Ten-man Gunners edge past Birmingham

Blues took a shock lead through Nikola Zigic after 33 minutes as

once again the Gunners – who had lost their past two league games

before the international break – failed to make the most of early

possession. However, Samir Nasri levelled with a somewhat

controversial penalty just before half-time, before Marouane

Chamakh slotted home a well-taken effort two minutes after the

restart which proved enough for all three points. The win was

soured late on, however, when England teenager Wilshere showed his

immaturity with a reckless challenge on Zigic which earned him a

straight red and a three-match ban. Defeat at Chelsea last time out

had left Arsenal some seven points off the pace, and manager Arsene

Wenger had called on his team to produce a strong response from

kick-off. It was almost that as Chamakh went close after just four

minutes following a neat one-two with Wilshere on the edge of

Birmingham’s box, but Stephen Carr blocked his side-foot effort.

Arsenal suffered a shock 3-2 defeat against West Brom in their

previous match here last month – and there was more frustration for

the home supporters during the first quarter-of-an-hour following

some resolute defending by Birmingham. On 17 minutes, Sebastien

Squillaci headed in Samir Nasri’s chipped free-kick from the right

wing, but the offside flag was quickly up. Arsenal were presented

another golden opportunity on 24 minutes when a soft back pass from

former Arsenal midfielder Sebastian Larsson in his own penalty area

gifted Gael Clichy a free shot at goal from 10 yards, but the

full-back dragged his shot wide of the far post. Gunners goalkeeper

Lukasz Fabianski had not really been troubled, but needed to be

alert to collect an inadvertent backward header from Emmanuel

Eboue, which was set for the top corner, after a free-kick into the

Arsenal box. The Blues, however, continued to look dangerous from

set-pieces and it was no real surprise when the visitors went ahead

after 33 minutes. A throw-in was fed back to Keith Fahey, and his

sweeping cross was met by Zigic, who got up above Johan Djourou to

power a header back into the bottom corner for the Serbian’s first

Premier League goal. Birmingham almost snatched a second when Roger

Johnson knocked the ball back across the six-yard box, but Fahey

blazed over as he got in the way of Zigic. Arsenal were then handed

a lifeline five minutes before the break when Scott Dann clipped

Chamakh’s trailing leg and referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the

spot. Nasri made no mistake as he crashed in his fifth goal of the

season. The French winger, though, was soon in the referee’s book

for barging at Liam Ridgewell, although replays suggested the card

could easily have been red after leading with his knee. Tempers

were boiling over as half-time approached, with Blues skipper Carr

involved in a heated exchange with the Arsenal bench and Chamakh

looked to be on the receiving end of an elbow from Johnson, but it

went unpunished. If there was a touch of controversy about

Chamakh’s involvement in the equaliser, the Morocco striker

produced the perfect response as he put Arsenal ahead just two

minutes after the restart. Wilshere played the ball into the left

side of the penalty area, where Chamakh ghosted past Carr before

holding off Dann as he rounded the goalkeeper to roll home his

fifth goal from a tight angle. Arsenal soon settled into their

usual passing rhythm, as Birmingham suddenly found themselves

chasing possession for long spells, but were again guilty of taking

too many touches around the box when a more direct approach was

required. Wilshere did just that when charging into the left side

of the penalty area before drilling an angled drive over. Both

substitute Tomas Rosicky and Nasri tested Foster from distance

while the introduction of Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner for his

first appearance of the season gave Arsenal a different option. But

it will be Wilshere’s red card which makes the headlines after he

went in late on Zigic, and must now serve a three-match ban.