold play up at will. On the flip side, his decision making in the final third was poor and he made Arshavin look much worse as he failed to pick the right pass on two or three occasions when the Russian had made great runs.
Nasri: Good composure for the penalty. Looked like a genuine threat in the final third. Wasn’t able to link up with Arshavin often enough. I’d have preferred if he’d swapped positions with Diaby and Arshavin on a more regular basis but it seemed the understanding wasn’t quite there.
Chamakh: Another big game from the Moroccan. Close second in the race for MotM. Worked hard, was intelligent in the box, and contributed on set-pieces defensively. I’d have preferred a little more work down the channels.
Arshavin: Missed too many of his one touch passes. Looked sluggish and tired. Still made some great runs and better, early passes would have seen him score.
Subs: Rosicky was full of energy and his touch was better than that of Arshavin. He’s staked a claim for a starting spot. I was happy to see a long range shot that was on target and forced a good save. Bendtner looked like he needs a couple of reserve games.
This Saturday has been good for us as United have once again blown a 2 goal lead, this time at home. Van der Saar dropped a clanger when under no pressure at all. And in the first half that I saw, Chelsea seemed lucky to keep a clean sheet and escape with a draw at Villa Park. Here’s hoping moneybags City have similar troubles tomorrow.