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
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.