If that game is anything to go by, I guess I should miss more matches! In fact, the Mrs. did cheekily make such a suggestion but it was stared down.
More importantly, it’s three big points at a very difficult venue as Arsenal continue to make light work of really tough games. If the reverse phenomenon can be stemmed the title will certainly end up at the Emirates.
While wandering on the streets of Kansas City I sneaked a tentative peak at the result. 0 – 3 was the score on one website. It was such a pleasant surprise that I had to check another source, and then another. Only after seeing the result on the official Arsenal website did I really believe it.
I wasn’t surprised that Arsenal won. It was a big win but I knew the Gunners were strong enough to get three points at St. Andrews. The surprising element was that Arsenal scored three goals at this venue, I’m not sure any other visiting club achieved that this season or the last. The other unbelievable part was the clean sheet! I like Arsenal’s back five but a shutout against some of the best hoofers and physical players around is no mean feat.
Needless to say, when I finally got around to watching the game it was with great anticipation. I was looking forward to Arsenal playing Birmingham off the park in their own backyard. Well, let’s just say surprises weren’t over.
The first half was close. Arsenal allowed Birmingham to have a lot of the ball and invited some pressure. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate tactical ploy or something that just happened because the players were being cautious. We have seen this earlier against Everton and Wolves so I’d love to know if it’s a tactical decision by Arsene.
Last season I wrote about the need to invite teams out of their defensive areas. Often when teams parked the bus Arsenal struggled to break them down and looked vulnerable on the break when they got desperate in attack. By staying deeper and luring teams out, the Gunners can create more space for their attackers. We saw a lot of that in the first half at Birmingham.
It wasn’t pretty but it was very effective. Arsenal created some good chances and it was nice to see RvP getting off the mark with a free-kick. There was some poetic justice perhaps, in the way it was deflected in off the arm of Bowyer.
There were a number of half chances on both ends and one or two really good opportunities. Arsenal struggled on the set-pieces and Roger Johnson blasted his volley high with only the keeper to beat. One could also argue that the hosts deserved a penalty for a handball by RvP. Based on what I read, Alex McLeish had a few gripes against the ref. I’d have agreed with him on some calls if Roger Johnson had been sent off in the 8th minute for a violent studs-first lunge at the ball and Cesc.
The ref wasn’t very good and missed some shocking tackles but he also gave one or two decisions in Arsenal’s favour. It wasn’t good refereeing but at least he wasn’t blatantly biased.
When the first half came to a close the game was hanging in balance. Will Arsenal rue the missed opportunities? Will the Gunners donate two more points to the ‘save the long ball’ charity fund?
The second half was similar to the first but Arsenal had more control in the opposition half. It seemed to me that the players were a bit more composed and growing in confidence. Walcott got into the game more often and so did Nasri. The quality of chances coming Arsenal’s way was getting better and those for Birmingham were getting tougher.
After ten minutes of the second half, Arsenal had a sustained spell of possession around the Birmingham penalty area. Wilshere shot over from close after Nasri laid one on a plate for him following some good work by Walcott. Cesc then sent Nasri through on goal but Foster was able to close the angle and save the shot.
The pressure finally paid off in the 58th minute when Nasri scored a cracker after exchanging passes with El Capitan. This goal might not generate the kind of hype that the Frenchman’s goals against Fulham did but in my book it was just as good. The reason was that Nasri barely had a ball’s width to thread the ball between the defender and the post and he did it. Taking decisions at that speed in that area of the pitch and then executing them to perfection takes some serious abilities. Just look at Fabregas’ reaction to that goal if you don’t believe me.
It was getting progressively easier for Arsenal as the Blues ran out of ideas and vile tackles, probably the same thing one might say.
The third goal came when the Arsenal players, especially Cesc and Nasri, were toying with the opposition. The Frenchman put Fabregas through at a very tight angle. El Capitan’s strike was partially saved by Foster but it still had enough venom to sting the two central defenders before crossing the goal-line.
Subsequently, Arsenal gave a master class of passing and movement but Birmingham were spared humiliation as the finishing touch was lacking.
Fabianski: One good save from a Larsson free-kick. Some good punches and came for the ball when he had to. Fairly strong performance and deserved a clean sheet.
Sagna: Survived some vicious tackles by Bowyer, worked hard on the right, didn’t bring the ball forward as well as he usually does but the whole team struggled with the passing in the first half.
Djourou: Another solid display. Won some important headers. Struggled against Zigic a bit but did enough to put the striker off.
Koscielny: good tackling, read the game well, covered the left side admirably, distribution was not as good as we’ve seen from him in the past but that could be due to the way Birmingham pressurised the man on the ball and those around him.
Clichy: very busy throughout the game, was a bit shaky against the aerial ball but did really well on the ground. After Cesc he was second in terms of number of passes attempted with more than double the passes by Wilshere or Nasri in the first half and almost twice that of Song.
The first half was a display of yo-yo football by both sides as neither team was able to string the passes together. The defence did well to restrict the chances created by Birmingham to set-pieces. Arsenal were not very convincing on the set-plays proving that one big, tall, dominant central defender can’t solve all the problems.
Song: was poor in bringing the ball out from defence and conceded possession in dangerous areas. Made up for it by not giving up and always added an extra body at the back through sheer endeavour. Did better in the second half.
Cesc: still not close to his best but by far the best player on the pitch. Attempted more passes in the first half than Wilshere and Song combined. Opened Birmingham up on a number of occasions and better finishing might have seen him get half a dozen assists. MotM in my book.
Wilshere: attempted all of 14 passes in the first half and 23 during his 79 minutes on the pitch. not much in the form of interceptions or tackles either. In the first half the ball was in the air a lot so it’s not a surprise that he struggled. Kind of game where the youngster just had to watch the master and learn.
I was a little disappointed with Song and Wilshere. They didn’t really help the defence as well as I’d have liked but it wasn’t for want of trying. The midfield stayed close to the defence and the bodies in the defensive third were enough to thwart a Birmingham side devoid of any genuine creative threat.
Walcott: just 13 passes in his 79 minutes but the Englishman did his job. Apart from Cesc, It was good to see Koscielny, Nasri, and Song pick him out with early balls when he was free. This led to some quick attacks and troubled the hosts. On another day, with better touches and finishing, Theo might have scored a goal or two.
RvP: could have had a hat-trick but missed some gilt-edged chances. Good to see him get on the score sheet though. Good delivery on set-pieces. Worked really hard, dropped deep quite often, linked up well with Nasri and Cesc.
Nasri: good defensive contribution in the first half. Looked more of a threat in the second and took his goal really well. Close second for MotM.
The attackers weren’t at their best but a combination of excellent movement, sharp passing, and confidence aided by a pinch of luck made the difference.
Subs: Denilson did a decent job in the midfield while Arshavin looked sharp in the final 10 minutes.