Writer: Nick Simmonett
Date:Friday February 22 2008
Arsenal will come back down to earth on Saturday when they face a Birmingham side fighting for their Premiership survival.
Perhaps it's not as glamorous as facing AC Milan, but it's a far more important game for Arsene Wenger and his team as they look to extend their lead over United to 8 points, even if it is likely to be for just a few hours.
Equally, if Birmingham were to grab victory over Arsenal, as they did last time the teams met at St Andrews, then they would be three points clear of the dreaded relegation zone.
Birmingham wont set up to attack Arsenal, but they will press them as much as they can, just like they did when they came to The Grove. They'll hope they get a goal from a corner, or a lucky deflection.
McLeish is no fool. He's tacticly astute, a good manager and knows how to win big games.
As highly as I rate him though, he's no match for Le Professor, a man who has no equal when it comes to managment, tactics or, well, anything.
Birmingham's form is poor to say the least. They've not won a league game since 26th December when they beat 'Boro 3-0. Last six (league): P6 W0 D3 L3. Although in fairness to them, two of those defeats were to United and Chelsea.
in contrast, Arsenal haven't lost a league game since the start of December, when they went down 2-1 to Boro at the Riverside. Last six (league): P6 W5 D1 L0. The only team to stop Arsenal having a perfect six in recent games is tomorrow's opponents Birmingham, who held The Gunners to A 0-0 draw last month.
Arsenal will certainly have to be on their game physically, something that weont be easy after giving so much against Milan on Wednesday. There's less than 72 hours between Arsenal finishing the game against Milan, and kicking off against Birmingham.
Most of what Alex McLeish says here could have applied to Arsenal last season: 'We do need to demonstrate more toughness at the back.
'We've got good young legs but just a wee bit of nous, a little bit of know-how and a wee bit of steel will make us a much better team.
'The good thing is they will get much better and we're still in with a great shout of staying in this League.'
Arsene Wenger spoke of the importance of Arsenal's next six games: “From 12 to six games, it is the decisive period,” he said. “First of all because it coincides most of the time with a period where most of the teams are still going for something.
“In the last six games, sometimes the points are easier to take. But, until the end of March, you play a team that doesn’t want to go down or a team that plays still for Europe, or a team that wants to save their season. In April, it eases off a bit.'
Birmingham will have a full squad to choose from as Oliver Kapo returns from suspension.
He's the only kind of player I think can keep players like Hleb and Fabregas quiet. He's strong, quick, tough tackling and wont stop running for the entire game.
Arsenal don't have the same luxury as Birmingham I'm afraid. Kolo Toure joined the queue for Gary Lewin's treatment room. A calf problem picked up at the start of the Milan games could see him out for upto four weeks.
Van Persie joins the first team for training next week, so he's still out. Alex Song, Johan Djourou, About Diaby and Tommy Gun are all still missing too.
Almunia returns to the squad, but Wenger wouldn't say if he was going to get his place back in the team after Lehmann put in a great performance against Milan. I say a great performance, I can only think of two saves he had to make!
If anyone will want to make up for not beating Milan, this is he! He knows he should have had a couple of goals and he'll be more than up for this one.
You better watch out, Ade's about!
Mike Dean. Anyone like him? No? Didn't think so.
I was thinking about defeat, then I was thinking we would draw. Now I think we'll win. 2-1 Arsenal. Fabregas and Adebayor to get the goals.
Date:Friday February 22 2008
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