Birmingham City Preview: Three Points Please
Premier League football returns with the visit of Birmingham City to The Emirates this afternoon. The visitors, with a young David Seaman in goal, contrived to play their part in the worst football match I have ever seen in my life when they visited Highbury in November 1985. The goalless draw, if my jaundiced memory serves correctly, had one shot on target the whole match. It was a truly abject performance by both sides.
It is tempting to be almost dismissive of today’s visitors, assume the match to be a home banker – they have not won a League match at Arsenal since 1957 – but that would suggest that the lessons of West Brom have not been learned. Actually whether we, the supporters, learn the lessons does not matter; the players are the ones who need to take heed of their mistakes. The right noises have been made in that respect but then they always are. If nothing else, Wenger has pulled together a squad of polite young men who (generally) know how to behave in public. Or at least, aren’t (for the most part) stupid enough to get caught by the paps.
Having speculated about what toll the international break would take on the squad, we found that players did not need to be away from the club to suffer, Laurent Koscielny the latest with back-knack. Wenger’s choices are pretty much made for him as far as the defence goes. Vermaelen’s continued absence, combined with that of Koscielny, means that Johan Djourou is going to partner Sebastien Squillaci. Before the announcement of Koscielny’s injury, I had pencilled Kieran Gibbs in as a starter for this afternoon but that would possibly be too many changes. Having said that, there are times when the defence can play like a group of strangers so perhaps three changes out of five would not be that disruptive.
Much has been made in the last couple of days over Danny Murphy’s comments about dangerous tackles with the usual suspects trying to hide their own culpability by pointing to the actions of others. The lame defences of Pulis and Allardyce are similar to a the self-seeking drink driver who believes that he should not be chastised for his actions because others do similar or worse. Absolutely pathetic.
With the history of Eduardo’s suffering at the hands of Martin Taylor, focus will naturally turn to this afternoon’s encounter. Neither player is with either club any longer so it is a media-contrived scenario to some extent. That said, Brimingham will not come to play an expansive passing game; it is simply not their style even with a fully fit squad. The midfield will be combative and have numbers to try to suppress the Arsenal passing game. It is the sort of match where the vision of Robert Pires would be useful, Wenger noting that the Frenchman will not be re-signed in the manner of Sol Campbell, squad and financial limitations the key reason.
Instead, we will be treated to the further adventures of Jack Wilshere. The youngster observed that this is a match which Arsenal must heed the lessons of the last, painful, home defeat:
Teams come to Arsenal and hope to catch us on the counter-attack. It worked that day [against West Brom] and we have to learn from that. We have to show we can deal with that and get a result on Saturday. It [the West Brom defeat] was just one of those days where we started slowly and we got punished.
Start slowly today and history may repeat itself. Midfield is where Arsene has his biggest dilemma. Does he go with Diaby, allowing the Frenchman to roam freely further forward in support of Marouane Chamakh or with Denilson, pushing Wilshere further forward? Personally, I would go with the latter, Nasri and Arshavin on the flanks give an attacking quartet that is more than capable of breaching the massed ranks of the visitors defence.
There is an argument that Denilson and Song is putting too much emphasis on the defensive side of the game yet the pair are capable of pushing forward at the appropriate moments but their biggest strength is ball retention, passing short and keeping possession, making Birmingham do more running than they might normally expect to do.
Wenger will have options on the bench in the form of Rosicky, Walcott and Bendtner, allowing the latter stages of the game to become more focussed on attack if necessary. He will also have one eye on upcoming fixtures against Shaktar and Manchester City. Had this been the clash before an international break, perhaps Walcott or Bendtner would have started but it seems unlikely today.
The afternoon is important for Lukasz Fabianski. He has done little wrong in his performances in Manuel Almunia’s absence and needs another good match to put pressure on the Spaniard as the automatic choice. Whilst Almunia’s nightmare against West Brom can be explained in part by his injury, having Wenger caught between keeping Fabianski or reverting to the Spaniard is not detrimental; if the players think that there is competition, it keeps them on their toes and produces a little extra in their performance or so the theory goes.
My guess at this afternoon’s line-up is:
Fabianski; Eboue, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy; Denilson, Wilshere, Song; Arshavin, Chamakh, Nasri
Wenger’s 800th match in charge at Arsenal needs only one outcome: a home win. The scoreline does not matter overly as long as the home side manage more than that of the visitors. Having dropped eight points in their last three games, taking three keeps them in touch with those above, especially as they all have emminently winnable games as Chelsea and Manchester City travel to Aston Villa and Blackpool respectively whilst West Brom will no doubt prove how much of a fluke result their win at The Emirates really was by being thumped at Old Trafford.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.