The way I see it - Arsenal v Birmingham City

Last updated : 11 January 2008 By Jason Hogan
...On the eve of the game I said that the centre back partnership of Djourou and Senderos was going to be a big factor in this whole tie from our point of view.

I hoped to see signs that these two lads had grown up both as individual players. I hoped that lads would show definitive signs that they could be the undisputed centre back pairing of the future for the Arsenal.

However, there was always an underlying sense of foreboding in my mind about how effective they would be in curtailing the clear and obvious threat that the likes of Berbatov and Keane posed. And although we didn't lose on the night, it's safe to say that neither of those guys came out the game with their reputations enhanced.

In their defence (no pun intended of course), they didn't really get any kind of protection from the likes of Gilberto and Denilson all night. Instead of playing in tandem, the two Brazilians might as well have been synchronised swimmers because for the most part they both spent the night effectively treading water.

Still, having had a look at Djourou and in particular Senderos over the last three years, I have to say categorically that neither of them have what it takes to be regulars at Arsenal player in the long term.

Don't get me wrong; there is no question that Senderos has a huge heart and is as willing a player as you will see. But that only takes you so far and if Arsenal are seriously going to be in the business of winning Champions Leagues and Premier League titles with any degree of regularity over the next few years, you need genuine quality in your ranks and for starters, Senderos, quite simply, is not the guy who is going to help the Arsenal reach those long term objectives.

I feel the same about Djourou. He has the look of an athlete and, unlike Senderos, he does at least have a bit of pace. But his decision making is just as weak as Senderos and that is where he falls down. With Gallas likely to be a fixture at Arsenal for no more than a couple of years, I'm not convinced that Djourou's game will come together in time if at all for him to take his place permanently somewhere down the line.

To be honest, there is really not much point in me talking too much about the game itself as a whole. Never mind me, every Gooner in the land knows that we are lucky to still have a genuine vested interest in this tie going into the second leg at land that time forgot, particularly after the fundamental flaws I have already tried to point out in terms of the make up of the side we put out on Wednesday.

Wenger has made it clear that he will go with pretty much the same side at The Craphole in just under a fortnight's time. Well, whilst there is a part of me that says we couldn't play much worse over there, the fact is Wenger is going to have to re-jig things for the second leg big time if we have got any chance of getting a result.

We will be in for a tough night as it is over there. Because, say what you like about the Spuds, the fact is they do not lose too may games in their own back yard.

If we run with the idea that Wenger will not bring all the big guns out, I tell you what I would do for starters in the second leg at The Craphole, if push came to shove. Fitness permitting, I would honestly play Sagna at centre back alongside Senderos.

Jamie Redknapp may have banged on and on the other night on Sky about how Ledley King loves defending but for me, Sagna is in the same category. Unlike some of our other defenders he is not afraid to put the ball in row Z if he has to and he is someone that is not afraid to attack the ball in the air either. Plus he has decent recovery pace as well. Then I would move maybe Hoyte to right back to look after Malbranque or whoever else plays down their left hand side.

However, never mind the second leg in the Mickey Mouse Cup, there are question marks over what sort of defence we will put out on Saturday when we entertain Birmingham at The Grove.

The latest word on the street is that Senderos will be fit but Djourou will miss out altogether. Nevertheless we should have three quarters of our first choice back four available tomorrow as I understand Sagna has shaken off his ankle knock. Three out of four ain't bad is all I can say.
Anyway now is a good time to have a look at Saturday's opponents from England's second city.

Alex McLeish has become a beneficiary of what seems to be the usual round of managerial musical chairs that seems to take place all to regularly these days in the opening three months of the season. If I didn't know any better the Premier League is fast becoming as cut throat as leagues such as La Liga and in particular Serie A every year.

However, after getting off to a flier in his first game in charge when Birmingham won 3-2 at The Craphole, McLeish has since seen the Bluenoses go without a win in their last seven games.

The Blues were beaten by Huddersfield in the Cup last time out which would have been a crushing blow to morale but to be fair, they did give a fairly creditable performance in their last league game at Old Trafford and another day they may have nicked a draw from the game.

I think they have one or two decent operators in their ranks. I like the look of the right winger, Daniel De Ridder. He is not the quickest winger you have ever seen but he has decent close control, a trick or two and is capable of delivering a good ball into the box.

Olivier Kapo is a player that has always intrigued me. When this boy moved to Juventus I actually gave him an each way chance of making an impact there. Things subsequently never worked out for him of course but I know from his days at Auxerre what he is capable of.

The boy has a heck of a left foot on him and I remember him putting it to devastating use against us for Auxerre in a Champions League game a few years ago. He is not a man to be underestimated particularly if he is having one his going days.

Gary McSheffrey is another man that falls into a similar bracket as Kapo as a man not to be underestimated and so do Cameron Jerome and Mikael Forssell.

Jerome is very similar to West Ham's Carlton Cole for me. He is young, quick, big and strong. He has the raw attributes to be a real handful for defences potentially week in and week out but right now, he is a little rough round the edges. But if he does iron out the rough spots then he could have a solid career in the top flight for quite a few years to come.

In spite of the injuries he has had in his fledgling career I think that Forssell is still a decent operator. He may not be quite as mobile as he once was but if he gets service in the right areas he can still punish teams.

For me though, the key man for them will be Liam Ridgewell. The ex-Aston Villa man has not only become the captain of Birmingham, he has also rounded into quite an inspirational figure for the Blues these days. Not only is he the cornerstone of their defence but he has shown more than once that he is a threat at set pieces. If he plays well, then the team tends to play well.

There will be nothing new about how Birmingham will approach the game. They will do what most teams do when they come to The Grove. They will try to keep things as tight as possible for as long as possible with a view to really having a go in the last 15 minutes or so.

So, once again it will be important for us not to panic, keep faith in how we like to play the game and be efficient as and when our chances come along.

With the PRF being particularly involved in a potentially marginal fixture against the Spuds on Saturday, there is potentially an opportunity for us to put a little daylight between ourselves and them at least.

And to be honest I am not fussed at this moment in time as to how we get three points. Accumulating them by hook or by crook and restoring some momentum in the wake of the fiasco on Wednesday is all that matters to me right now.