Frustrating for Arsenal

Arsenal certainly had their chances. But they could take only one, though the penalty won following smart work from Hleb and Eduardo will have Birmingham fans still in dispute, writes Jamie Jackson.

Alex McLeish ended this game triumphantly punching towards his bench, Arsene Wenger with a face palsied in anger. It was a draw that derived from Arsenal’s flakiness at the back.

And it is a deficiency that will offer particular encouragement to Manchester United that the loss of Kolo Toure — despite Wenger’s denial after the match — to the African Nations Cup could cost Arsenal over the next month, after the y had emerged from the festive period as League leaders.

“It was very frustrating,” Wenger admitted. “The crowd was very good, but we were not. Birmingham defended well and we were punished for a lack of concentration on a set piece. But we also didn’t create enough.”

Arsenal certainly had their chances. But they could take only one, though the penalty won following smart work from Hleb and Eduardo will have Birmingham fans still in dispute. On 21 minutes, the Belarussian slipped an intricate pass to the Croatia striker inside the area. But as he ran at Maik Taylor’s goal, Stephen Kelly appeared to make the only legitimate tackle on offer to him — through Eduardo’s legs. The right-back took the ball cleanly, the Emirates rose to claim the penalty, and after a pause Phil Dowd acquiesced. ‘Harsh,’ was McLeish’s description. Taylor got a hand to Adebayor’s strike, but it was not enough.

Birmingham, though, created their own moments before and after this knock-back. After 17 minutes Cameron Jerome was put through by Oliver Kapo. The 21-year-old left the ponderous Philippe Senderos pondering some more with a flash of pace, before his shot drew a good save from Manuel Almunia. That gave Birmingham a first corner. From the kick, Kapo’s header caused a muted appeal for a penalty following an apparent Arsenal handball. But the visitors appeared to have a stronger case just before the half-hour. From a free-kick to the right of Arsenal’s area, Senderos appeared to pull down Kapo. Up went the Blues fans, but down stayed the referee’s hand.

Senderos’ performance, because of Toure’s absence, had been the obvious concern during the first period. After the break it cost Arsenal. “I don’t think so,” was Wenger’s take. “I don’t believe Senderos was involved. We had three other players involved who did not jump for the ball.” He was correct that the Swiss defender was not one of those offenders. But maybe he should have been present to deal with a corner delivered by Sebastian Larsson into the difficult area right in front of goal. Instead, Bacary Sagna, Mathieu Flamini and Adebayor fell over each other and Garry O’Connor. This allowed the Scot to head beyond Almunia — via Fabregas’ leg — for a second League goal this season.

The results

January 13: Bolton 1 (Nolan 43) lost to Blackburn 2 (Samba 53, Roberts 90). Half-time: 1-0; Sunderland 2 (Richardson 33 & 44) bt Portsmouth 0. Half-time: 2-0.

January 12: Arsenal 1 (Adebayor pen-21) drew with Birmingham 1 (O’Connor 48). Half-time: 1-0; Aston Villa 3 (Carew 22 & 88, Laursen 55) bt Reading 1 (Harper 90). Half-time: 1-0; Chelsea 2 (Belletti 19, Wright-Phillips 80) bt Tottenham 0. Half-time: 1-0; Derby 0 lost to Wigan 1 (Sibierski 82). Half-time: 0-0; Everton 1 (Lescott 31) bt Manchester City 0. Half-time: 1-0; Manchester United 6 (Ronaldo 49, 70 & 88, Tevez 55 & 90, Ferdinand 85) bt Newcastle 0. Half-time: 0-0; Middlesbrough 1 (Boateng 26) drew with Liverpool 1 (Torres 71). Half-time: 1-0; West Ham 2 (Ashton 28, Ferdinand 69) bt Fulham 1 (Davies 8). Half-time: 1-1.