Beat Tottenham And Arsenal Can Be Champions
Birmingham 1-1 Arsenal
Arsenal’s title hopes took a severe hit after conceding an injury time equaliser against Birmingham at St.Andrews. It was far from a classic encounter on a dodgy pitch that was not suitable for Arsenal’s passing game. Substitute Samir Nasri fired a superb opener for Arsenal 10 minutes from time before Phillips equalised for Birmingham in stoppage time with a mixture of good fortune and inept goalkeeping.
Arsene Wenger made several changes with Song stepping back into the centre back berth vacated by the suspended Vermaelen, taking his place alongside Campbell, Sagna and Clichy. Arshavin and Nasri were rested with Rosicky and Walcott starting either side of Bendtner up top. Denilson, Diaby and Fabregas made up the midfield.
The first half was mostly a dull affair with little goal mouth action. The pitch looked like it had hosted a horse show the day before, which of course hampered Arsenal’s passing game.
Diaby had the first attempt on goal but Bowyer made a good block, but Birmingham were causing a few problems from set-plays with Gardner firing over after McFadden’s free-kick was only half cleared.
Walcott was sent crashing to the deck inside the area, but replays showed he was out-muscled by Ridgewell…although if it was Valencia at Old Trafford I’m sure referee Howard Webb would have pointed to the spot.
Denilson showed just why he isn’t suited to being a defensive midfielder in the premier league with a weak challenge allowing McFadden to get a dangerous shot off from 20 yards which flew inches wide. Then Walcott used his pace well to get onto a ball over the top but Hart closed him down and blocked his effort.
Jerome and McFadden were causing Arsenal problems with both testing Almunia with long-range efforts. Our back four were getting very little protection from the midfield. With Half time approaching a moment Arsenal fans didn’t want to see….Fabregas struggling with a knee injury following a ‘robust’ challenge from Gardner.
The Spanish maestro is now a doubt for the clash with Barcelona on Wednesday. No Fabregas, no chance I’m afraid.
That was pretty much it for the first half, Arsenal were disappointing and Birmingham were predictably well organised.
It looked like Arsenal had woken up in the early stages of the second half with both Diaby and Rosicky having efforts on goal. But the urgency soon disappeared from the game again until Birmingham almost took the lead after a Ferguson free kick found Johnson who hit the post and Dann somehow putting the rebound over form 2 yards.
Huge let-off for Arsenal and it prompted Arsene Wenger to bring on Nasri and Arshavin for Rosicky and Walcott. The substitutions made an immediate effect on the game with Arsenal looking far more dangerous.
Nasri’s cross could and probably should have been converted if Bendtner had been more alert, then Arshavin cut back to Nasri who shot straight at Hart. Then minutes later Diaby thought he had opened the scoring, blasting into the bottom corner form the edge of the area but the goal was ruled out for an alleged barge on Bowyer during the build up. A 50:50 decision in my eyes, but one which didn’t go our way.
With only 10 minutes left Arsenal finally made the breakthrough. Nasri drove towards the box before unleashing a drive into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
0-1 Nasri (81)
Great stuff from Nasri. If Arsenal could hang on it would be a massive step towards the title.
The young Frenchmen then had a great opportunity to tie up the game as he burst through on goal but with only Hart to beat he elected to pass instead of taking on the shot…what was he doing?! I had a horrible feeling that was going to cost us.
With 90 minutes nearly up Arshavin won a free kick on the edge of the box, Fabregas fired a powerful effort at goal which Hart did well to parry away.
Just when it looked like Arsenal had ground out a 1-0 victory, Birmingham hit a long ball straight up the middle which wasn’t dealt with by the Arsenal back line, Sagna’s attempted clearance deflected off Phillips’s face towards Almunia for what should have been a relatively routine tip over, but our Mr Average only managed to weakly palm the ball into his own net. Unbelievable. It gets worse every time i watch it. (if you haven’t seen the goals, highlights are available below)
1-1 Phillips (90+1)
Yet another example of why you need a reliable goalkeeper to win trophies, and as i have said many times…Almunia is not reliable enough to be Arsenal’s No.1….simple. It should also be said that the defense should have dealt with the first ball. Nobody attacked it and it was allowed to bounce just outside the 18 yard box. Criminal.
So 2 points dropped by poor defending and even worse goalkeeping when it really matters. What is it with Arsenal and St. Andrews? We’re just lucky Gallas wasn’t on the pitch this time, who knows what he would have been kicking?! Almunia’s face hopefully.
It remains to be seen how this set back will affect the players. They don’t have long to recover with the big-one against Barca on Wednesday, and a defeat then could be too much for our young squad to come back from.
A major worry ahead of Wednesday if the fitness of captain Cesc Fabregas after he sustained a knee injury yesterday. He completed the 90 minutes but was uncomfortable through-out and was clearly hampered by the problem.
After Chelsea’s demolition of Aston Villa and Manchester United’s similarly impressive 4-0 victory at Bolton, where does this leave Arsenal in the title race? Well i thought before today we needed to win 6 from the remaining 7, with a draw against Tottenham, to win the title. Now we have used that draw so beat Spurs, along with the other 5 teams, and we could be champions.
The problem is if Arsenal perform like they did today, and with Almunia in goal, we wont beat Spurs, Blackburn and City. It’s not completely over, but massive improvement and a lot of luck is needed if we are to lift the premier league title this year.
If you haven’t seen them already, match highlights and goals can be watched by clicking below.
Are Arsenal out the title race after this result? Was Almunia to blame for Brimingham’s goal? Please leave your comments below…..
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