Meeting with Jon and Trev pre match it has become something of a ritual to share our predictions. Mine, on this occasion, turned out to be no less a prediction than a prophecy. '1-1, we'll take the lead, take our foot off the gas and it'll finish 1-1.' You're going to have to take my word for that! (And of course I won't tell you about the dozens of times I'm wrong), but I just felt that of late Arsenal have slightly over relied on that handy trait of playing badly and getting results and I felt that maybe our luck had run out on this occasion.
The Gunners began brightly enough, the extra rest afforded to some players since the New Year looked evident as the movement was crisp and Birmingham, who had taken a point at Anfield and run United very close at Old Trafford already this season, looked a little ragged. But the first opportunity of the match actually fell to the visitors. Olivier Kapo slid a wonderfully weighted pass betwixt Toure and Gallas and Cameron Jerome's low drive had Manuel Almunia sprawling down to his left to make a smart save. If anything it acted as a catalyst for the home side, Adebayor's delicious backheel found the fleet footed Hleb on the left, the Belarussian whipped in a precise cross which Eduardo headed straight at Maik Taylor. Another swift move involving the hungry looking Hleb saw Eduardo close in on goal, only for Phil Dowd to ajudge Stephen Kelly's tackle as illegal and give Arsenal a penalty. I have yet to see the incident back, but I think Kelly might have got the ball and Eduardo's fall did not look convincing on first viewing. A replay may assuage my cynicism.
Another spot on prediction as I declared, 'low and to the keeper's left', Ade obliged placing the ball into the corner via Taylor's fingertips. Ade will have to vary his penalty routine as every one he has taken thus far has been a carbon copy. Arsenal looked good for a second goal, but did not adequately lay siege on Birmingham's goal. At half time, 1-0 seemed very comfortable, crowd and team in a mutual zone of complacency. But both were ejected from their reverie three minutes after the interval. Seb Larsson's left wing corner saw Gary O'Connor unmarked to head goalwards, the deflection off of Fabregas' foot diverting the ball beyond Almunia. Led by the impressive Ridgewell, Birmingham defended stoutly, whilst Arsenal alcked the sharpness and creativity to break them down. Adebayor disappeared from the game and Eduardo is that unfathomable type of player because you rarely notice an all round performance from him, yet you cannot afford to replace him because he is always capable of a goal.
Nicky Bendtner arrived from the bench to form a three pronged attack and Arsenal's prospects appeared to improve. Bendtner showed some good movement and Fabregas picked him out with a slide rule pass, but Bendtner snatched at the chance and swerved wide. It was Bendtner again who forged an opportunity, moving ointo the box with Bergkampesque poise, but curling his shot well over the bar. The skipper nearly made another invaluable contribution from centre forward, Hleb span the ball across the six yard box at pace, but Gallas could only deflect the ball towards the touchline. The final flourish came deep into injury time when Cesc Fabregas hit a long range shot inches past the post. The final whistle sounded to audible groans. Two points very much dropped. But I feel philosophical in truth, it is the first time we have dropped points at home this season (the more creditible tie with United withstanding), and even the most successful seasons have these kind of results, we just have to make sure it does not happen with impunity. I have said before that there are many forks left in the road yet, United will have another bad result, we need to capitalise. The return of van Persie needs to come soon though, we have missed his star quality and ability to turn a game with a piece of genius.LD.