Arsenal 3 – 1 Birmingham
By Ian Hughes
Van Persie and Diaby were both on target for Arsenal
Arsenal were not quite at their clinical best but still proved too strong for Birmingham at the Emirates.
Robin van Persie opened the scoring with a precise, low drive across goal after Alex Song had played him in.
Abou Diaby doubled the lead when he smashed in a rising shot before Lee Bowyer volleyed in after Vito Mannone’s mistake to halve Birmingham’s deficit.
Substitute Andrey Arshavin shot wide and Robin van Persie hit the bar before Arshavin curled in to seal the points.
Arshavin’s strike came at a time when Birmingham were threatening to get an equaliser but overall, the Gunners were good value for the three points that moves them up to fourth in the Premier League table.
The only blemish on the Gunners’ afternoon was an injury suffered by Theo Walcott, who had started a match for the first time this season but was forced off on the half-hour mark after failing to shake off the after-effects of a robust challenge by Liam Ridgewell.
Wenger pleased with winning run
England winger Walcott had been one of three changes for Arsenal, with Kieran Gibbs playing at left-back and Mannone keeping his place in goal despite Manuel Almunia’s return to fitness.
Walcott had started brightly and tested Blues keeper Joe Hart with a curling shot that came at the end of a strong run before he was replaced by Arshavin.
Arsenal had already posted warnings of their attacking intent by then, with Tomas Rosicky twice getting in good positions only to fail to connect properly with volleys.
It must have made uncomfortable viewing for new Birmingham owner Carson Yeung as he sat in the stands as president of the club for the first time since he completed his takeover.
Yeung has promised to make £40m available for new players but any green shoots of recovery that may come from that potential cash injection look a long way off on this showing.
Fielding a team with four changes from that side that lost to Burnley, the visitors, who had lost four of their last five league games going into the match, struggled to keep pace with their opponents.
And they were soon undone by Song’s fine through ball and Van Persie’s equally well-placed finish gave Arsenal the lead.
Moments later, Arsenal worked a great opening with some fluid football, and Diaby arrived at the far post to hammer home Rosicky’s cross.
Birmingham’s first effort at goal came form Sebastian Larsson, but his free-kick was pushed away by Mannone.
However, the Italian keeper was soon to make a costly mistake when he flapped at a cross and succeeded only in patting the ball down at the feet of Bowyer, who dispatched the ball into an empty net.
Arsenal almost restored their two-goal lead when Arshavin took a snap shot but Joe Hart made a decent low stop to his right.
McLeish highlights fragility of squad
Birmingham started the second half well and Cameron Jerome’s ball almost reached Lee Bowyer via Barry Ferguson as Arsenal looked vulnerable.
But the hosts hit back and Arshavin dragged a shot wide when he looked set to score before Cesc Fabregas was just about kept out by Hart.
As Arsenal began to assume full control once more, they were presented with an indirect free-kick in the area after Larsson was harshly judged to have played a deliberate back pass.
From the set-piece, Van Persie smashed the ball against the top of the bar.
Arsenal then suffered a scare when Ridgewell’s cross looked certain to be turned in before Mannone made up for his earlier error by clawing the ball away from two waiting Blues players.
But the home side’s nerves were settled when Arshavin cut in from the right and curled a sweet shot into the far corner.
Arsenal might have had a fourth goal but Hart made a fine save to deny Diaby from close range and Van Persie’s shot was blocked by Ridgewell.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger:
“We had plenty of opportunities today, perhaps it became a little bit too easy at 2-0.
“We needed to regain our composure when they came back to 2-1. In the Premier League you need to keep your focus for 90 minutes.
“We finally got our third goal and I believe it was a fair result. I still believe we need to improve at the back, but we are very consistent and we look strong.”
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish:
“I was much more pleased with the spirit the team showed, if not the goals they conceded.
“We fought back well and got a good goal quite quickly. I think Arsenal got a bit edgy and we tried to keep them quiet after that – and that was the case.
“Arsenal hit us on the counter-attack with deadly conviction but I think their third goal was harsh on us.”