It was always going to be a difficult game, with Birmingham unbeaten at home since September, including draws against the likes of Everton, Man United, Chelsea and Man City. They’d had two defeats in a row prior to our game, but both were away from home. But with us having won our last 5 games- including a couple of tough away games- I was feeling confident that we could win, but I was under no illusions that it would be a walk in the park.
Our line-up was as follows:
Sagna – Campbell – Song – Clichy
Denilson – Diaby
Walcott – Cesc – Rosicky
Arsene chose to rest Arshavin and Nasri, probably with an eye on Barcelona in mid-week. Having said that, I wouldn’t really call it a weakened team (apart from the enforced changes at the back), especially as Cesc was playing. Silvestre was missing completely from the squad- no idea why- meaning Song and Cesc were our CBs.
We started on the front-foot, with Rosicky creating a chance early-doors for Diaby, but his shot was deflected away from goal, off a Birmingham player. But Birmingham weren’t lying down and kept winning free-kicks in dangerous areas, and slowly but surely, our intensity dropped. Walcott did have a chance, after a lovely ball over the top by Cesc. Theo managed to get clear of the defender, but he couldn’t get past Joe Hart, who’d come out early to cut the danger.
Not much was happening in the 1st half, but it was up to us to find something, as Birmingham were keeping us at bay and would have settled for a draw. But there was the hefty challenge on Cesc, who was having trouble walking as a result but it was pretty obvious he didn’t want to go off, even though he wasn’t having the best of games.
So it was 0-0 at half-time, with Birmingham the happier team. Obviously. Our problem seemed to be in the final third, as we rarely troubled Joe Hart in the Birmingham goal. We were struggling creatively. It was also a bit of a worry as to whether Fabregas would come out for the second half because of the earlier tackle, but he made it out. I thought Arsene would take him off as a precaution anyways, but apparently, Cesc wanted to continue- fair play to him, especially with Barcelona on Wednesday. He definitely seems committed to the cause.
So no changes by Arsene at the start of the second-half. We had to increase our intensity, as it was a bit too easy for Birmingham to nullify us.
We started the second half pretty much the same we started the first, this time around it was Rosicky with the early effort- a typical Rosicky shot from outside the box- but Hart saved well. There were a number of niggly fouls by Birmingham, to be expected- we just had to ride that storm and not let it get to us. Despite the first half being pretty much rubbish, I was feeling confident that we’d have too much for Birmingham, as we tend to play better in the second half. Diaby had a good effort on goal, but it was straight at Joe Hart.
We definitely looked a bit better, and it was a matter of whether or not we could make the pressure count. But the clock kept ticking down and it was still 0-0, meaning loads of frayed nerves. With Chelsea absolutely hammering Aston Villa at the same time, the scoreline was looking more and more dissatisfactory. And to make matters worse, Birmingham almost took the lead, a loopy ball from a free-kick going across goal unto the post. The rebound fell to a Birmingham player, Scott Dann practically on the line, but it hit him and went over the bar! Definite contender for miss of the season, but a miss I’m sure all of us were grateful for. That ought to have been a wake-up call for us, but it didn’t seem to have that much impact, except on our nerves ofcourse! But haven’t said that, we were the only team that looked likely to score if we could only get our acts together.
With about 25 minutes left, Arsene made his subsitutions- Arshavin and Nasri on for Theo and Rosicky. We looked livelier with those two on and we really needed to up the tempo quickly, as the game was drifting. Soon enough, both players combined after Clichy coming from the right, fed the ball to Arshavin, but Nasri’s shot a few yards in front of goal, was well-saved by Hart.
Diaby did put the ball into the net, but Howard Webb disallowed it as he’d blown the whistle just earlier for a foul. Whether or not it was a foul is debatable, but the whistle had already gone before Diaby ‘scored’. Still though, it was very frustrating really, as we were desperate for a goal and if not for Webb being whistle-happy, we might have got it! Okay, he didn’t know we would score, obviously, but I’d ofcourse moan about him disallowing it, it being him!
Anyways, we were getting into the last 10-15 minutes of the game