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DATE : March 27th, 2010
VENUE : St. Andrew Stadium

Download Birmingham City Goal by Kevin Phillips - 90"
Download Arsenal Goal by Samir Nasri - 81"

By Richard Clarke

A deflected, injury-time equaliser from Kevin Phillips put a large dent in Arsenal's title chances at Birmingham on Saturday.

Arsène Wenger's side seemed to have ground out a crucial victory when substitute Samir Nasri fired home with nine minutes left. It was due reward for the visitors' tenacity this afternoon in one of their toughest fixtures of the remaining campaign.

However all their good work was undone in the dying seconds when, quite incredibly, Bacary Sagna's attempted clearance hit Birmingham substitute Phillips and ballooned over Manuel Almunia.

It was unfortunate for the visitors who, while not at their best, were clearly the better side on the day.

The last time Arsenal played here a 90th-minute equaliser lethally weakened their title chances. Wenger's men would have gone eight points clear in February 2008 had they held out in the final minutes.

This late equaliser, coupled with Chelsea's thumping 7-1 win over Aston Villa, means Arsenal ended the afternoon three points off the team at the top. With Manchester United entertaining Bolton a few hours later, the Emirates Stadium side were likely to be more than a win away from the leaders by Sunday.

A recent reflection on the title race should warn anyone from writing off Arsenal just yet - especially as Manchester United and Chelsea play each other next Saturday.

However their margin for error is now wafer-thin.

Wenger's team selection was always going to be interesting this afternoon. With Thomas Vermaelen suspended, the key decision was at centre back and, in the end, the manager retained the pairing that had ended last week's win over West Ham.

Alex Song was pulled back alongside Sol Campbell so Denilson became the holding midfielder. Abou Diaby completed the central trio.

Elsewhere Wenger made like-for-like swaps - Bacary Sagna for Emmanuel Eboue, Tomas Rosicky for Nasri and Theo Walcott for Andrey Arshavin. The moves were made to freshen up the side but, as a by-product, they also made Arsenal much more attacking.

The return of Eduardo had dominated the pre-match build-up but, in the end, the Croatian began on the bench this afternoon.

Birmingham came into this game with a proud home record. Chelsea and Manchester United had both been held to draws earlier in the campaign. But, with title race so tight, Arsenal simply had to exceed the exploits of their main title rivals.

And they went for it right from the start.

In the third minute, Cesc Fabregas fed Rosicky on the overlap and his low cross was diverted goalwards by Diaby at the near post. If the ball had not hit Lee Bowyer then the Arsenal just might have snatched an early lead.

The visitors continued to ask all the early questions but gradually Birmingham flexed their considerable muscle.

The home side won a succession of free-kicks and, from one in the 10th minute, Denilson's clearance found Craig Gardner, who drove over the bar.

Walcott had a shout of penalty when Liam Ridgewell pushed him over on one of his many excursions into the area. The England winger was already starting to have an influential game.

In the 18th minute, he muscled in front of Scott Dann and went clear for a split-second. However Joe Hart rushed out to block his shot on the edge of the area.

By now, Arsenal were starting to turn the screw again. They penned Birmingham back into their area for a couple of minutes before, midway through half, Sol Campbell thundered a header over the bar from a Fabregas corner.

However this organised and resilient Birmingham side would not be restrained for long.

On the half-hour Bowyer robbed Denilson in midfield and Jerome's drive was brilliantly turned around the post by Almunia. It would be the only genuine save of the first half.

The ex-Cardiff striker had already given the Arsenal defence as much trouble as they wanted. In the 37th minute, he escaped once more on the left and, despite the attentions of Campbell, forced a regulation stop from Almunia.

As half-time approached the tension rose. Arsenal had seen Clichy and Song booked in a tetchy first half.

Those two would spend the second period on a knife-edge. With points so precious, the visitors' title bid was in exactly the same position.

The tension did not dissipate in the opening stages of the second half. If anything it increased.

It took 10 minutes for either side to create a chance. Rosicky darted through the Birmingham defence and fed Diaby. He swivelled into space on the edge of the area and fired first-time. Unfortunately it was straight at Hart.

It seemed that Arsenal were starting to crank up the pressure but, in fact, the chance heralded Birmingham's clearest opportunity of the game.

Denilson fouled Gardner in the centre circle. Barry Ferguson floated free-kick to the far post where the sliding Roger Johnson clipped a lofted volley across Almunia and against the far post. The ball bounced back into the area and hit the knee of Scott Dann before billowing over the bar.

It was a huge let-off for Arsenal and perhaps it precipitated the changes that followed. Wenger swapped both of his wide men, Rosicky and Walcott, for Arshavin and Nasri.

The tide was soon entirely behind Arsenal. They were pressing for the breakthrough with persistence, pushing Birmingham onto the backfoot.

Arshavin's first touch was to shovel a ball back into the path of Nasri, who shot tamely at Hart. Before that Bendtner had failed to anticipated Johnson missing Sagna's right-wing cross.

