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Arsenal 3 Birmingham City 1

At at least one juncture in an average season, you`re going to drop cheap points at home to opposition you shouldn`t. Birmingham of course have previous here, having wrested four points from our grip two seasons ago that were the death knell of our title bid. It is the argot of the football fan to be overly enthused by a winning run as well as to be over damning of a losing one, so I think my sense of caution going into the match was designed to bring karmic restoration to the plangent sense of optimism around the result. It`s the kind of liturgy only the football fan is capable of. Nevertheless, the team selection contained some surprises and was obviously informed by who had come back from the international break full of beans and who was running on empty. So Arshavin and Sagna obviated the first hint of autumn chill in warm bench jackets; leaving Eboue and Rosicky starting.

Some of the potentially spiky milieu of the game was removed as both Eduardo and Martin Taylor were unavailable through injury. Predictably the Brum looked to keep it tight with Cameron Jerome ploughing a lone furrow upfront. Liam Ridgewell`s stiff challenge on Walcott in the opening minutes caused the first intake of breath of the afternoon; whilst he received treatment the visiting support reminded us there was "only one Martin Taylor" in their nasal patois. Walcott got to his feet gingerly and almost opened the scoring; Fabregas spread the ball to him on the right hand side, Ridgewell, possibly remembering how Walcott had motored past him from the right at St. Andrews two years ago, went for a full blooded challenge again but Theo nicked the ball past him and sprinted down the right, overcooked a cross slightly which Joe Hart had to readjust his feet to turn over the bar. Arsenal were warming up with some patient build up play and were soon in the lead. Ferguson could only clear Rosicky`s cross as far as Alex Song, who showed great sangfroid to move the ball slightly inside and deliver a slide rule pass to van Persie, despite the ball clipping the back of his heel initially, van Persie shifted his feet in double quick time before blasting it low into the corner. That kids, is why we put him in the penalty area.

Within two minutes, Arsenal`s probing passing would pay off once more. Fabregas passed the ball into van Persie with his back to goal, the Dutchman switched play to Eboue on the right, but instead of slinging in an aimless cross, he found the run of Rosicky to the by line, Rosicky pulled the ball back for the onrushing Diaby to find the top corner with a neat left foot finish. It is the sort of football that Arsenal are best at and displayed beautifully the fluidity our new formation has bought us. It also showed the value of cool, experienced heads in the decision making as Eboue calmly waited for the pass, Rosicky calmly pulled back. It was the kind of destructive football we didn`t see enough of last season, predominantly I feel because the temptation would have been for Eboue to sling the ball towards Adebayor in the area and hope for a header. With van Persie the new focal point of attack, Arsenal have more guile. But complacency has always been Arsenal`s modus Vivendi for occasions such as these when the game looks to be won early on and they switched off lamentably to let Birmingham back into the game. Barry Ferguson`s cross was looped up into the air by Diaby, Mannone was again slow off his line and unconvincing in the air, dropping the ball under the fair challenge of Larsson, Diaby too had switched off, allowing the bellicose Lee Bowyer to run off him and smash the rebound into the net. Mannone`s indecision in the penalty area should see Almunia reinstated for the next match.

Arsenal began the second half in something of a dreamy malaise and moments of nerves were detected from the stands for the first time. The Gunners are still far too open in their own half of the pitch, on the handful of occasions Birmingham had possession in our half, they more often than not had more attackers than we had defenders which is a situation that cannot continue. We will get away with it at home to Birmingham and Blackburn, but better teams will punish our lack of collective responsibility. The inertia seemed to have been shaken when Arshavin teamed up with Cesc on the right and his cutback was slid back to his own keeper by Larsson, resulting in an indirect free kick ten yards out. Arshavin nudged the ball slightly too late for van Persie`s run up, causing the Dutchman to readjust his feet and side foot the ball against the crossbar. But the defensive naivety was again exposed when Bowyer`s right wing cross saw Ridgewell completely unmarked at the back post, he side footed a volley across goal which Mannone got down to and scooped out leaving Gallas to clear in a panic. Though Mannone did the job in the end, the lack of certainty pervading his actions and the eternity it took him to get down to the ball did not utterly convince and the defence looked panicked. Birmingham again attacked on the left flank and Ridgewell`s cross was swept up by Mannone who bowled the ball out to Cesc. Fabregas released Arshavin on the left and he nonchalantly swept the ball past Hart and secured the points when anxiety was beginning to rear its head. It was typical Arshavin, classy, simple, elegant and the first thing he`d done for about half an hour!

