Sometimes you have to make your own luck

Arsenal 1, Birmingham 0

On a day where Liverpool completely capitulated against last year's purchaser of the Premiership title, this was a match that Arsenal definitely needed to win in order to keep pace with those fuckers in blue. Thankfully, a fortuitous bounce ensured that all three points ended up with the Gunners, although it turned out to be exceedingly harsh on the Brummies.

However, before all that, there were some nervous moments along the way. For the first 20 minutes or so, Birmingham bossed every facet of the game. They were incisive on offense and held their own when Arsenal made a rare foray up the other end. Actually, Ashley Cole had to clear off the line from an Emile Heskey effort (Jens Lehmann did get a piece of it, fair play to him). It could have been better though...it wasn't the only time we'd count our lucky stars that Heskey is deeply, deeply shit.

On an Arsenal counter though, the game became its direct inverse thanks to one rush of blood from Kenny Cunningham. A nice through-ball found Ljungberg level with Cunningham...the Irish international was the last man, and his cynical foul on the Swede resulted in a thoroughly-deserved red card from the referee. Actually, I should clarify that. It was deserved because the rules are what they are...however, I don't know if I'm a big fan of that kind of foul resulting in a straight red. Personally, I wouldn't mind if a last-man infraction resulted in a penalty, no matter where the infraction occured (along with the perpatrator getting a yellow card, of course). To me, a penalty pretty well replicates the chances of scoring as if you had beaten the last man and were in on a breakaway. In both cases, the shot can miss, or the keeper can save it (more on that later!)

Anyway, that effectively ended Birmingham's period of dominance, and began the siege on Maik Taylor's net. However, Taylor ended up being more than up to the task. First off, he saved a penalty. Why yes, after getting fouled by Cunningham to produce the man advantage, Freddie got taken down in the area to win a penalty not 5 or 6 minutes later. Oddly, Pires was the one to take it (he scored in Amsterdam, but still...with Henry out, Lauren of all people has historically been our second-best from the spot). Taylor guessed right, and that was all he had to do...it ended up being a comfortable save thanks to the fact that it wasn't anywhere near the corner. It's the sort of penalty that seems fine when the keeper guesses wrong, and is an automatic save otherwise.

That gave the Brummies some confidence, and their workrate really ought to be commended. They held their shape well, and they were helped by the fact that we got NOTHING from our wingers (Hleb had his worst game yet for us, and Pires...yep...still D-O-N-E). In the occasional times when Arsenal broke through, Taylor was there again and again with a string of absolutely top-class saves. Reyes in particular was his victim, getting denied no less than 5 times in the first half alone. The Brummies got to the half with zeroes on the board, and at that point, I figured that I was looking at the final score.

As the second half wound on, I feared that my halftime prediction was spot on - the lads were running out of invention and ideas, despite the tireless running and energy of Reyes, Ljungberg and Fabregas. Hleb was pulled for Bergkamp, but the Dutchman didn't make much of an impact at all. Later, van Persie came on for Pires, but we still didn't look all that dangerous. In fact, that prick Jermaine Pennant was the architect of some excellent counter-punching chances for the visitors. If Heskey were anything more than a poor man's Didier Drogba (keeping in mind how shit Drogba is), we probably lose this game. Luckily, Heskey was his usual muppet self, and the few chances they did get went begging.

Down the other end, the visitors were just minutes away from a brilliantly-battled draw when a loose ball came out to van Persie outside the area. It was just a hit-and-hope, really, but you do that for a reason. Throw enough shots at the net (no matter what net-based sport it is), and eventually something will break for you. In this case, the ball deflected off one of their guys, which left Taylor completely wrong-footed. However, to give you an idea of how superlative his performance was, he actually changed directions and got there in time. But, a cruel bounce off the pitch was more than even he could stop, as it bounded over him and nestled in the back of the net. To be frank, I was almost too embarrassed to celebrate. We may have deserved the win based on the number of chances created, but I freely admit that I felt gutted for Taylor. To perform like that and still not win, it's the absolute worst, and anyone who has ever put on a pair of gloves (from the pros down to rec-league idiots like me) knows what I'm saying.

Either way, a win is a win, and we'll gladly take it in the wake of the seeimingly-unstoppable machine over there in the west end of London. However, don't be so quick to claim the title yet, comrades. If you have this kind of lead after 20 games, then fine...congratulations on buying success once again. But, I think it will end up being waaaaaay more interesting than the English Press Idiots would have you believe.

We'll see.


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