Football: Arsenal Maintain Title Charge Against Birmingham

2 Jan

BIRMINGHAM: Arsenal succeeded where Manchester United failed days earlier to become only the second team to win at St Andrew's in 30 games with a 3-0 victory over Birmingham City here on Saturday.

Their success saw Arsenal stay within two points of both Premier League leaders Manchester United, top on goal difference, and Manchester City.

It was the perfect response to the disappointment of throwing away points in a midweek draw against Wigan on Wednesday and the taunts of Sir Alex Ferguson, who had provocatively claimed following United's 1-1 draw that no team gets an easy game against Alex McLeish's combative Birmingham side.

In stark contrast to United's troubles though, this was as facile a victory as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could have wished for as Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri's telepathic understanding was elevated to new heights against opponents who seem to have relished causing the Gunners discomfort and embarrassment in recent meetings.

Wenger, criticised for making eight changes to the side that defeated Chelsea for the game against Wigan, reverted to the starting XI that saw off the champions 3-1.

The Frenchman found further proof of his side's new found maturity and mental strength as Birmingham were picked apart.

Robin van Persie started the demolition before Nasri's 13th goal of the season and a comical own-goal from Roger Johnson epitomised Birmingham's miserable day.

Arsenal's recent visits to St Andrew's have rarely been short on controversy. The mental scars of the broken leg suffered by Croatian striker Eduardo, almost three years ago, still remain and there is a barely hidden contempt from Wenger for the confrontational style of McLeish's team.

Wenger complained about everything last season, from the pitch, to McLeish's attitude after Kevin Phillips' late equaliser and he was shaking his head again on Saturday following Johnson's over-aggressive lunge on Arsenal captain Fabregas inside the first ten minutes.

Fabregas was fortunate to escape serious injury and Johnson equally fortunate to see yellow and not red from referee Peter Walton.

But Wenger's sense of injustice was eased by a slice of good fortune, when van Persie's free-kick, after Johnson's tug on his shirt, deflected off Lee Bowyer on the end of the defensive wall and wrong-footed Ben Foster to give the Dutch striker his first league goal of an injury interrupted season.

He should have doubled that advantage, but completely failed in his attempt to lift his shot over Foster from close range after Fabregas and Nasri weaved intricate passing patterns on the edge of the area.

The understanding between the pair was a joy to behold and left Birmingham disoriented, such was the speed of their exchanges.

And the Gunners pair saw their interplay rewarded with Arsenal's second goal just before the hour mark.

No Birmingham player went with Nasri's run for the second return pass and he was allowed to shoot unchallenged past Foster from the edge of the area.

Arsenal's ability to move the ball and switch play left Birmingham's players dizzy on New Year's Eve and another passage of mesmeric possession between Fabregas and Nasri generated Arsenal's third goal.

This time it was Fabregas who ended up having the final shot, after twice exchanging passes.

Foster beat out the effort at his near post but it bounced against the legs of Scott Dann. rebounded off the shins of Johnson and went into the goal.

– AFP/fa

Channel News Asia

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