Arsenal made the tough trip to Birmingham yesterday evening knowing that both Manchester clubs had won their games earlier in the day. It meant that a win was essential for Arsenal to keep pace with both of them, and also to stay clear of The Spuds who had also just about managed to win.
As I predicted Arsene Wenger made eight changes from the team that drew away to Wigan on Wednesday night. By making those changes he reverted to the team that beat Chelsea 3-1 last Monday, and it's a starting 11 that most fans would consider to be Arsenal's best at the moment. I also predicted that Birmingham would approach the game in a physical manner, and both Roger Johnson and Lee Bowyer didn't let me down.
Early on Johnson's touch was too heavy, and as he chased to win the ball back he took Cesc Fabregas out with a studs first challenge that could have broken his leg. The fact that he got a piece of the ball was incidental to him, as he made sure Cesc didn't get past him. The Arsenal players and management weren't too happy with him, but the referee let him off with a yellow card.
Later in the game Bowyer intentionally stamped on Bakary Sagna, but the officials didn't spot it. It was picked up by the TV cameras though, and it will be interesting to see if the FA show any interest at all. I felt sorry for Sagna as he suffered the same fate from Florent Malouda in the defeat to Chelsea a few months ago.
The difference in the Arsenal team was very obvious from the start, as they looked to push forward from the first minute. There were a couple of half chances for Arsenal before the lead arrived in slightly controversial circumstances in the 13th minute. Robin Van Persie was pulled back slightly outside the box, but he made a bit of a meal of it, and was awarded a free kick. He got up to take the free himself, and Cesc took his place in the defensive wall. As the kick was taken Cesc stepped out of the wall and RVP aimed for the gap. He just missed it, but the ball hit the nearest Birmingham player who was Bowyer, and deflected into the net.
Arsenal had the lead, and they had to work hard to hold on to it. For the remainder of the half there were chances at both ends, and RVP missed Arsenal's best two of them. Birmingham had chances too, and lukasz Fabianski made a very good save from seb Larsson free kick. Their best chance fell to the aforementioned Johnson who blazed over the bar from six yards, although I thought he was in an offside position. There was also a very strong penalty appeal for Birmingham, as RVP missed a defensive header from a Birmingham cross, and the ball hit him on the arm. Luckily fir Arsenal the referee didn't spot it, and they went in at half time 1-0 to the good.
After the break Arsenal came out and went for the killer second goal from the off. Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri both missed good chances before Nasri made it 2-0 in the 58th minute. He ran onto a Cesc pass, and placed the ball beautifully into the corner with the goalkeeper unsighted by a defender. Rather than sit back Arsenal continued to play very good football, and push forward for a third goal. It was a welcome relief to see the players looking for a killer third goal, as the fans are always nervous of Arsenal trying to defend a two goal lead.
It didn't take too long for the third goal to arrive, and when it did I was happy to see Johnson put the ball into his own net in the 65th minute. After some good work by Nasri, Cesc shot at the keeper from point blank range. The keeper saved it but the ball rebounded off Scott Dann, and hit Johnson on the knee before rolling over the line. After that Arsenal played some very intricate football, and Birmingham huffed and puffed to try to get back into the game. There were opportunities for Arsenal to further embarrass Birmingham, but they didn't take them. At the other end Arsenal held tight to keep their fifth clean sheet of the season.
It was an excellent performance from Arsenal, and they now have the best away record in the Premier League again. They have also scored more away goals than any other team, and more overall goals too. The attacking side of their game is really coming together with Cesc and RVP back in the team, and they are a force to be reckoned with. If the defence can just start adding more clean sheets then the possibility of a first league title since 2004 will become more of a reality.
The big question now is whether there will be any changes from last night's team when Arsenal take on Man City on Wednesday night. I hope that the manager sticks with the same team, and I think that he will do. It probably means that the FA Cup team to face Leeds the following Saturday will be similar to the one that played against Wigan on Wednesday night, but that's a risk that's worth taking in my opinion.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
See You Tomorrow.