Diaby planted the ball in the net from range but referee Howard Webb ruled it out for a foul in the build-up.
Arsenal needed more so, with 10 minutes left, Wenger called for Eduardo to come on.

The Croatian trotted over the bench to get stripped. But before he could get on, Arsenal scored. Nasri collected the ball on the right and drove towards the area before letting fly.

The ball flew into the far corner of the net and the Frenchman raced towards the Arsenal fans who were already in a state of delirium. In the wake of the goal, Wenger told Eduardo to sit down again.

Birmingham tried to respond but could not muster much. In fact Arsenal should have killed it off. First Fabregas' fierce free-kick was batted away by Hart then Nasri burst through and tried to find Arshavin when he should have gone for goal. The Russian miscued from close range.

It seemed Arsenal were about to hold on but there was a sting in the tail.

In the second minute of injury time, Birmingham clipped an angled ball into the area. Sagna's clearance hit Phillips and the scrambling Almunia could not stop the ball finding the net.

It was a horrible goal to concede and a horrible end.

The solitary point means Arsenal have fallen off the pace in the title race.

There is still time for them to recover but, from here on in, Wenger's men must be immaculate.

Arsenal lost two vital points here today but they have not lost hope.





DATE : March 20th, 2010
VENUE : Emirates Stadium

Download Arsenal Goal by Denilson - 05" or Here or Here
Download Arsenal Goal by Cesc Fabregas (pen) - 82" or Here or Here

Penalty Incident and Thomas Vermaelen Red Card

Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match First Half or Mirror Here
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Second Half or Mirror Here

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Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 01
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 02
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 03
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 04
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 05
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 06
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 07
Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Full Match Part 08

Download Arsenal vs West Ham United Highlights Match or Here


By Richard Clarke

Ten-man Arsenal went the top of the Premier League table with a tense 2-0 win over West Ham on Saturday evening.

There seemed little problem for almost the entire first half. Denilson fired home after just five minutes and the home side went on to produce a regal display.

However a minute before the break the game changed when Thomas Vermaelen was sent off after conceding a controversial penalty. It was Arsenal's first red card in 68 games.

Although Manuel Almunia made a wonderful save from Alessandro Diamanti's spot-kick, the home team still had a nervy second half to negotiate.

They did it manfully. Apart from Carlton Cole's post-rattling drive, West Ham were kept at a distance. Arsenal sealed the win seven minutes from time when Matthew Upson handled and Cesc Fabregas fired home from the spot.

Wenger's men will drop to third if Manchester United and Chelsea both win their games on Sunday. However even draws could be damaging enough.

Arsenal simple refuse to take the easy route to the title right now. They keep on digging themselves into holes and then finding a way out.

It is heart-stopping and heartening in equal measure.

But their character is shining through.

Wenger made two changes from the side had that beaten Hull so late the previous Saturday. Fabregas (hamstring) and Alex Song (suspension) were back.

Numerically, they replaced Abou Diaby and Bacary Sagna. But in actual fact, the new recruits both came into central midfield so Samir Nasri moved out to the right and Eboue filled in behind him.

This may have been the late game on Saturday but it was the earliest fixture affecting in the title race. Arsenal had been playing catch-up more often than not in recent weeks. Today they finally could put a little pressure on the others.

And it took them only five minutes to start the process.

Denilson received the ball just outside the area, exchanged passes with Bendtner and fired low in the corner. It was the Brazilian's sixth of the season in only his 20th game, not bad for a defensive midfielder.

As usual, he celebrated with a Samba.

The goal was the highlight of a brisk, open start. Bendtner's drive and Alessandro Diamanti's free-kick whistled wide at either end. In the ninth minute, Nasri's chip found Denilson in space 12 yards out. He went for the spectacular and, this time, failed.

Arsenal were fast, fluent and irresistible in the early stages. Eboue threaded a cross-shot beyond the far post through a crowded area and a delightful midfield move only ended when Bendtner's first-time pass just squirted clear of the onrushing Fabregas.

West Ham were on the back foot. Yes Junior Stanislas went clear on the right and his low cross was inches too quick for the sliding Mido. But that, and the early free-kick, was about it for the opening 44 minutes.

Despite the result at Hull last weekend, Arsenal's performance had been patchy. This was very different. Today, Wenger's men were in the groove. Everything seemed effortless. There was always a pass available when they attacked and always a block on hand when they had to defend.

As half-time approached the home team dropped intensity. Still, the only potential problem was the narrowness of the lead given their dominance.

Four minutes before the break they nearly remedied that. First Gael Clichy swept down the left and a near post flick from Fabregas dribbled across goal before Fabio Deprela dealt with the danger. Seconds later, Arshavin picked out the Spaniard at the far post but the West Ham defence were on him before he could get his shot away.

After that the half seemed happy to drift to the break.

But this thriller would end with a twist.

In the dying seconds, Arsenal lost a player and so nearly the lead.

A long ball forward caught them napping. Franco and Vermaelen tussled for the ball and the Italian muscled himself just in front of the Belgian. The Arsenal defender definitely made contact inside and outside the area but the decision was still debatable.

