By Chris Harris
If Portsmouth is a 'retirement home' for veteran Arsenal players like Sol Campbell, Lauren and Kanu, Birmingham is a 'finishing school' for some of the Club's younger prospects.
In recent years a host of young Gunners have arrived at St Andrews in search of regular first-team football. Some have returned to Arsenal after loan spells - Nicklas Bendtner and Johan Djourou - some have used Birmingham as a stepping stone - Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Upson - and others are still there - Fabrice Muamba and Sebastian Larsson.
That last pair are expected to line up against their former club at Emirates Stadium on Saturday and Arsenal can expect a stern examination. The Blues have won at Tottenham, drawn at Liverpool and only lost by the odd goal at Manchester United this season. Indeed, with Alex McLeish now at the helm, Birmingham are arguably the best-equipped of the promoted clubs to stay in the Premier League.
We spoke to Brian Dick of the Birmingham Post for a Blues perspective ahead of this weekend's game. Read on for his take on the season so far, the changes McLeish has made, the impact of the Arsenal old boys and the reason Birmingham will not sit back at Emirates Stadium.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It falls very neatly into pre-Alex McLeish and post Alex McLeish. They were struggling to break even under Steve Bruce but since McLeish has come in the performances have been much better, Huddersfield aside in the FA Cup. They will travel to Arsenal having played very well at Old Trafford and taken a point from Liverpool. At the Emirates they will be compact and confident of at least trying to take a point.
"McLeish has been tremendously impressive. What he has changed most, what has been one of the intangibles is the players' belief. He has encouraged them to get the ball down and play it around and two or three of the players have really responded to that. I think McLeish's hands have been tied a bit as he has had to work with the players that Bruce left him who were constructed on a very conservative set-up. McLeish is trying to be a bit more positive, as he showed when he went to Old Trafford and played two up front. That worked really well and he really has made a very promising start. It will be interesting to see who he brings in over the transfer window."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"If the Player of the Season was awarded now I think I would probably give it to Liam Ridgewell, bearing in mind the fact he crossed the city from Villa. He had to prove himself to the Birmingham City fans and he has done that really well. He has spent much of the season as captain and has been a really solid, consistent player for Birmingham. He is the one player they perhaps can't afford to get injured and on that basis he is probably the most important player for the side and therefore the player of the season so far."
"I think Rafael Schmitz has come in and done a good job. He has been injured for quite a lot of games and played left-back quite a lot when McLeish first arrived but has slotted in at centre-back and although he is only on loan he looks like a good bit of business, especially with Birmingham a bit thin at the back at the moment. As long as he and Ridgewell are together I don't think they should be overly concerned."
"Johan Djourou did OK when he was on loan at Birmingham. It's important to remember that he is an inexperienced lad and at times he looked quite raw. He has all the physical attributes but to my mind he needed to be a bit more positive. He played in central defence a lot and did OK but looked sloppy when he was in midfield. He strikes me as a young man who has immense potential but also has a great deal to learn as well."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The squad needs strengthening and McLeish is definitely chasing a striker. They only have three strikers and the season they went down they only had three strikers. Bruce always said the biggest lesson he learnt was that you can't get through an entire season with only three strikers. I think they need to bring in someone in central midfield - they had a 16-year-old lad on the bench at Huddersfield and although Jordon Mitch is a good prospect, it would not be ideal for him to be going to the Emirates or facing Chelsea. Also, just bodies wise, they do need a central defender with Radi Jaidi at the African Cup of Nations. Goalkeeper is a position that a lot of fans are looking it and thinking that they need a younger man than Maik Taylor."
"We have a couple away with the African Nations Cup, Jaidi and Medhi Nafti. A few are coming back. Schmitz has recovered and Damien Johnson the club captain is fit again although he is likely to play in a mask as he fractured his skull against Fulham. Olivier Kapo is back in after six weeks of niggling injuries, so I think they will be as strong as they can be at the Emirates. McLeish hinted that maybe he would start with two up top with one dropping off and picking up the holding midfielder. I would be surprised if he didn't continue that. He was very concerned with one up front at Bolton that they didn't get enough people in advanced positions to put pressure on their opponents. I can't see him expecting to come to Arsenal, sit for 90 minutes and hope for a 0-0. I think they have to try and get something."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Fabrice Muamba has been brilliant in his first season. You would never confuse him with Zinedine Zidane, he is a combative player and his constructive play needs a bit more work. He has played nearly every game this season and that for someone of his age is incredible - that has been invaluable to Birmingham. Seb Larsson likewise. We saw his value in the win at Tottenham with that screamer in the last minute. Where he is most comfortable is difficult to say at the moment. He is not as consistent as Muamba but he can change a game and if he is on his game he can arguably be their best player."