0 - 1 Robin van Persie 12'
0 - 2 Samir Nasri 58'
0 - 3 Roger Johnson og 66'
Arsenal went into a rainy, crater-y St. Andrew's this evening and came away with a solid 3-0 win against relegation-troubled Birmingham City in a physical encounter.
Much was made in the buildup to the match of St. Andrew's being the scene of recent Arsenal troubles, most infamously Eduardo's terrible broken leg in early 2008. With Lee Bowyer, the Premier League's all-time-most-carded player, in the ranks, and sloppy weather and playing surface, the story didn't look to be all that different nearly three years on. Birmingham are a physical and direct side, and Arsenal would have to cope.
And cope they did. Arsène Wenger opted to use the same XI that he had fielded against Chelsea on Monday, Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny picked for the core of defense with Alex Song and Jack Wilshere in front of them. Theo Walcott took up his position on the right in place of Andrei Arshavin, with Samir Nasri moving back to the left side again.
It was Walcott who had the first good chance of the match, darting around his marker only to fire wide of the near post after three minutes had gone. Arsenal continued to mount early pressure, and Roger Johnson was given a yellow card for a studs-up tackle into Cesc Fabregas' ankle. Birmingham looked to hit on the break via Jean Beausejour and Cameron Jerome, and the former was only just offside after eleven minutes.
Arsenal came back on the attack immediately thereafter, and van Persie looked to have been brought down on the edge of the penalty area. The Birmingham fans and Scott Dann disagreed with the referee's determination, but van Persie stepped up and hit a free kick that wrongfooted Ben Foster after deflecting off Bowyer's arm and in.
Birmingham immediately looked to equalize, but Laurent Koscielny put his strengths to work, making excellent sliding tackles to deny crosses and shots. Former Gunner Sebastian Larsson stepped up to take a free kick on seventeen minutes that curled over the wall with venom towards the far post, but Lukasz Fabianski (who was also excellent all day) made a wonderful diving effort to push it past the post.
Brum continued to win a succession of free kicks as the half wore on, but Arsenal were up to the task on all of them. Scott Dann saw yellow for holding back Theo Walcott, and a Robin van Persie free kick fell just too far for Djourou to meet, the defender stumbling after a Birmingham player had put him off balance.
Birmingham pressed very well throughout the first half, but Arsenal continued to threaten. Robin van Persie missed a goal when he elected to chip rather than shoot low on 36 minutes, and then Birmingham had their best chance of the entire match, Roger Johnson firing over from five yards after a free kick was headed down into his wheelhouse. Theo Walcott had a chance as the first half drew to a close, but his effort was well saved by Foster.
The second half started with Walcott firing well wide of the far post. Wilshere fired a volley just over the bar after Nasri did some lovely work to set it up, but it would not be long before Arsenal added some padding to their lead.
They had begun to really assert their passing game, Birmingham's pressing easing off as the second half chugged along, and it paid off in the 58th minute. Cesc and Nasri exchanged a series of 1-2s, culminating in Nasri finding space to shoot as Roger Johnson, on a yellow, stood off. Nasri made no mistake, stroking an accurate shot past a despairing Foster at the near post. It was his 13th goal of the year, and an assist from Fabregas in his 200th (he's 23, by the way) Premier League appearance.
The van Persie-Nasri-Fabregas axis was in full force for the remainder of the second half, and it continued to produce. Eight minutes after Nasri struck, Fabregas, after a blizzard of passes, found himself free along the byline. He elected to shoot in the hope of creating chaos, and he was rewarded, as Foster could not handle his sharp-angle effort, spilling the ball into the path of Johsnon, who could not help but trickle it across the line for Arsenal's third.
Birmingham immediately brought on Nikola Zigic for Lee Bowyer, but it made little difference. Arsenal were able to snuff out all of City's set pieces, Fabianski punching with authority when necessary, and the match died out. 3-0 to the Arsenal, who were lucky to escape injury-free after at least six stamps, studs-up tackles, or jump kicks by various Birmingham players. Manchester City visit Emirates on Wednesday, and one would be surprised to see too many changes after the display put on by the players today.