Premier League - Arsenal destroy Birmingham
Sat, 01 Jan 20:27:00 2011
The Blues brought a physical gameplan and were unlucky to go in at the break 1-0 down, with Robin van Persie's free-kick helping the Gunners edge a controversial opening 45 minutes.
Arsenal controlled the second half, with Nasri and Fabregas utterly brilliant. Nasri gave Arsenal the two-goal cushion in the 58th minute with Fabregas heavily involved in the move, and the pair exchanged a number of passes before the third was eventually bundled into his own net by Roger Johnson.
It was classy stuff from Arsenal who made eight changes from the side that drew with Wigan by reverting back to the same starting 11 that beat Chelsea.
They stay third in the table with the win, but Saturday's results have now left Birmingham in the relegation zone.
The first half had everything you could wish for in a Premier League tussle: action, excitement and a fair share of controversy to boot.
Most of the big incidents involved van Persie too. He gave Arsenal the lead in the 13th minute with what was already his third free-kick of the game.
The goal came with a large slice of luck as it took a big deflection off Lee Bowyer before finding the net.
However, what really incensed the home fans was the way the free-kick came about: they were convinced that the Dutch striker took a dive to win the free-kick.
To make matters worse, Van Persie should have been charged with a handball in the box at the other end. He made a mess of trying to head away a cross, with the ball clearly hitting his arm instead - but referee Peter Walton missed the incident.
Arsenal looked dangerous every time they went forward but a physical Birmingham side caused them plenty of problems at the other end too, especially from set-pieces.
Lukasz Fabianski had to produce a fine save to bat away a Sebastian Larsson free-kick just five minutes after the Arsenal goal but the Blues' best chance came in the 38th minute when Johnson showed why he is a defender and not a striker - blazing over from six yards out after getting on the end of a Cameron Jerome flick-on.
The second half was as absorbing as the first, but for completely different reasons as Arsenal reached a level of play that Birmingham simply could not cope with.
Where before the Blues looked competitive, they now just looked thuggish, and Bowyer was lucky to stay on the pitch for two challenges the referee missed.
Arsenal shifted the ball around with class and ease and created a number of chances which could have seen them score far more than the two further goals they did manage. The pair of strikes showcased the skills of their two best players.
For the second, in the 58th minute, Nasri exchanged passes with Fabregas before the Spaniard provided a decoy run; Nasri though just held the ball on the edge of the area before firing a superb low shot into corner of the net.
The third came in the 66th minute and again wonderful intricate passing from the pair saw the ball worked into the box. This time Fabregas smashed a strike at goal, Foster saved but the ball spilled out and off Scott Dann and then Johnson for an own-goal.
For the rest of the half Arsenal stroked the ball around with ease and looked more solid at the back with Johan Djourou looking a particularly composed presence.
Certain aspects of the first-half performance will still worry Arsenal fans, but the second half was one to savour - and if replicated, will certainly mark Wenger's side out as genuine title contenders.Seán Fay / Eurosport