Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Birmingham City - Match Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke  
“I’m not worried about that,” mused a reflective Arsène Wenger before Saturday’s Premier League game against Birmingham. “It’s a bad remembrance but I do not go into the game tomorrow thinking it was there that it happened.
“It could have happened against any team. It was very unfortunate and was a big turning point in the season because many negative events happened on that day.
“But we do not go into the game tomorrow thinking about taking revenge. We just want to win the game tomorrow because it will strengthen our position in the League.”

The Frenchman was talking about that dramatic, traumatic game at St Andrews on February 2008 when Eduardo broke his leg in the most horrendous fashion and Arsenal conceded a heart-breaking last-minute penalty to draw 2-2.

The fall-out was costly. The striker lost 11 months of his career and his team lost a Premier League title that seemed theirs for the taking.

Birmingham fared no better. They went down that season so Saturday’s game at Emirates Stadium is the first meeting between the two teams since that fateful day.

Neither Eduardo, nor his tackler, Martin Taylor, will be playing due to injury. Thankfully, that blunts a certain edge this fixture may have had. However the memories remain.

“What sticks in my mind?” Wenger asked himself at his press conference. “That we didn’t win the game and that Eduardo was severely injured. There were a lot of incidents too - the penalty and [William] Gallas’ explosion a little bit.

“I was very angry. I was maybe a bit excessive after the game against Taylor. I apologised but I still think it was a clumsy tackle.

“The game was a big blow overall. We lost Eduardo for the rest of the season and we dropped two points. We couldn’t win after that for a few games, in fact we dropped a few points.

“I don’t believe we fell apart but it was a shock. We made 83 points so it was not a collapse. We lost the championship by only four points.

“With these kinds of things it is always difficult to measure the percentage impact it had on the League. Later on, we lost at Liverpool in the Champions League in strange circumstances and that contributed as well. We didn’t deserve to go out in that game and after that everything became a bit of a snowball effect. So it is difficult to isolate one single incident.”

Apart from Eduardo, Wenger will be without Gael Clichy (ankle), Nicklas Bendtner (groin) and Carlos Vela (the effects of international duty). Lukasz Fabianski was expected to return after knee surgery but remains sidelined after a minor setback. Samir Nasri has recovered from his broken leg and is a fortnight away from a return.

Birmingham have had an interesting week. Carson Yeung completed his takeover of the club and promptly promised manager Alex McLeish £40 million to spend in January. The Hong Kong businessman has spoken about making Birmingham a top European club within a decade.

“That’s a very ambitious plan,” said Wenger when the news was put to him. “It certainly gives Alex McLeish some time because ten years is a quite considerable delay.

“I believe that it is good for them to know they have some funds available as it gets more and more investors in the League.

“But, at the end of the day, there will be one team finishing first and one team finishing last, no matter how much money you put in, because the number of top, top class players available is limited.”

On the pitch, Birmingham have started relatively well. Seven points in their first eight games leaves them in a secure 14th place. However the omens are against them on Saturday. They have a raft of injuries, lost four of their last five games and have not won at Arsenal since 1957.

Meanwhile Wenger’s side have won their last four Premier League games at Emirates Stadium, scoring at least four goals on each occasion.

In fact, Arsenal have set a minor record this term. A tally of 24 goals in their first seven games is a Premier League record and the Club’s highest total for half a century. 

“It’s our style of play,” explained Wenger. “Our offensive drive going forward and the freedom to express your talent.

“Of course it is important for the confidence to score goals. Even when you are 1-0 down, you can keep morale.

“But the pressure is very big and has always been. We do not play for pieces of chocolate, we play for trophies and that’s what we want to win.”

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