Arsenal 2-1 Birmingham City
It is undeniable that after two league defeats, and with a trip to Middle Eastlands looming, a win against Birmingham was not only much needed but also a blessed relief. We did, however, make heavy weather of a game we should have won more easily. We should never have been scrabbling to hold onto the three points in the last few minutes, but scrabbling we were.
Wilshere was the creative fulcrum throughout the game, ruining an otherwise excellent performance with a rash challenge and a red card. He was very contrite but he now needs to learn from it. It wasn’t ‘unfortunate’ or ‘one of those things’ – it was a bad challenge.
To lose such a player for three games is a big blow – which just goes to show how crucial he is becoming. That he is arguably our player of the season so far tells you a lot about his remarkable talent, and also a fair bit about the bitty stop-start way many Arsenal players have begun this campaign.
But what of the performance? MOTD highlights made it look a lot more incisive than it felt from where I was sitting. Faced by a resolute defence, we once again struggled a bit.
You may have noticed they’ve changed the pre-match build-up routine at the Arsenal, restoring Fatboy Slim’s Right Here Right Now to prominence as the song the teams walk out to, and demoting Elvis’ The Wonder of You down the billing. Part of this lengthened countdown to kick-off now includes a montage of famous Arsenal goals – including some of the incisive, direct rapier strikes that were the hallmark of the Henry and Pires era.
Then the match starts and you are quickly reminded how much the style of this side differs to the one of its Invincible predecessors.
The Arsenal of those years was noted for its lightning breaks and defence-splitting passes, more often than not tucked away by the admittedly untouchable Thierry Henry. We were direct, we were fast, we went for the jugular.
We can of course still score goals like that, but I do feel the Arsenal of 2010 seems, at times, to have lost that art. Yesterday was a fine example. Some fabulous build-up play, more often than not orchestrated by the sublime skills of Jack Wilshere, foundered time and again on the rocks of indecision on the edge of the D.
D, incidentally, is for Diaby – a player particularly prone to another word beginning with D – dallying. So much of what he does, outmuscling and outrunning his man and one-twoing hither and thither, is genuinely excellent. And he was at times very good yesterday. When he does go for goal, he can score a belter – remember the ones he scored at Anfield, and Villa Park? So why doesn’t he do it more often?
Maybe I’m being too simplistic. Teams often come to the Emirates with caution, aiming to hit us on the break, knowing that more often than not we will concede. So splitting teams in half is perhaps harder said than done and lord knows, we do not have a player with the speed, strength and skill of Thierry Henry in his pomp.
Nevertheless, the amount of times we get to the edge of the box but look to make that extra pass, or look up and take an extra touch – well, suffice to say we do this too often. Camping outside the opponents’ box will only yield rewards so many times.
That it did yesterday was down to a soft penalty and a wonderful piece of ping-pong between Wilshere and Chamakh.
Maybe this is why, at least in part, we get so excited about Walcott. He’s the most direct player we have, a genuine wing flier, and by running at a defence he can cause terror against tiring opponents.
Nevertheless, stylistic frustrations aside, it was a good win, hopefully a springboard win, and if you look at the table this evening you will see that, despite having won only 50% of our matches this season, we are third in the table, only five points off the pace. Tablistically, a good day.