Saturday 10 December 2016

Classy Arsenal banish St Andrew's blues

Birmingham 0 Arsenal 3

Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00

Arsene Wenger and his players have suffered more than their fair share of torment at St Andrew's over the last few years but this emphatic victory will go some way to erasing those painful memories as well as providing answers to any lingering questions about the strength of their title challenge.

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Birmingham had lost only one of their previous 29 matches at home, yet Arsenal outplayed their hosts to such an extent that it made you wonder why Manchester United had made such hard work of breaking Alex McLeish's side down last Tuesday night.

Robin van Persie's first Premier League goal since the final day of last season got Arsenal on their way. Samir Nasri drilled in his 13th goal of the season after twice exchanging passes with Cesc Fabregas and the same pair linked brilliantly for the third goal, which ended with Roger Johnson knocking the ball over his goal-line after it bounced off Scott Dann.

This fixture has been synonymous with controversy in recent years and it took only seven minutes for old wounds to reopen. In a spot remarkably similar to where Martin Taylor broke Eduardo da Silva's leg a little less than three years ago, Johnson overran the ball and, with his studs up, lunged dangerously into Fabregas. Arsenal's players reacted furiously, Fabregas held his shin in agony and Wenger looked on from the touchline with the pained expression of a man who feared the worst. Peter Walton reached for his back pocket at one point, but after a discussion with Johnson, the referee brandished a yellow card.

The Arsenal manager's mood quickly improved, however, when the visitors took the lead six minutes later. Dann conceded what looked like a soft foul when Walton deemed he had tugged at Van Persie's shirt. The Dutchman's free-kick would not have troubled Ben Foster but the ball took a wicked deflection off Lee Bowyer -- who will win no prizes for bravery on the basis of his attempt to block -- and left the Birmingham goalkeeper stranded as it drifted in.

Van Persie wasted a wonderful chance to double Arsenal's lead later in the half, but after Fabregas and Nasri combined brilliantly to prise open the Birmingham defence, the forward tried to dink the ball over the advancing Foster and failed miserably.

Wenger should have been celebrating a second goal early in the second half but Jack Wilshire volleyed over and Nasri was denied by Foster after he tore clear.

But after a spell of keep-ball, Nasri despatched Fabregas' pass with the confidence of a player at the top of his game. The third goal followed eight minutes later, when the left-hand side of Birmingham's defence was carved open. Foster repelled Fabregas's drive but the loose ball pinged between Johnson and Dann and trickled over the line.

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