Club Focus – Arsenal – Chamakh The Knife gives Gunners the cutting edge

Arsenal arrested their slump in form to secure three points at home to Birmingham City on Saturday, thanks largely to Marouane Chamakh. The victory allowed them to capitalise on Chelsea’s dropped points against Aston Villa and move within 5 points of the Premier League summit.

The 2-1 victory was hard-fought and appeared only a remote possibility when Nikola Zigic headed the Blues in front. The towering Serb evaded the attentions of Johan Djourou rather too easily, leaving him unmarked with a free header on goal. Djourou was deputising for the absent Laurent Koscielny and the error may well be attributed to rustiness in returning to match fitness. In any case, it left the Gunners with mounting pressure in the face of back-to-back defeats and it took Chamakh’s intervention to restore parity. The Moroccan’s quick feet moved the ball away from Scott Dann’s challenge meaning the only contact made was with ankle rather than ball. Samir Nasri coolly slotted the resulting penalty and Arsenal had the crucial breakthrough just before half time. The winner involved an element of good fortune as Jack Wilshere’s through ball ricocheted into Chamakh’s path, but the composure and close control to round Ben Foster and slot the ball home deserved to produce a match-winning strike.

Chamakh has acclimatised well to the English style of football and also to Arsenal’s style of play, providing a crucial focal point to the attack in the continuing absence of Robin van Persie. Nicklas Bendtner’s imminent return and proclamation: “maybe I am in my best shape ever” increases competition for the central striking role – an option that will surely be welcomed by Wenger. A not so welcome occurrence was the straight red card shown to Jack Wilshere, which tarnished an otherwise good result. Last week Wenger admitted to lying in order to protect his players: “If you ask me have I lied to the press to protect a player, I must honestly say yes. I didn’t feel comfortable but I had a clear conscience because it was for a good cause,” but openly conceded that the youngster’s red card was deserved. Le Professeur has put himself on a pedestal with his tirade against dangerous challenges, so it was refreshing to see him avoid hypocrisy and openly admit to one of his squad committing a bad challenge: “He mistimed his tackle and got a red card, which he deserved. It was more of frustration and did not want to hurt the player, but we do not complain about the red card.

The numerical disadvantage left the Gunners with a nervy finish to the match, as they clung onto their slender lead and was in many ways reminiscent of the Sunderland game after Alex Song’s dismissal. Importantly, the 10 men held out this time around to provide ahead of their return to European action, where they welcome the return of Eduardo with Shakhtar Donetsk, knowing a victory would all but see them through to the last 16.

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