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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Arsenal 2 - 1 Birmingham City - lazy, but predictable from McCleish

Jack Wilshere - MOTM, despite the red card

The boys managed to pull out a hard-fought 2-1 win yesterday against a tough and organised Birmingham City. The match headlines, though, are only about Jack Wilshere being sent-off. I had intended to write a blog last night, but having had a bad journey home (which would have been at least an hour longer without a tour of the back-streets of Purfleet) and keeping an important appointment with the Sky+ box, I simply ran out of time. I also wanted to get a flavour of the media reaction to Jack's red card before reviewing the match. I have actually been pleasantly surprised.
When Wilshere made his challenge I thought it was, perhaps, a bit high. The lack of protest from anyone (including Wenger who was about five yards away) indicated that the players knew it was a bad challenge. The replays I've seen on Match of the Day make me think that it wasn't so bad after all - late, but not especially high. The fact that he was showing his studs was also a factor, I'm sure. A red card, yes. A leg-breaker of a challenge, no. It was a real shame as Wilshere had stood head and shoulders above everyone on the pitch with his performance yesterday - definitely the Man of the Match, regardless of the late misdemeanour. I listened to Radio 5 in the car on the way home (I turned off before 6-0-6 started as I've had enough of Savage's inane ramblings) and heard Chris Coleman slagging Wilshere like he was some kind of mass murderer. He described Wilshere's foul, and an earlier one by Eboue (which was nothing more than a foul) as "two of the worst tackles you'll see all season." I can only assume that Coleman has missed the leg-breaking challenges so far this year. Chris Coleman knows all about broken legs, having had his career ended following a car crash, but he is also Welsh so we shouldn't listen to him anyway. In a week when bad tackling has been fully on the media agenda it was somewhat ironic that an Arsenal player be given a straight red card for a bad challenge. Alex McCleish has predictably tried to compare it with Taylor's challenge on Eduardo. This is incredibly crass, but not unexpected from someone of such limited intellect as the Birmingham manager. The fact is that Taylor was a 6-feet plus centre-back, smashing in to a diminutive striker with rare abandon. Jack Wilshere on the other hand is a 5'8" midget who was making a challenge, from a standing start, on a 6'8" giant. To compare the two, given what happened to Eduardo, is beyond the pail.
Arsene Wenger rather stole the thunder of Radio 5 with his post-match interview where he said it was a deserved red-card. Arsenal's PR machine has also swung in to action with a supposed statement from Wilshere saying how sorry he is, and how he will learn from it. By doing so Arsenal have diffused any chance of the media trying to destroy Wilshere (having built him up in recent weeks). I hope that Wilshere does not change a thing - his willingness to make a challenge is what sets him apart in Arsenal's midfield (one challenge on a fast-moving Hleb yesterday was a joy to watch). I should also point out that Zigic's forearm smash on Wilshere earlier in the second-half has been completely ignored. So too a blatant elbow on Chamakh by Roger Johnson just moments after the penalty incident and a seperate flashpoint involving Nasri - more on that below. Let's move on.
In terms of the rest of the game Arsenal had started well with Chamakh missing a great early chance, having been set up by another Wilshere moment of class. Having not made a breakthrough we seemed to revert to type. Suddenly we were giving away silly free-kicks (mostly through another inept display from Alex Song - once again woefully out of position throughout the game as he set off up field). Eventually, having failed to close down a cross - remember I mentioned the importance of this in Friday's preview piece - Djourou failed to mark Zigic who directed his free-header perfectly. At 1-0 down the cracks were appearing again and Zigic should have made it 2-0 a couple of minutes later. The boys survived the scare and got back in to the game with a penalty. Birmingham claimed that Chamakh dived over Dann's challenge in the box. TV replays show that he didn't. In his interview on Radio 5 McCleish stated that Dann had "sworn on his girlfriends life" that he didn't touch Chamakh. Rumours of the poor lady's sad demise are, as yet, unfounded. Nasri dispatched the penalty confidently and I was delighted that there was no celebration from the players who ran determinedly back to the halfway line to get on with the game. Nasri should have been sent-off after the restart for putting his knee in to Ridgewell following the award of a free-kick. Thankfully he got away with it, but not before Ben Foster's behaviour had betrayed his Man Utd past. Having run 30 yards to remonstrate with Chamakh after the penalty award, he decided to chase even further to involve himself in Nasri's spat. At Old Trafford, of course, this is accepted behaviour. It didn't wash yesterday, but he should also have found himself headed for the dressing-room with a booking for each incident.
The second-half started with a well-worked goal as Wilshere and Chamakh combined again (and a nice flick from Song was also important) with the Moroccan providing a lovely finish. At 2-1 so early on I thought we would go on and score at least one more goal. There were a few shots straight at the keeper and Bendtner came within inches of connecting with a Rosicky cross (I had Nasri to score in a 3-1 win at odds of 35/1 so was particularly keen for a third goal). Rosicky had come on for Arshavin midway through the second-half. Arshavin was a disgrace yesterday and I got the distinct impression that the fans are beginning to see through it all. The Russian has been living on his Anfield performance for far too long. When he arrived he was a dominant force, acting like a real leader on the pitch. Now he has become a passenger, a luxury we can't afford. He must step it up, or be dropped. Abou Diaby led most of Arsenal's attacking moves but seems to act as though the last defender has thrown a force-field around the penalty area as he turns and goes sideways or backwards, ultimately losing the momentum and/or the ball. Frustrating is the word to describe Diaby.
Following the red card we had to endure a painful few minutes of aerial bombardment. Bendtner made a couple of crucial headers in defence, but failed miserably to hold the ball up, which added to the pressure we were under. I'll forgive him after three months out. The final action of the game saw Arsenal stop for an offside which was never going to come - the guy moving on to the ball (I apologise for not recording who it was) was clearly onside. The only Arsenal man still concentrating was Fabianski who flew from his line and hurled himself head-long at the ball - it was a bit "Bob Wilson" actually. It was, without doubt, the best piece of goalkeeping we've seen from the Pole in a very long time. The cheer that greeted it was the loudest of the day and will, hopefully, have filled Fabianski with some necessary confidence.
With Chelsea and Man Utd dropping points it was crucial for Arsenal to win. It makes the defeat to West Brom and draw at Sunderland an annoying interlude as we should now be level with Chelsea, despite being beaten by them. No matter. We are where we are, and we move ahead with a Champions League game in midweek before another huge test at Man City next weekend - without Jack Wilshere.
The midweek match preview will be here tomorrow evening.

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