Arsenal nearly preserved their "four or more" tradition in home league matches when van Persie again teed up Eboue on the right and his cross was met by Diaby but Joe Hart kept his goal in tact with a fine reaction stop. In the end the win and the performance were acceptable. On an afternoon where United were again run close at home and when Chelsea and Liverpool lost, a 3-1 home win is not to be sniffed at by any stretch of the imagination. The problem of complacency when two goals up is an age old one for Arsenal and the focus dipped for large parts of the second half too. Better sides will punish our lack of concentration and Mannone does not seem to inspire the confidence of his back four due to his inexperience, which leads to shaky decision making. I would suggest the goalkeeping conundrum stops now for the manager and that Almunia is reinstated forthwith. Mannone has potential, but his nerves when the ball is in the air and the cumbersome way he comes off his line (or not) make for a nervous looking backline. Once again, going forward Arsenal were faultless if a little jaded at times in the second half, which I would probably regard as normal after an international break. A word again for Fabregas who again ran this game effortlessly with his probing passing. I really feel we have begun to take for granted just how special a player he is. But the gaps we leave in our own half will have to be plugged as tougher assignments await.LD.

Team: 24.MANNONE, 27.EBOUE (19.Wilshere 90), 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS, 17.SONG, 4.FABREGAS(c), 2.DIABY, 14.WALCOTT (23.Arshavin 33), 7.ROSICKY (3.Sagna 72), 11.v.PERSIE. Unused: 1.Almunia, 16.Ramsey, 18.Silvestre, 30.Traore.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday October 18 2009

Time: 1:06PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Irrespective of whether it's a result of our attacking philosophy, the openness of our defence is very concerning and we could quite easily have let that game slip away yesterday. Denilson is needed back asap. Also, I know he scored and played okay yesterday but Diaby is too much of a luxury player for me - doesn't do enough defensively or attack wise consistently enough and still keeps losing posession cheaply. I only hope we'd play a but tighter against the better teams although I wouldn't bet on it.
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18/10/2009 14:35:00

I reckon we should thank Brum sans Ridgewell for playing their part in what ended up as a good advert for the Premier. The goal we conceded only made the game more interesting, and whilst my cardiologist might disagree, it was fun!
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18/10/2009 14:39:00

Great stuff LD. I thought Diaby & Song played excellently as the Doormen to the back four yesterday. Diaby getting into that habit of just going about his business now and becoming quite useful in the final third. Nice to Wilshere get a run out, would have come on earlier if we had been more goals up. Was my first home league game of the season - have they stopped announcing how many added minutes will be played now or what?
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18/10/2009 14:40:00

Unfortunately I couldn't watch the game yesterday. Very happy with the result thought. LD, no mention of Gibbs? Interested to know how he did and whether his performance might persuade Arsene to continue with him instead of Clichy, as he's done with Mannone.
Patresc Vieiragas
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18/10/2009 17:22:00

we will lose more games with Almunia in than Vito,because almunia makes calamity james look competant
fran merida
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18/10/2009 18:19:00

and man city drops points too
fran merida
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18/10/2009 18:20:00

I think if people honestly think Mannone is currently better than Almunia, they must be watching large parts of games with their eyes closed. Or else, simply dislike Almunia and are seeing what they want to see.
Little Dutch
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18/10/2009 18:24:00

Agree, Almunia is clearly the better option.
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18/10/2009 18:47:00

Do you think Diaby is as surprised as everyone else that he plays 90 minutes every game? he is improving for sure, but the carling cup is the place to improve surely...
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18/10/2009 19:22:00

Mannone is a promising keeper but a mistake waiting to happen. Whatever perceived shortcomings Almunia appears to have Mannone isn't yet the answer. A luxury player has to be really, really special in order for us to have one in the team. Arshavin might just about get there but if he could up his work rate he might become something more than a special talent. This win owed as much to the industry of Eboue, Diaby and Song as to the artistry of Cesc, Rosicky, RvP and Arshavin.
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18/10/2009 20:27:00

There was an interesting interview with AA in the Telegraph on Saturday (wasn't mine honestly, my mate buys the Torygraph and he showed it to me) in which he quite candidly admitted to being lazy and not liking training much either. AW came out a few weeks ago and said he could do for us in the CL what he did for Zenit in the UEFA. I took that as a challenge to the man to really push on.
Little Dutch
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18/10/2009 20:41:00

Arshavin is obviously a class act but does seem to play a little bit too nonchalantly at times. But he is exactly what this team needed since we lost Henry - someone who can pull the rabbit out the hat at any given time.
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18/10/2009 20:47:00

At his age I suspect Arshavin will only ever be the player he is now. While he can do more with one pass or one shimmy than many can do with 15 minutes hard running then we'll use those mercurial talents for what they do bring - but I fear he may find himself on the bench as often as he starts - if we ever have a fully fit midfield squad.
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18/10/2009 21:01:00

