Saturday, January 12, 2008

Arsenal vs. Birmingham: Match Review

Barclay's English Premier League leaders Arsenal may lose their top spot to Manchester United today when the Red Devils host Newcastle United at Old Trafford. The Gunners went into the weekend two points ahead of their nearest rivals, but dropped two unlikely points at home against lowly Birmingham.

The Blues were outplayed throughout most of the 90 minutes, and Arsenal looked sure to win after taking an early lead thanks to an Emmanuel Adebayor penalty kick. However, Garry O'Connor struck back at the beginning of the second half to tie up the game. Despite constant pressure from the Gunners, Birmingham managed to hold on to take a valuable point back to St. Andrew's.

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy; Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb; Eduardo, Emmanuel Adebayor

Birmingham: Maik Taylor; Stephen Kelly, Franck Quedrue, Liam Ridgewell, Rafael Schmitz; Damien Johnson, Olivier Kapo, Sebastian Larsson, Fabrice Muamba; Cameron Jerome, Garry O'Connor

Birmingham city started on the wrong foot, with Eduardo heading a shot off target after just two minutes of play. A number of early Arsenal chances went unrewarded, but the tone was set for the match as Arsenal pressured Maik Taylor and the Birmingham defense.

The visitors had the best chance of the opening exchanges though, almost taking a surprise lead when Cameron Jerome latched on to a through ball only for Manuel Almunia to produce a great one-handed save at full-stretch. A goal would've been against the run of play and undeserved.

Maik Taylor made a save soon after, when Eduardo latched on to a cross from Alex Hleb. The striker, who has better heading ability than most of the Arsenal players, had looked sure to score but could only steer the ball straight into the chest of the Birmingham keeper.

Taylor could do nothing to stop Arsenal's 21st minute goal though. Stephen Kelly took Eduardo down inside the box and referee Phil Dowd pointed to the spot. Emmanuel Adebayor stpped up and placed a well-struck penalty into the bottom right corner of the net. Taylor dove the right way but the ball was out of his reach. The Northern Ireland keeper almost got his fingertips to it, but could not stop Arsenal from taking a well-deserved lead.

Birmingham had their own penalty shout turned down just a few minutes later, but Arsenal looked the better team and as the half-time came it seemed as though the Blues would be going through a damage limitation exercise.

Unfortunately for the home fans, the Blues struck a surprise equalizer out of nothing only three minutes after the restart. Former Arsenal player Sebastian Larsson took a corner which was headed goalwards by Garry O'Connor. Almunia looked ready to save the ball, but a nasty deflection off of Cesc Fabregas caught the keeper wrong-footed and he could only watch on as O'Connor raced away in celebration.

The Gunners still looked like they would go on to win the game though, with Adebayor having a shot well-blocked by Liam Ridgewell and Senderos seeing a header turned away by a great save from the busy Maik Taylor.

Frustrated Arsenal midfielder Alex Hleb had a small spat with Ridgewell, resulting in bookings for both men.

Former Birmingham loanee Nicklas Bendtner soon joined the fray as a replacement for Theo Walcott, but even the great Dane could not find a winner for the Gunners, despite consistently dominating in possession.

A fierce shot from Gael Clichy went straight into the outstretched arms of Taylor, and Bendtner shot wide following a nice move involving Hleb and Fabregas. A low strike from Mathieu Flamini forced the Birmingham keeper into action once again as Arsenal failed to regain the lead.

It was a disappointing game for Gunners fans who would never have thought their team could drop points at home to a relegation threatened side.