Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arsenal vs. Birmingham: Match Preview

League leaders Arsenal host 16th-placed Birmingham on Saturday as the London giants look to stay clear ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table.

The Gunners are unbeaten in their last nine games in all competitions, having won seven and drawn two. They have not lost a game in the Premier League since early December, and have every reason to believe that their recent unbeaten run will continue on Saturday.

The Blues would be happy to scrape any points off of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal squad, but will be downtrodden after falling out of the FA Cup last weekend following a loss to Huddersfield. Birmingham's cause will be helped by the injury sheet, though, with only Damien Johnson and Borja Oubina likely to miss the game due to injury.

Arsenal on the other hand will be without Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, and Alex Song due to the African Cup of Nations. Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos, Theo Walcott, and Robin van Persie all picked up knocks and all four are doubts for this Saturday's game, meaning that captain William Gallas may be Arsenal's only fit center-back.

When asked about who would play in the center of defense, Wenger joked, "Me, at this rate. It's very difficult for us. We've effectively lost seven players in two days, given that three have gone to Ghana, and we have a problem in central defence. We don't know yet how long they will be out."

Bacary Sagna, Justin Hoyte, and Gilberto can all play at center-back if called upon to do so, so the situation is not as dire as it might look. However, Wenger will be hoping that at least one of his specialized central defenders returns from injury in time for the game.

Manuel Almunia will start in goal, hopefully behind a defensive quartet of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, Philippe Senderos, and Gael Clichy.

In the midfield Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, and Mathieu Flamini should boss around Olivier Kapo and company.

Up front either Nicklas Bendtner or Eduardo should start with Emmanuel Adebayor as Arsenal fans wait yet another week for Robin van Persie's Premiership return.

Despite an injury-ravaged squad the Gunners will be expecting to get a full three points out of Saturday's fixture, and barring an abhorrent performance they should be able to do so against a relegation-threatened Birmingham. I say 2-0 to Arsenal.