For the second year running the weekend of my birthday featured a home match against Birmingham. As I made my way to the Emirates in an ever so slightly tender state, I hoped for a repeat of 2009/10’s result, a 3-1 victory with goals from van Persie, Diaby and Arshavin.
My fear however was that without Fabregas and post international break, Arsenal would struggle to break down a Birmingham side who would play 451 and come for a draw.
The first 30 minutes were very flat – the atmosphere was subdued with Birmingham fans making all of the noise. The ironic cheers when the Arsenal fans roused themselves to sing a chant said it all. Even the so-called singing section wasn’t up to much.
It didn’t help the action on the pitch was a bit lacklustre too. Plenty of possession for the home team but the forward line felt a little one paced while Diaby was his usual dallying self as the most forward of the midfield trio.
It took ‘two’ goals to liven things up; one disallowed for Arsenal and one against the run of play for Birmingham. From where we were sitting it was unclear why Squillaci’s header had been disallowed. Indeed it took me a good 30 seconds to realise, my brain not fully up to speed from the night before.
Twitter would tell me it was for offside but the decision was somewhat tight. Not long after a Birmingham player wasn’t closed down and hit a deep cross to the back post. There, 6’8″ Zigic lost Clichy and planted a bullet header back across goal. Fabianski needed a second to set himself and dive but it’s hard to blame him – it was a great header.
I was concerned at this stage given the lack of cutting edge thus far and the fact Birmingham are pretty solid defensively. The taunts from the away section were cutting. Something along the lines of “how shit must you be if we’re winning away” – indeed.
Thankfully things were soon evened up. Chamakh was played in and fouled by Scott Dann, at least it looked that way from where I was sitting at the opposite end of the stadium.
Replays I’d see later would suggest he was on his way down before contact was made but to be honest it looked worse in slow motion and we were the victims last season when Rooney did the same thing. Anyway, Nasri sent Foster the wrong way to make it 1-1 at HT.
The second half saw an immediate improvement. Chamakh, who was having an excellent game with plenty of intelligent runs and hold up play, was played in by Song and he rounded the keeper to slot home his fifth goal of the season.
Despite the lead there was still lack of chances being created from the improved running. This was mainly due to Diaby’s continual failure to release the ball early.
He didn’t have a bad game per se but you see the difference when someone like Cesc is playing in that position – he knows when to drive and run with the ball and when to play an early through ball instead. Time and time again Diaby would reach the box and not know what to do and the attack would break down.
Frustrating, but he was not entirely blameless – Arshavin had a very quiet game and offered little running off the ball and little creativity on it.
Bendtner came on and looked busy in his cameo – he will be a useful option in the coming weeks and months. Rosicky meanwhile had one or two decent efforts having replaced Arshavin. You just feel he needs a goal for his confidence, though it must be said his shooting is much more on target than at the start of the season.
The game started to fizzle out somewhat though there remained a slight tetchiness throughout with plenty of running arguments and niggly fouls. This culminated in Wilshere receiving a straight red card for a late foul on Zigic.
It was entirely unnecessary as it was by the halfway line near the touchline but let’s be honest it wasn’t that unexpected. He’s been flying into tackles all season long and it was only a matter of time before one was mis-timed and he was punished for it.
Though I didn’t see it, 7amkickoff informs me Wilshere had been on the receiving end from Zigic not long before so this was essentially retaliation. Wilshere still has that slight hot headedness about him and the sending off will no doubt teach him a few things. That aside he was one of the best players on the pitch yet again, constantly probing and keeping things ticking over.
All in all it was a decent victory, one of those where it was important you got three points despite missing a raft of first team players. I would have liked more goals on my birthday but I’ll take a win and the knowledge that Chelsea and Man Utd both dropped points.