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Arsenal vs Birmingham: the complete preview

By Phil Gregory

Today, Arsenal welcome Birmingham to the Emirates Stadium for a match that this Gunner had circled on the fixture list from the moment it came out. For many, this match is far, far more than just another chance for three points: it’s the memory of Eduardo’s leg break, Gallas’ meltdown and the moment our title hopes realistically ended.

Birmingham are managed by Alex McLeish, a man who divides opinion amongst opposition fans. Criticised last season when they made a meal of promotion, despite a large transfer outlay results have been mixed thus far this campaign.

McLeish is undoubtedly a talented manager, nearly getting Scotland qualified from a group containing Italy and France. That said, looking at the wonders Steve Bruce manufactured at Wigan after leaving Birmingham (due to uncertainty over his future after the proposed takeover by Carson Yeung) and this season at Sunderland, one can only wonder where Birmingham would be now had they remained under his stewardship.

Recent form:

Arsenal go into this match hoping that the international break won’t have disrupted their momentum from six wins on the trot. A previously leaky defence has only conceded twice in the last five games, while firing fifteen past the opposition in the same period.

Birmingham’s recent away form has been a mixed bag, with losses at Sunderland and Burnley, but a win over Phil Brown’s beleaguered Hull City side. The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Birmingham, with three consecutive losses in the league.

Injuries:

Given their struggles this season, it seems likely that the only table Birmingham are going to top is the injury league, with ten players out for the game at the Emirates. Christian Benitez is out due to an issue with “connecting flights from Chile”, while Birmingham injuries denying them ex-Spur Tainio, Fahey, Jerome and Marcus Bent. McFadden, scorer of THAT goal in Paris is out with a thigh strain along with Parnaby, Franck Queudrue and Gregory Vignal have hamstring trouble. Martin Taylor is out with a foot injury, sadly.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expects Diaby to recover from one of his seemingly perpetual knocks, though Eduardo Da Silva is out with a thigh strain. Manuel Almunia is said to be “fifty: fifty” (the mystery continues) while Clichy has been ruled out.  There’s no news on Walcott after the latter picked up a dead leg on international duty.  Denilson and Djourou are both definitely out, and Nasri is progressing well with his rehabilitation from a broken leg.

Key men:

Goal-shy Birmingham are yet to score more than two goals in a match this season and have only managed that once this season) so I’m not going to point towards any attackers as key men for this match. Joe Hart, Man City’s on loan goalkeeper, has undoubtedly played a part in ensuring Birmingham have conceded less league goals than any other team in the bottom half, despite their placing of 14th. The young stopper showed what he can do in the U21 Euros over the summer, and was a big loss when he was suspended for the final.

Arsenal are making it tricky for me here, with a stellar front line at their disposal. Expect the front three to showcase some blistering football, with Van Persie likely to benefit from a rest over the international break. Expect the Dutchman to continue his excellent ɡoalscorinɡ form and to find the net in this match.

Arsenal expected lineup:

Mannone

Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Gibbs

Song

Diaby Fabregas

Rosicky Van Persie Arshavin

Subs: Fabianki, Eboue, Walcott, Silvestre, Ramsey, Wilshere, Merida

Tricky one to predict this… quite a few doubts, and it’s hard to second guess who’ll be jetlagged from Internationals etc. Going to go for Wenger sticking to the same back four, bar Gibbs coming in for Clichy due to some concern over his injury. It’s Birmingham at home; we can rest a left back, can’t we?

Diaby will almost certainly be fit to play, so will sneak onto the team sheet at centre mid. I’d like to see Ramsey get the game time as he has shown he can perform at the Emirates.

Subs will depend on jetlag; Clichy may get on the bench, Sagna might be rested so Eboue could start, Ramsey could yet force his way into Arsene’s thoughts, although it looks like, as usual, Vela won’t make it back in time.  Bendtner seems to be out as well.

Predictionː

I can’t see anything less than a three or four nil win for Arsenal. Some might point out Birmingham’s seemingly solid defensive record, but looking at their fixtures, they’ve already played a lot of the poor teams in the league.

This team can beat anybody at home, and with Birmingham’s depleted squad I feel they are there for the taking. Given how they are struggling in front of goal, I think it’s a safe bet that we’re going to keep a clean sheet too. I’m going to be watching this one round at the house of a Birmingham fan, so hopefully we give them a good battering!

Half time musing:

Am I the only one who is bemused at the general consensus amongst pundits that the Old Firm leaving the SPL would improve the quality of the league? Anyone with a basic grounding in economics (or even just an ounce of common sense) can see that removing the Old Firm is simply reducing the competition in the league, and reducing competition in any shape or firm never, never leads to an improvement in the quality of anything.

The line of thinking seems to be that it would allow the second tier sides such as Hearts and Hibs into Europe, and that extra money would improve the quality of the league. Not true: what would happen is Hearts and Hibs would get destroyed by teams in the Champions League (if they get consistently beaten by the Old Firm they can’t be very good to start off with!). This would lead to Scotland’s league coefficient (the number that defines how many Europa League/Champions League palces a country gets) takes a serious hit, and they end up with a league that gets a single Champions League place into the early stages of the qualifiers. Improving the SPL? I think not.

