Andrey Arshavin scored a late goal to ensure Arsenal defeated Birmingham City at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal's dominance in the first half was rewarded with two goals from Robin Van Persie and Abou Diaby . The scoreline didn't reflect this, though, as a mistake from Vito Mannone allowed Lee Bowyer to grab a goal back for the Blues before half-time.
To their credit, Birmingham battled on throughout the second half, nearly grabbing an equaliser ten minutes from time. But it was the Russia star who scored the final goal of the game to seal victory for Arsene Wenger's side.
Van Persie fired the Gunners in front in the 16th minute. Following an Arsenal attack, Birmingham cleared the ball to Alex Song, who immediately picked out the Dutchman on the edge of the left-hand side of box with a well-weighted pass.
Van Persie controlled to bring the ball into the penalty area and smashed his shot into the bottom right corner with his left foot.
Arsenal tore open the Birmingham defence with their next attack to extend their lead. Emmanuel Eboue slid the ball to Tomas Rosicky who had made a run into the right-hand side of the box. The Czech Republic international drilled the ball towards the back post, finding Diaby , who side-footed the ball back across Joe Hart and into the top right-hand corner: 2-0 to Arsenal.
Influential | Diaby exerted himself well
Diaby should have scored again in the 25th minute. The Frenchman pounced on a poor header by Lee Carsley and ran at the Birmingham City defence. An excellent run by Theo Walcott distracted the centre-backs and allowed Diaby room to shoot, but the midfielder scuffed his attempt from 20 yards and it went straight to Hart.
Birmingham had an opportunity to grab a goal back as Bowyer was fouled by Diaby around 35-yards from goal. Former Arsenal midfielder Sebastian Larsson stepped up and unleashed a stinging strike on goal, but Vito Mannone got a strong hand to it and saved.
The Blues did manage to claw a goal back in the 38th minute through a goalkeeping mistake by Mannone. The ball was launched into the box and the Italian came to collect but flapped under pressure from Larsson. Mannone spilled the ball to the feet of Bowyer and the former Leeds United midfielder finished easily to make the score 2-1.
Before the half was finished, Andrey Arshavin, a substitute in place of Walcott, unleashed a fantastic effort on goal with his right foot. Joe Hart produced a fine stop to deny the Russian maestro.
Arsenal had a great chance to score at the start of the second half. Diaby found himself in space on the left flank and, when his scuffed cross came to Arshavin yards in front of goal, the Russian controlled and managed to send the ball wide of the right-hand post from close range.
Arshavin pierced the Birmingham defence minutes later with a wonderful dribble. He played the ball towards Cesc Fabregas on the right but Larsson intercepted and played it back to Hart. Fabregas closed down the Birmingham 'keeper, winning the ball back, but ran out of play as he tried to round the 'keeper. The Spaniard never really had control of possession.
Arsenal won an indirect free-kick in the penalty area after Larsson was forced into a back-pass to deny Van Persie a shot on goal. It was the Dutchman who took the responsibility from the set piece and rifled his attempt off the cross-bar from eight yards out.
The Gunners continued to press forward but Birmingham defended tenaciously, as personified by James McFadden's pressing high up the field. The Scot was withdrawn in the 70th minute and replaced by Gary McSheffrey.
Valiant | McFadden relished the midfield battle
Van Persie whipped in a corner from the right that found Thomas Vermaelen at the back post. The Belgian headed goalwards but his attempt was redirected by William Gallas. Hart looked to have the header covered.
The Dutch forward was involved again as Fabregas won a free-kick on the right. Van Persie hit a searing effort towards the far corner—it was a viscious strike but curling inches wide of the post. Song was lurking but couldn't quite get there to divert the ball home.
Birmingham were also looking for an equaliser and had a great chance in the 81st minute when Bowyer crossed from the right towards Ridgewell at the back post. The former Villa defender played the ball across the box first time and Mannone came off his line quickly to thwart two oncoming Birmingham attackers.
This proved to be a key intervention, as Arsenal scored minutes later. Mannone collected the ball and handed it to Fabregas, the Spaniard advanced quickly upfield and fed Arshavin on the left flank. The Russian drove into the penalty area and cut inside, creating half a yard, and curled the ball into the side netting beyond Joe Hart for 3-1 to Arsenal.
In the dying moments of the game, Hart produced a fantastic save to deny Diaby. Eboue held the ball on the right and clipped the ball into the centre. The Frenchman hit the ball first time and the 'keeper dived to his left, saving from point blank range.
This article was first published on Goal.com