By Phil Gregory
Birmingham come to the Emirates sitting a single point above the relegation zone, while our own title bid has taken a bit of a beating with recent defeats against West Brom and Chelsea. West Brom showed that no team should be underestimated when they travel to the Emirates, so despite a Birmingham side that tend to struggle away from home, three points shouldn’t be taken for granted.
On a personal note, like many Arsenal fans I don’t have much love for Birmingham. The Eduardo leg-break, a contentious draw last season that arguably ended our title hopes last season… the club seem to have had a role to play in a lot of recent Arsenal heartaches.
An interesting subplot for the game is the return of Alexander Hleb, who made the common mistake of finding out that the grass isn’t always greener when you leave Arsenal. A period stewing on the bench at various European clubs on loan (as he couldn’t get a game at Barcelona) probably gave the Belorussian plenty of time to realise his error.
The end of the international break heralds the return of a large number of our walking wounded, with Bendtner, Theo, Gibbs all in the squad. Interestingly, Cesc is viewed as “very, very short” for the game, so the whole “will Cesc be fit for Chelsea?” question that we had two weeks ago seems to have been a bit of a smokescreen used by the club to disrupt Chelsea’s preparations.
Sagna and Vermaelen are said to be out for around ten days, while Almunia is likely to be fit for next weekend. Van Persie is still out. Koscielny is out with a knock so misses the game.
Eboue Djourou Squillaci Clichy
Rosicky Chamakh Arshavin
Fabianksi continues in goal, deputising for Almunia The Pole has done much better than he has for a while, so we can but hope he’s turned a corner. He always looked like a man short of confidence, and only with games can he get that confidence back. With Almunia likely to back in the near future, a big performance from Fabianski could win him the number one jersey.
Eboue is a more than able deputy for Sagna, and will not feel too out of place on Saturday, having come into the side at right back against the smaller sides at home last season. Djourou steps in for the injured Koscielny, playing alongside Squillaci while Clichy completes the back four.
Song continues in the holding role, Wilshere and Nasri complete the midfield. You could have an argument for including Diaby in there, but against a side like Birmingham I’d opt for playmakers such as Jack and Samir
Chamakh, now seemingly an ever-present at centre forward continues in the role. Arshavin goes inside left, while I opted for Rosicky at inside right. One of our recently recovered players, such as Theo or Bendtner could step in there, but I opted for caution in my line up given I didn’t know the match fitness condition of any of the players. If one of the returnees was ready to play early on in the International break, they’ll have had time to regain a bit of sharpness and may well be in contention for a start.
Prediction time. Birmingham don’t travel well, but are a solid outfit. Replacing Joe Hart with Ben Foster was always going to be a downgrade, but on the whole this Birmingham side is much the same as the one that frustrated many teams last season with resilient displays. Given that, I’m only going for 2-0 to the Arsenal. We can’t expect to score a bucketload against Birmingham, though they are weak going forward so I’d be aggrieved if we didn’t record a rare clean sheet. A solid performance with a much-changed defensive unit would do me fine and set us up for the weekend nicely.
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