The way I see it - Birmingham City v Arsenal

Last updated : 21 November 2003 By Jason Hogan

From a more personal point of view, I was a bit annoyed with the markings that were handed out to Ashley Cole. He was pilloried in the press who claimed that he got exposed for the first Danish goal- well give those boys in the press a cigar!! Of course he was bloody exposed!! There he was outnumbered by two to one down his flank with not a covering midfield player in sight.

What was worse in my opinion was how none of his fellow defenders attempted to either come across on the cover or mark the Danish lad who was left totally alone in the middle to slam the ball into the net as he pleased.

Still, I suppose Ashley knows by now that the press are always out to lay blame at someone's door and he has been part of the England set up long enough to know how to rise above such cheap criticism.

Now let's look to Saturday, the resumption of the Premiership and the Gunners' trip to St.Andrews. For me, this fixture not only represents a pivotal moment in our season, it's a fixture that is laced with irony.

Over the last week or so I have talked about wanting to see the Arsenal play more as a team and come together as a consistent unit. Well, if there is a team in the Premiership that have shown the value of what having a team ethic is all about, then it's Birmingham.

I think that Steve Bruce has done a pretty good job moulding his team together. In the likes of Robbie Savage, Aliou Cisse and Stephen Clemence they have players that are not at all afraid of hard graft while players like David Dunn, Christophe Dugarry and Mikael Forssell are give the team a little bit of added flair.

True, they have struggled to score goals, by and large, but at the same time they have not conceded too many goals either. So in other words they have evolved into a team that is difficult to beat

Ultimately it's the back four that has been praised the most by observers. They have the very under rated Kenny Cunningham marshalling things at the heart of their defence and his regular partner is a certain Matthew Upson.

Many believed (me included) that selling Upson was a big mistake and played a part in costing us the title last season. The fact that he has gone on to become an instant hit with the Birmingham fans and an England international to boot, goes a fair way to fuelling that argument.

Yet, whilst Upson is in line to face his old club obviously adds a little spice to things but at the same time, it‘s highly likely that his opposite number in the Arsenal side will be Kolo Toure.

At the start of the season, Wenger sprung a surprise by installing young Toure in the Arsenal side as a centre half. Personally I thought the boy was always capable of doing a job there from a physical point of view but the question always was whether he would have the capacity to do the job mentally.

Has the young man come up to scratch? Well, let's put it this way. If I were to pick Arsenal's player of the season so far, then Kolo would be my choice - hands down.

In fact, it makes me wonder what might have been last season if Toure had been drafted into the Arsenal side as a centre half (instead of Cygan) when Upson was sold. Maybe, just maybe things might have turned out differently for us. Still, that's enough indulging in hindsight; it's time to get down to the bottom line.

It's not exactly ideal to have the likes of Vieira, Keown, Lauren and Parlour out through suspension but, taking into account the fact Vieira and Keown are injured anyway, the one we will miss the most out of that quartet is Ray Parlour. Parlour's combative skills would have been highly useful in a game such as this one.

What worries me more is that Gilberto is unlikely to take part in Saturday's game given his commitments on the other side of the world with Brazil. There is also a doubt (once again) over the general fitness of Freddie Ljungberg.

For all that, I think that this an opportunity for Wenger to find out a little bit more about his fringe players. Having decided not to bring Moritz Volz back into the fold, I hope that Wenger resists the option of moving Toure to right back to replace Lauren and then bring Cygan in to play at centre half.

The more progressive thing to do surely in the circumstances is to bring in Justin Hoyte at right back. I know that Wenger is on record as saying that he is often reluctant to throw in his kids too soon for fear of dropping points in the process but your are never ever going know how good the tools you have at your disposal are unless you actually use them.

I am probably not the only Gooner in the country that has deliberated over what side Arsenal will put out for Saturday's game but even if Wenger's selection for the game matches my own, it will be of little relevance over all if we fail to match Birmingham for commitment and effort when the white line is crossed.

Forget the big glamorous games, this is the kind of game that will tell us more about the what the Arsenal are made of. Let's hope that the lads pass the test with flying colours.