Arsenal 2 - 1 Birmingham City: match report

Lots of this happening today in the midfield. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images).

0-1 Zigic 33'
1-1 Nasri pk 41'
2-1 Chamakh 47'
Wilshere red card 93'

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Arsenal took the three points on offer at the Emirates today with a sometimes-cagey, sometimes-free-flowing 2-1 victory over Birmingham City.

Goals either side of halftime from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh brought the Gunners back from a 1-0 deficit opened by the head of Serbian international Nikola Zigic.  It was a match that Arsenal could easily have won about 12-0 but for the lack of sharpness at the edge of the 18-yard box and a number of last-ditch tackles by the Birmingham defense.

The match started brightly for Arsenal, all of the forward drive that had been asked of the squad back on display.  Birmingham failed to close down the Arsenal midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Alex Song, and Abou Diaby, and they were lucky not to be down by several goals in the first twenty minutes as Arsenal poured forward with menace.  Good efforts from Chamakh and Arshavin were denied by blocks from Stephen Carr and keeper Ben Foster, and a Sebastien Squillaci headed goal from a free kick was ruled offside.

Gael Clichy also came close with a fizzed low shot with his weaker right foot, but narrowly missed.  For a man who only has one goal in his entire Aresnal career, it would've been a welcome second, but it was not meant to be.

What was meant to be was Birmingham's opener, which, like so many goals against Arsenal this year, was unexpected in arrival but not in execution.  Keith Fahey managed to find enough space on Arsenal's right to play a cross in to the six-foot-eight Zigic, who, unmolested by the relative Lilliputians surrounding him, gigantored the header into the far corner, just out of the reach of Lukasz Fabianski.  It was an excellent header, and as every basketball coach in the land will tell you, "you can't coach height".

Shortly after Zigic's opener, Birmingham had another good chance as Lee Bowyer and Fahey both tried to shoot at the same time in the fray resulting from a free kick, the ball going over the bar from close range.

To their credit, the Arsenal eleven kept plugging away after the goal in much the same way as they had to open, and it soon paid off, though not without a bit of argument.  Chamakh raced onto a pass in the box, controlled it, and after pushing the ball past Scott Dann, Dann reached out and clipped the Moroccan on the foot.  Chamakh went down, though there was a not-ridiculous claim that he had already started on his way to the floor before contact was made (and it most certainly was made, despite the commentary).  There are some who would call this a dive, some who would not, but the fact is is that this is the kind of call that gets made more often than not, and if it's not a dive when Rooney or Drogba or Gerrard do it...well, at any rate, Nasri stepped up and buried the spot kick no problem.

The score now 1-1, things started to boil over a tad before the half, Nasri picking up a booking for a bit of a kerfuffle, both sides getting a tad pissy.  Halftime arrived with the score level and Alex McLeish in full Scottish screaming mode.

When the sides re-emerged for the second, Arsenal continued attacking with verve, and found results almost immediately this time.  Song and Wilshere exchanged a little aerial one-two near the D before Jack the Lad placed a little dinked through-ball into the box that Chamakh collected; he spun, avoided one challenge, rounded Foster, and slid the ball home for a wonderful goal.  It was 2-1 to the Arsenal, no complaints this time from the Blues, the Moroccan burying it fair and square.

Following the goal, Birmingham shrunk away, Arsenal attacking over and over with a fierce intent.  The only missing component in their game was finding the will to either shoot from distance or the space to shoot freely in the area.  Diaby, who was mainly excellent throughout the match, had a good shot saved, as did Arshavin.  Arsène Wenger brought on Rosicky for the Russian and Bendtner for Chamakh in search of an insurance goal, and the two nearly combined for a goal almost immediately, Tomas' cross just past the foot of the stretching Bendtner.

As time wore down, Birmingham regained their edge, and produced a couple of nervy moments, Fabianski (who was solid all match long) coming out to punch, clearances never quite making it very far.

The final significant action of the match came in injury time, as Zigic came deep to receive an outlet from his defense.  Wilshere attempted to tackle, but came in far too high and far too late, taking an overly reckless approach.  He caught Zigic high on his ankle, and Martin Atkinson sent him off without a thought.  It was reckless, and there is no excuse.  He will miss three matches.  After the match, Wenger said that Wilshere deserved the red; Wilshere agreed, saying that there was no doubt and he will learn.  It was exactly the kind of tackle that cannot happen, and Zigic and Wilshere are both lucky that the Serb wasn't seriously hurt.

Shortly thereafter, Atkinson brought the proceedings to a halt.  Arsenal emerged victorious, making up two points on Chelsea, who drew with Aston Villa at Villa Park today.

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