Birmingham City 0 Arsenal 3: Swing Low Sweet Arsenal

Last updated : 23 November 2003 By Brian Dawes

Savage clashes with Dennis
Our starting eleven was not as predicted by most. Kolo moved to right back, to be replaced by Cygan in central defence, while Rob joined Edu in the centre and was replaced by young Clichy on the left side of midfield. Dennis was captain and played his part to the full. With Gilberto jetlagged, Vieira, Keown, Parlour and Lauren suspended and Wiltord injured this was a side that might have been up against it but did their stuff superbly well.

It was a wet rainy day in England and it rained most of the way to Brum and most of the way back but we didn’t get wet going to, from or in the ground. At thirty-eight quid a seat in a stadium that offers no big screens, little excitement apart from the way team and not so much as a clock they were clearly having a laugh with their pricing policy as Arsenal fans were to point out to them later in the proceedings.

Referee Paul Durkin did his best to balance the match as a contest by allowing Forssell and Clemence to jump at their men all afternoon rather than the ball, while Savage as usual hacked away like a demented combined-harvester at anything that moved. Not only did Cygan have to cope with Forssell backing in and jumping at him but had the additional handicap of Durkin awarding free kicks against him for the pure pleasure of a wind-up.

Even with Dugarry Birmingham could bore for England, without him they had all the footballing imagination of your average breeze-block. They relied totally on set pieces, which amounted to first a dive to obtain the free kick and then a big pump into the box and the hope of a Brummy head making contact. This seemed to be enough to excite their fans so they obviously deserve one another. The brain dead Midlanders slated Cole all afternoon but he rose above their ignorance and had a fine match.

The match opened with a dive by Forssell and the first thing of any note was a long-range shot by Henry. Thierry had a quite game by his standards just the occasional glimpse of a genius at work and three assists. It took us all of four minutes to take the lead and it came about when Dennis fought his way through to find Thierry who slipped it on for Freddie who was on one of his perfectly timed runs to grab the opener. 0-1 Arsenal and we do indeed ‘Love you Freddie because you’ve got red hair’, even though you haven’t.

Dennis was in form today and it took a combined foul by Cisse and Savage to stop him. Cisse hacked Dennis again and earned the first yellow card of the afternoon. Savage then chopped Edu. Good work from Gael Clichy who looked calm and assured resulted in a chance, but a horrible sliced shot by Dennis was all we got. A Henry solo and shot was followed by a good spell of passing from Arsenal, while at the other end Lazaridis was caught offside in a rare Blues attack. Durkin felt the need to show he’d seen something so when Kolo slipped on the greasy surface and a home played fell over Kolo who was by then laying on the ground our man was awarded with a yellow card.

A Brum attack ended with a near post scramble going wide. Cygan was positive, Clichy was giving Cole some rare cover down our left, Kolo was better going forward than defending the right back role, Sol was commanding, Freddie was very busy, Rob was a bit in and out and Edu was working hard. Birmingham were working hard but most of it was the standard Savage headless chicken running, which might be good enough for Wales but obviously not for the Premiership. Brum attempted a few one-twos but disappeared up their own jacksie in the process. Henry was being climbed on all over his back and pulled around continuously but Durkin knew better. What a ginger prat.

Cole out-jumped the taller Clemence as Arsenal chose to defend deep. A great sprint down the right by Toure saw his low cross go behind the advancing Henry. Lehmann managed to stay awake and was out fast for a through ball. A big shove in the back on Cygan was missed by the Gerkin and a corner followed. An angled shot by Lazaridis had no chance against a decent keeper so it certainly didn’t worry Jens. Upson headed over from a corner and then Dennis showed his iceman demeanour whilst clearing from the Blues. A great high tip-on by Jens from another Lazaridis cross, their only real threat.

A fine Henry run won us a corner. A frantic little spell of hacking here there and everywhere threatened to boil over into something else but blew itself out. Dennis to Freddie with a neat ball as Thierry’s excellent run drew defenders away from the real action. Kolo up against three defenders won a corner but a goal kick was given. Dennis’ cross to Thierry did win a corner though. Some more crap refereeing as Forssell slammed backwards into Cygan and got a free kick for his trouble just before half time. A better team might have made it pay. Kolo took a truly awful foul throw, with his trailing leg about a foot off the ground, but it was not spotted by Durkin or his lino. We ended the half with a deserved lead, Birmingham were not dead and buried yet but they hadn’t really threatened to do much, other than chop away at the ankles.

Arsenal attacked towards the Gooners after the break and started brightly as Rob whipped in a low cross from the right that was cleared. Kolo was ignoring his yellow card and steaming in hard while Clemence continued to dive around. Forssell who has a face like the ghost of Christmas past was no threat for Sol, and Dunn their only footballer on show was disappointing today. The rest of the Blues just huffed, puffed and looked for free kicks. Such an imaginative game plan by Bruce.

Pires makes it three - Game over
Henry who’d been a bit quiet had a run down the left and crossed to the far post where Cunningham forced Taylor to save a possible own goal. Clichy who’d had a solid Premiership debut was replaced by Kanu who went into central midfield at about the same time as Rob began his hop step and jump routine against the likes of Savage and was wisely moved to the flank. Bob had made some good tackles, so maybe he just remembered the upcoming Inter game and was saving himself. ‘£38 quid you’re having a laugh’ an original chant which spawned a rash of ‘having a laugh’ chants from the travelling Gooners.

A good catch from Lehmann. Cisse replaced by Stern John. A near post header that went narrowly wide got a lot of Brummies excited but this was the closest they came. Arsenal were generally in control and both Dennis and Freddie worked their way into the box but a second goal wasn’t inevitable. Henry though was getting in the mood and was happy to take on three at a time, at one point he sold all three a dummy. Edu picked up a card for something that wasn’t a million miles away from being a good tackle, he played well did Edu. Jens was required to punch clear, something he seems to do quite well and with plenty of distance.

The break came with Birmingham pretty well all in our half. Henry put a through ball across the halfway line for Dennis to chase. Our number 14 was hit late but our number 10 was clear and on the charge, it’s the fastest I’ve seen Dennis for a while and he’d started inside our own half. When he got to the one on one with their keeper he drew him out and chipped him, a real peach of a goal. 0-2 Arsenal game over. Jeers of ‘Cheerio’ to the departing Brummies as Kolo had a fine solo down our right.

‘Top of the League we’re having a laugh’ ‘Beat the Arsenal? You’re having a laugh’ Great saving header from Ashley Cole. Great play by Kanu who did a top job in midfield. Hughes ‘Who?’ on for Lazaridis. Morrison on for the Ghost of Christmas past. Henry in playful mode drew defenders to him and slid a tasty little diagonal ball to Rob who passed it past their keeper to make it a 0-3 stuffing. ‘Super, super Rob’

Time left for Ashley and Thierry to take the piss before Aliadiere and Hoyte get a measly two minutes of added time to show their worth, replacing Dennis and Rob. Morrison hit a shot over our bar, well he would wouldn’t he, they only practice headers by the look of it.

A fine win and three more points. It was also the start of the Arsenal song sheet which did the rounds today. A worthy enterprise. It will take time to get the new songs going and even longer to establish them by practising in the pubs before matches, but a top job by all those who’ve contributed and made the effort to distribute the new songs. Spread the word all.