And now a PS from the editor

MAKING THE ARSENAL -the first novel about the Arsenal in 75 years – is about to be published.

Phil Gregory is a 20 year old student at the University of Leeds. Studying Economics and French, he’s been a Gunner since he got interested in football at a young age, and plans on being a regular at the Arsenal away games in the North this season.

14 comments to Arsenal vs Birmingham: the complete preview

  • Jonny

    Good reading Mr Gregory.

    The Arsenal should win comfortably today, I’m looking for a polished but steely performance. A clean sheet is important too, not been enough of them.

    I agree about the SPL too, though frankly I couldn’t give a monkeys!

    🙂

  • Jonny

    Tony et al, FYI –

    “Some of you may not know that Cesc Fabregas’s Grandad is critically ill in hospital at the moment. At a time like this we want to show some extra special support, so AISA and REDaction have produced large placards with the number 4 on them, to be displayed just before kick-off tomorrow. We are concentrating on the north end of the Lower Tier, your help is needed placing them on seats, please go to Block 6 entrance between 1.30-2.15pm. Limited numbers can also be collected between 11-2.15 from 11 Tannington Terrace, N5 1LE (just 2 minutes walk from Arsenal tube). Wherever you sit in the stadium it will be great if you can join in with this show of solidarity with Cesc”.

    Unfortunately I’ll not be there today but, for those who are, I hope you’ll show Cesc some special Arsenal love and bring your own banners etc.

  • Roberts Jurugo

    I am waiting for another Arse. 6 Birm. 0.
    I like the boys and i too have hopes in them. Big up boys!
    Roberts from Uganda

  • Marc

    2 nil to Arsenal. Chelsea have lost and what must be the mother of all irony’s, a balloon has scored for Sunderland against Liverpool. So far not a bad start to my weekend.

  • walter

    We won 3-1. We didn’t destroy them, as is always difficult with evil empires.
    But what the heck 3 points in the bag, Chelsea and Liverpool lost. If we win our game in hand we are 1 point behind the leader.
    There could be worst positions. Look at Liverpool.

  • Gerald

    After watching the 3rd goal several times, I have to ask: is it that simple to score or is the guy just a wizard?

  • Are you a professional journalist? You write very well.

  • stuartlondon

    Have just got home from the 3-1 win over Birmingham. Reading some of the supporter sites I cannot belive how ungenerous they are in their post match analysis.

  • don't believe the hype

    The problem with many Arsenal supporters is that they are totally spoiled stuart. Unless we blow teams away without allowing the opposition any shots on target, they start whinging. Most of our players only returned to the club Thurs/Fri after playing games for their national teams around the globe. I thought the whole team played well and dug in to get the result. You can’t always expect champagne football – sometimes a good beer hits the spot just as well!

  • walter

    Birmingham had 3 shots in the whole game. On and off target together that was. Almost all our players played games over the last week (how many of Birmingham players did ?) Look at how narrow the win of MU was ? The lose of Chelsea ?
    Why knew this would be a difficult game but we won, okay we didn’t destroy them as I had hoped, but here sits a pretty satisfied gooner at the moment.

  • walter

    On the Liverpool defeat. If this game was played in Belgium our Fa would have let the game replayed. I will quote the rules, translated of the official lawbook in dutch, on the balloon object on the field:
    “A goal may not be awarded if the ball, before crossing the goal line, had contact with a foreign object. In this case the referee will stop play and resume play at the point where the ball came in touch with the foreign object.”
    So it is clear that the ref made an arbitration error and that is the only reason, in my country, that a game has to be replayed. I must say that error is a soft word in dutch it is called a “dwaling” and that has a stronger meaning then error.

  • Abhishek

    Nice article Phil.. Looks like you are a professional.. anyways nice match.. had to wake up to 3:30am to watch the match.. they preferred to show Liverpool and MU match.. but worth the wait and really nice to watch Arsenal match after so long…

  • Phil Gregory

    Arsento: sadly not, it’s just a hobby. The compliment is very much appreciated though!

    Agree with Walter, I didn’t consider the impact international week would have on us comapred to them. very pleased with how we rested some players and got the points relatively comfortably.

    The goal against Liverpool was, as well all know, awarded in error. However, on the weight of the game, Sunderland deserved the points. Even if the goal wasn’t counted, it would still have been two points dropped for Liverpool.
    The Scouse do make me laugh though: I can’t help but feel there’s a little but of “Football-Darwinism” going on – if you’re stupid enough to throw a beachball onto the pitch near your own goal, you really can’t complain when it deflects a goal in. Lets not forget that, if Reina was beaten, and the beachball consipired to put the ball onto the post, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much furore!

  • LRV

    Phil you are absolutely right. If the balloon had pushed a goal bound ball on to the post or outside the post, no one would be making so much hullabaloo about it. However, it is sad to loose that way, irrespective of the number of chances created by Sunderland. The onus is on them to put the ball into the net, not on the balloon.