Archive for October 19th, 2009

Arsenal 3 – 1 Birmingham: Familiar traits in less than routine victory

Add comment October 19th, 2009

Arsenal 3 – 1 Birmingham (Van Persie 16, Diaby 18, Arshavin 85, Bowyer 38)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

Thank everything holy that proper football is back. After the drought of International week – a week in which, incidentally, my life careered off the placid rails it normally occupies with such force so as to prevent me blogging to any great degree – Arsenal returned to action on Saturday with a win which featured some increasingly familiar motifs.

Robin van Persie opened the scoring with what is becoming a trademark goal. A slick through-ball from Alexandre Song found the Dutchman in the inside-left channel. Impeccable control, outrageously dextrous rearrangement of his feet, and a pinpoint finish into the corner was a demonstration of the goalscoring ability that’s seen Van Persie net in four consecutive games.

Within seconds it was two. Some neat interchange down the right saw Emmanuel Eboue, starting at right-back instead of the rested Bacary Sagna, burst into the area. His pass found Tomas Rosicky, whose cut-back was met by the onrushing Abou Diaby, who finished with a rising side-foot off his left boot. Diaby’s regular runs into the box and finishing ability are part of what make his potential so exciting. What was encouraging about his performance yesterday was not so much that one explosive moment, but the fact that he was able to perform with determination and discipline for ninety minutes. Diaby, Song and Fabregas are the men in possession of the shirts for the midfield three for the moment, and it’s going to require a real battle from the currently injured pair of Nasri and Denilson to disrupt that.

And then Birmingham scored the sort of goal we concede all often. When Diaby headed a cross up into the air, Vito Mannone failed to deal with the dropping ball and Lee Bowyer was able to volley in. I’m not sure which of Mannone’s crimes was worse: failing to clear the ball or allowing Lee Bowyer even a moment of happiness.

The Italian had started ahead of Manuel Almunia, who is clearly out of favour after a dodgy start to the season. Perhaps unfortunately neither Mannone nor Fabianski represent realistic alternatives. For that reason, I expect a highly-motivated Almunia to return to the side on Tuesday against Alkmaar.

One man who won’t face the Dutch side is Theo Walcott, after the winger was withdrawn from his first start of the season just thirty minutes in. In the light of some stupid behaviour from the Birmingham fans it would be easy to criticise the tackle from Liam Ridgewell, but whilst it was a crunching tackle that felled Walcott it was, crucially, a fair one. Walcott’s habit of picking up injuries is starting to become a concern.

At least he plays in an area of the field where we have plenty of talent – witness the man introduced as Walcott’s replacement on Saturday: Andrey Arshavin. At the end of a second half in which Van Persie struck the bar and Mannone did well to prevent a Birmingham equaliser, Arshavin set the crucial seal on the game with the third. Mannone threw the ball to Cesc, who found the Russian roaming inward for the left. As Cesc distracted the defender by running outside him, Arshavin barely broke his goalward waddle to bend the ball sumptuously into the far corner. Five goals in seven starts this season for the idiosyncratic Russian – amazing to think that he’s probably yet to show his best form.

The most pleasuring sense of déjà vu was derived from the fact that once again we won against a side who will probably finish in the lower half of the table. If we continue to pick up maximum points outside those in the top four, we will almost certainly be in title contention come the turn of the New Year.

Alkmaar away tomorrow – team new for that as and when it arrives.

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