Certainly the penalty AND red card seemed harsh in the circumstances. But the laws of football left referee Martin Atkinson little option once he had blown for the foul.

Wenger felt passionately enough about the decision to seek out the referee as he went off at half time.

That, however, was not the immediate concern. Diamanti had won West Ham a point from the spot at Upton Park. This time he would be denied.

Almunia flung himself to his left to make the save. It was a massive moment in the game and, who knows, maybe the season.

However Wenger's men still had to negotiate the second half.

The good ship Arsenal had been sailing on a millpond for 45 minutes. The remaining 45 would be played out on choppier water.

Certainly it started that way. West Ham had early pressure but Wenger had brought back Alex Song to centre half and the reshuffled defence had enough about them to smuggle away any danger. The closest the visitors came in the opening 20 minutes of the half was a couple of pot-shots from Diamanti.

By then Arsenal had wrestled the initiative. Denilson had a long shot deflected wide and Fabregas went close with a free-kick.

Just before the hour, Wenger brought off Bendtner for Diaby and pushed Arshavin up front. An interesting move but if anything it helped Arsenal create the better chances.

Campbell forced Robert Green into a smothering save with a towering header from Fabregas' free-kick. Twelve minutes from time, Arshavin weaved his way into the area and again force the West Ham keeper into action.

By now Zola had brought on Benny McCarthy and Carlton Cole. He was cranking up all the pressure he could muster.

The latter bundled through the Arsenal defence and fired a low shot against the outside of the far post.

With 10 minutes left the game was in the balance. It was the type of situation in which Wenger's men had buckled in the past.

Yet again this team showed they are made of stronger stuff.

Upson handled Fabregas' just inside the area as the captain tried to clip a pass through to Eboue. This time the decision was obvious and Fabregas buried the penalty.

This was another triumph in adversity, another display of guts and spirit.

But that is standard fare for Arsenal right now and if they continue it until May 9 they might just keep their current position.

* Vermaelen is expected to receive a one-match ban and will miss the trip to Birmingham next Saturday


On the 2-0 victory...
"I believe we had an outstanding game. We played with class and spirit and we kept our nerve when the situation became difficult. So overall we have shown a good attitude, good maturity, and in the important moments in any department we were decisive. I think about the goalkeeper, I think about when we had to move Alex Song to centre back, everybody adapted very well to the situation and technically I believe we were outstanding today."

On West Ham's penalty and Thomas Vermaelen's red card...
"I was upset about both. I felt it was very harsh. We have seen this situation so many times in the game without it being punished at all."

On Manchester United and Chelsea's games on Sunday...

"What we can do is win our games and watch the games in a relaxed way tomorrow and see what happens. We knew a long time ago we had to win our games and we do that in a very, very pleasant way because we play our game and when we have to calm it down we do it. We have improved on the maturity side of our game, when we have to accelerate we can still find the resources and overall I believe what happened today will only add to our belief and our quality in the future games."

On Manuel Almunia...
"He has taken a lot of stick, not always justified I believe. He had a few problems at the start of the season but in the last two or three months I have found him to be outstanding and credit to him, he has silenced the critics."

On the Premier League title race...

"We are not under any special pressure because we are beyond expectation. We want to win the trophy because we are all conscious we have won nothing yet and the hunger is there, the talent is there and I think the nerves are there. So all we can do is rely on the other results of the other teams, so the only thing we can do is master our own results. When you are a footballer you always want to win championships and trophies. People don't realise how young we are. This team will win, the sooner the better. We have a good chance to do it this year. It will be exciting, tight and the response we gave today in the second half was very important in future games."

On Vermaelen's suspension and William Gallas' injury...

"I hope it won't be a problem but we cannot continue to lose centre-backs, that is for sure. You cannot have six centre-backs at a football club because that doesn't make sense. So at the moment we don't have Gallas and today we have lost Vermaelen. Sol Campbell was outstanding but to repeat the games could become a problem for him so I think I have to give him a big holiday next week to recover. He is very important to us and I think it was a very good signing.
"Everybody said I didn't sign anybody and now you can see that I signed somebody. His experience is vital in the dressing room. You need it especially when we get to the period we are in, it's important you have players like Campbell and Almunia who are very influential. They have done it before so players listen to them."

On Alex Song dropping to centre-back...

"I think he was absolutely outstanding. It looked so easy to him to play in this position. I know he can play there, but he was outstanding in midfield earlier in the game. I have no fear to continue with him at centre-back."

On if his side needed the adversity in the match...
"I agree with you. I must say we lost our urgency. I think they were a bit distracted by all the fuss about the draw yesterday. We had not the right urgency. When we were down to 10 men we became more urgent in the second half."

On Robin Van Persie...

"I think he will be back this week. We sent our fitness coach out to Holland where he has been having his rehabilitation. Physically he looks very sharp but we aim at least to wait a month."

Thanks to footballars, kaka3126, wigan88, kc123, arsenal 4-ever, fred54, junior_zanetti, rossonery, pakman, waldek83_1983, MacGuyver, andybg