Honestly? Almunia is our best keeper (and we could do with a more assured keeper).Time to end the Don Vito Cameo and bring Almunia back in to cement his place. PV, as to whether Gibbs may be in for a run in Clichy's place, I guess it depends on if Le Boss can come up with another "diplomatic injury", from his repertoire, for Clichy, eh, LD.
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18/10/2009 21:22:00

I don't think Clichy's form is as bad as people are making out. Had we signed him in 2009 people would be raving about how well he's playing. Like I said last week, once a player has been around for a while we're much more ready to find fault and flaw, he's playing fine, not amazingly, but o.k. He could do with more protection from midfield. I like Gibbs, he looks quite a prospect, but he's not ready for Clichy's place yet. With Arshavin and Rosicky in the side and most of the players another year older, Arsenal have looked better for having a bit more experience. I see no reason to deplete that with Mannone and Gibbs when Clichy and Almunia are better at the moment.
Little Dutch
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18/10/2009 21:47:00

Got to say I agree with you on Clichy. He is doing well, for now and Gibbs is a good understudy who can come in when the inevitable injuries come, now or at the business end of the season. At least, the manager can save one in his "list" for some other day or person. Lol.
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18/10/2009 22:11:00

Agree with you completely on Clichy, LD. He's a brilliant player and a top man. I think folks are so eager to have another English starter they're desperately rooting for Gibbs, and forgetting we have one of the top five Left Backs in the world already playing for us. I also thought Diaby had a brilliant game, so I don't understand anyone criticizing him! Finally, don't know if you saw Graham Poll's article today, but he said it was a blatant foul on Don Vito for their goal and it should have been disallowed. The giveaway (said Poll) was Larson looking over his shoulder to see where Vito was before bumping into him deliberately. So it wasn't entirely the young Italian's fault.
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19/10/2009 03:36:00

Nothing wrong w the Telegraph. It's more insightful than the Guardian and less of a tabloid than the Times.
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19/10/2009 06:55:00

almunia is a decent keeper at best but he will rarely win us game like what mannone did at craven cottage. the jury's still out for mannone but the promise is there
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19/10/2009 08:56:00

"...but better teams will punish our lack of collective responsibility..." - true. Just like to add another perspective - against better teams, the team's concentration and alertness level may well be of a higher level so similar problem might not occur
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19/10/2009 08:56:00

I agree that Almunia (currently is our best keeper) but I don't feel that Larsson's challenge was a fair one, he only had eyes for the keeper and just barged into him when he never had any chance of winning the ball. That aside, we're on a great run now, and potentially only one point behind the leaders with Liverpool falling to pieces as a bonus. Keep it up boys.
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19/10/2009 09:08:00

when all so called rivals are stumbling we need this type performance (no matter d flaws)to win the league
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19/10/2009 12:26:00

Almunia isn’t a great keeper and at 32 he isn’t really going to improve very much. It wasn’t a coincidence that his bizarre chest infection/virus was on the back of some pretty disappointing performaces. Whilst Mannone is currently making mistakes, he learns pretty quickly, as seen against Blackburn. He has also made some impressive saves for us in the meantime, so he is a work in progress who can only get better. I say leave him be because the next Arsenal goalkeeping error is as likely to happen with Almunia in goal as it is with Mannone.
Sir Henry
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19/10/2009 17:39:00

Although Clichy is not performing poorly, dropping him for a couple of games might do the trick. Wenger can make that call, of course, but the problem with Clichy, for me, is that he is taking more risks- goes into tackles high up on the pitch, tries to play the ball insted of clearing - things like that, rather than a worrying loss of defensive form.
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19/10/2009 17:49:00

Good write up LD. The defence worries me, but you know what, I dont think this team is going to change that much. So buckle down, and be prepared to accept a defeat due to some careless defending sometime in future. The attack still looks fluent, and Rosicky continues to impress. Refreshing to have him back, and he adds so much to the team.
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19/10/2009 17:50:00

I agree with you on Clichy prits, he does take very strange risks in pressing far too high up the pitch sometimes, the game at Man City in particular comes to mind.
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20/10/2009 13:47:00

so little dutch do you think Wenger is watching large chunks of the game with his eyes shut,because it seems that Almunia has been dropped,or is he still "ill", regardless whether you think vito is, or is not good enough almunia will never be the answer...and anyone who thinks he has what it takes is mistaken to say the least, vitos only problem is lack of experience,you cant gain experience sitting on the bench
fran merida
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20/10/2009 18:49:00


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