Marouane Chamakh was our Moroccan match-winner again today, as we battled back from 1-0 down to Birmingham City to win 2-1. The striker won a questionable – to say the least – penalty which Samir Nasri converted confidently to equalise, and Chamakh danced between two defenders, took the ball around Ben Foster and slotted home just minutes into the second half, and it turned out to be the winner. Jack Wilshere was rightly dismissed late on for a poor challenge, but we held on to grab three points for the first time since we beat Bolton on September 11th.
Fabianski continued between the sticks, having been in fine form in his recent couple of appearances, while the back four consisted of Eboué, Squillaci, Djourou and Clichy. Wilshere and Song screened the defence, and Chamakh was supported by an attacking trio of Nasri, Diaby and Arshavin. The latter two were fairly disappointing in my eyes, while Nasri, Chamakh, Wilshere and Fabianski impressed me, as did Clichy.
We dominated the opening period of the game, carving Birmingham up, but we couldn’t take our chances – same old same old eh? Chamakh and Wilshere combined well to make an opening, but Stephen Carr flew in to block Chamakh’s shot admittedly well. Diaby started decently, but his end product wasn’t up to standards. With Arshavin, you either get a good performance, or a bad one. We got the latter. He seemed to have lost confidence after his penalty miss against Partizan Belgrade – until then he was having a great match. Not today though, as he just seemed to want to shift the ball as soon as he got it. Half the time he lost it as well.
Arsenal’s reluctance to shoot was a disappointment, although maybe Nasri shouldn’t have pulled the trigger when 25 yards out, having battled well to win the ball and keep it – he sliced it wide. It was promising though, and the early signs were good. However, we all knew too well how easy it was to be punished for missing chances, with the 3-2 reverse to West Brom still fresh in our minds.
We were given an unwanted flashback to that game when 6ft8 Nikola Zigic sent a looping header into the corner of the goal, past the despairing dive of Lukasz Fabianski, who in all fairness could do nothing about the goal. The referee could have though, by not giving a ridiculous free kick to Birmingham, after Squillaci won the ball in the air against the BFG. What was done was done though, and we needed a response. Fast.
Thankfully this time we got one. Chamakh went down in the penalty area a few minutes later, and the referee gave a penalty – thank goodness for that, as Arshavin had drilled wide when the ball fell to him. Birmingham contested the decision, but Nasri stepped up to take it, and smoothly buried the penalty. The celebration was subdued – more about sheer relief than happiness, and the two teams went in level at the break. Not before Marouane Chamakh had his face smashed in by a Birmingham centre back – referee didn’t seem to notice though.
We couldn’t respond by physically hitting out; we needed to let our football do the talking, and Chamakh did exactly that four minutes into the second half. Wilshere played him in, and he did a 360 spin to avoid being tripped by Carr, and took the ball past Ben Foster and slotted in, celebrating jovially with his team-mates. 2-1 Arsenal.
Wilshere made an opportunity for himself, but drove just over the bar inside the area, before Arshavin had a low shot saved – best thing he’d done all game really. He was brought off soon for Rosicky, before Chamakh made way for Bendtner – the two subs nearly combined straight away, when Rosicky’s cross just missed the outstretched (pink!) boot of the Dane.
Our English midfield dynamo Wilshere was then dismissed for a lunge on Zigic, and rightfully so – his studs were showing, it was a high, dangerous tackle, and Alex McLeish was right in saying that his striker could have been seriously injured. He managed to limp back on to the field as Birmingham pressured our ten men in the dying minutes, but Fabianski made some good catches and punches to relieve that pressure, and we came away with the three points in the bag.
Small note – some pundits have said we “struggled to beat Birmingham at home”. I’m sure if it was Man United they’d be saying “Winning even though they didn’t play very well, that’s the sign of champions!” Oh well, probably better being the underdogs anyway.