Gunners glide past Blues
Arsenal produced a polished performance to beat Birmingham 3-0 and stay in touch with the top two.
Last Updated: 01/01/11 10:16pm
Arsenal produced a polished performance to beat Birmingham 3-0 at St Andrews and stay in touch with the Premier League's top two.
A pulsating first half full of chances and controversy ended with the Gunners holding a slender edge thanks to Robin van Persie's deflected free-kick on 13 minutes.
Van Persie was very much the central figure early on as Birmingham felt he had gone down too easily to win the set-piece, with the Dutchman then fortunate not to concede a penalty when the ball struck his outstretched arm inside the Arsenal box.
Van Persie also missed a glorious opportunity to make it 2-0, while Roger Johnson blazed a volley over Lukasz Fabianski's crossbar at the other end from close range.
Johnson had earlier been shown just a yellow card for a mistimed tackle on Cesc Fabregas and Lee Bowyer escaped punishment for a stamp on Bacary Sagna as the second half started in a similarly competitive manner.
But Arsenal began to break down Birmingham's resistance and turn on the style as the match progressed, with Samir Nasri curling a sumptuous second past Ben Foster just before the hour mark.
Foster had to pick the ball out of his net for a third time before the final whistle when Johnson scored an own goal following a slick Gunners move.
Birmingham were left chasing shadows in the closing stages as they went down to a rare home defeat that leaves them second bottom, while Arsene Wenger's men remain just two points behind Manchester United and Manchester City.
Having been criticised in some quarters for making changes following the 2-2 draw with Wigan, Wenger restored the starting XI that had so dismantled Chelsea so majestically just after Christmas.
Arsenal started brightly and Theo Walcott skated past the challenge of left-back Liam Ridgewell but shot into the side netting from a narrow angle.
Foster was called into action for the first time in clinging onto a low drive from Van Persie after being teed up by Fabregas.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy and after 13 minutes Van Persie put them ahead when Scott Dann was adjudged to have brought down the Dutchman just outside the area.
Van Persie's free-kick took a deflection off Lee Bowyer and flew past Foster into the corner of the net.
Birmingham tried to retaliate and it needed a fine save from Fabianski after Fabregas had fouled Craig Gardner.
Former Arsenal midfielder Sebastian Larsson's free-kick was lifted over the defensive wall and Fabianski had to go full stretch to his right to keep out the effort.
Arsenal were still looking the more dangerous and a reverse pass from Nasri played in Van Persie only for his control to let him down.
A defence-splitting pass from Fabregas picked out Walcott but his first touch left a lot to be desired and Foster was able to collect.
Birmingham were struggling to move out of second gear although Johan Djourou was yellow carded after hauling down Cameron Jerome.
The home side had claims for a penalty turned down by referee Peter Walton when Van Persie looked to control the ball with his arm after Johnson headed back across goal.
Arsenal were carving out plenty of chances and Van Persie found himself with only Foster to beat, but he tried to clip the ball over Foster and failed to make proper contact on his shot.
The game was now more open and Johnson squandered a good opportunity when he volleyed wide after Jerome had flicked on a Larsson free-kick.
But Arsenal were soon back on the offensive at the start of the second half and the influential Fabregas, on his 200th Premier League appearance, created an opening for Walcott.
However, the England winger completely miskicked across the face of goal.
The chances continued to fall to Arsenal and Jack Wilshere should have marked his 18th birthday with a goal. Walcott's chip was turned back to an unmarked Wilshere eight yards out but he sidefooted over the bar.
Foster then did well to block an effort from Nasri after a mistake by Johnson had allowed him a free run at goal, but it came as no surprise when Nasri made it 2-0 after 57 minutes.
He exchanged passes with Fabregas before driving a low shot past Foster just inside the box.
Eight minutes later it became 3-0 with an own goal from Johnson. Nasri set up Fabregas, whose shot was blocked by Foster, but the loose ball bounced off Dann and then Johnson and over the line.
Arsenal were now rampant and Fabregas had a free run into the area but fired high and wide. Foster was equal to a low drive from Walcott who was in acres of space and then turned a low shot round the post from substitute Andrey Arshavin.
Blues looked well beaten and Dann needed to make a last-ditch tackle to deny Van Persie a second goal.
|Birmingham City||Team Statistics||Arsenal|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|1||Shots on Target||11|
|4||Shots off Target||7|