Arsene Wenger says, “It’s Arsenal’s title to win.” And I agree. The stage is well and truly set for the second Act of the season and it’s up to the manager to direct and the players to perform.
Birmingham away is not an easy game for any team. None of the top 6 have won at St. Andrews in the last 18 months. Arsenal fans don’t have happy memories of this ground and I don’t have to remind anyone how the 07-08 season was unhinged at this venue. What then, could be a better place to kick-start the title charge this time around?
Tactically, Birmingham don’t hold any surprises. They’ll park the bus and work hard defensively chasing every ball while sticking the foot in at every opportunity. Arsenal struggled to break the defence down for a long time at the Emirates. I don’t expect this game to be any different.
If we see the kind of movement up front that we saw against Chelsea, eventually the Gunners will score. If the team plays like they did in the second half at Wigan this could be a frustrating game.
I’d love to see a quick tempo with incessant movement and sharp passing. The Gunners will have to score at least two goals in this game if they have to come back with three points because the Brummies will be a threat on set-pieces with their aerial presence.
Defensively, Arsenal need to win the second ball when long balls are played from the back. If the midfield shows the kind of balance and discipline we saw against Chelsea, Birmingham should not get too many chances. Of course, Arsenal do have a habit of conceding from a solitary shot on target. Fabianski will have to come up with a couple of big moments.
Arsenal’s defending on set-pieces has been a concern for a long time now and this game will prove to be another big challenge. Hopefully it will go along the lines of the Blackburn, Wolves, and Everton visits and not the Sunderland or Wigan ones.
Wenger rested a number of key players for the game against Wigan so the onus will be on the players to vindicate the manager’s selection. The draw against the Latics will be forgotten if Arsenal can secure three points in this game.
At the back I expect two changes. Djourou and Clichy should come in for Squillaci and Eboue. In the midfield Song and Cesc should return and Wilshere will have to play again despite playing for an hour at the DW stadium. Up front RvP and Nasri should come back into the starting eleven and I’d pick Arshavin for this game but I’ve a feeling many including Arsene will prefer Walcott.
I feel Arsenal will need the creativity of Arshavin in this game and the defence should not be troubled to that extent by this Birmingham team. Towards the end the Russian can always be substituted if Arsenal have to defend a lead.
The starting line-up I’d like to see is,
Fabianski – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Nasri, RvP, Arshavin.
Birmingham have this uncanny ability of snatching late equalizers. They tend to park the bus for 80 minutes or so and then throw two or three strikers on the pitch towards the end. Most of their attack is hit and hope but it tends to work for them at home. The Gunners will have to be extra cautious at the end and will not be able to afford any lapses in concentration.
After a long time I will actually miss an Arsenal game as Mrs. Desi is running the show this weekend. The match report will be delayed because I’ll only be able to write after catching the game on ATVO.
Before ending, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a joyful and prosperous new year. May 2011 be full of words like Title Winners, Silverware, and Champions. Cheers!