Birmingham City 0 Arsenal 2: Diaby and Adebayor hint at brighter Arsenal future

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The Independent Football

Beset by concerns about the well-being and whereabouts of Sol Campbell, Wenger resorted to youth to revitalise a team that had fallen off the pace in the Premiership and been turfed out of both domestic cup competitions. He was rewarded by several encouraging displays, especially by Abou Diaby, 19, and Emmanuel Adebayor, 21.

With help from old stagers Thierry Henry and Jens Lehmann (who would have thought the flaky flapper would turn into a rock of reassurance behind a back four with an average age of 20?), they stood up to a tough physical challenge from a Birmingham side fighting against relegation. Then they picked them off.

"These young boys are not starting on the red carpet, but in very different conditions," Wenger said, viewing the game as an audition. "To show that kind of character is necessary, because you're always under pressure at Arsenal."

To complete one of the better days in the club's turbulent recent history, the Frenchman revealed he had spoken to Campbell and the troubled defender was ready to return to training. "It has been a difficult week for everybody, but we've shown that everyone buried us a little too quickly," Wenger remarked pointedly

Whether it will feature Henry remains, like Birmingham's long-ball game, up in the air. The captain, prominent in the build-up to Adebayor's early headed opener in a fine debut, ran on to a precise pass by Cesc Fabregas to score a sumptuous 200th goal for Arsenal at the ground where he reached his first century. Would he be back for No 300 in three years? "We will see," he replied, reading the questioner's intent.

Pressed about Henry's future, Wenger said he felt the player was "happy", adding: "Look at his performance. He was determined and motivated for 90 minutes." Henry, for his part, waxed enthusiastic about his fresh-faced colleagues, though that is no guarantee that he will be around to help them blossom in the new stadium.

Diaby's height, like the power that once took him through three tackles, invite comparisons with Patrick Vieira. "He can hold the ball and he'll do an amazing job for us away from home," purred Henry. "Look at his run and cross for the first goal. That's what we've lacked sometimes."

Wenger agreed there was "some similarity" with Vieira but warned against expecting too much too soon. "I always say you're a good player when you've had 150 Premiership games. He has played three. Each has been better than the last, but give him time. Don't put too much pressure on him."

Adebayor, from Togo, will be likened to Kanu for his skill and stature; yet this Manu is anything but petit. Henry hailed him as "an old-fashioned centre-forward", noting that "he likes to keep the ball, which is really important because then we can actually play".

Ball-retention, not to mention distribution, was not conspicuous in Birmingham's midfield. Jermaine Pennant had the beating of Sebastian Larsson yet seldom received possession in areas where he could play to the aerial ability of Chris Sutton and Emile Heskey.

Heskey's dismissal for two questionable yellow cards compounded Steve Bruce's frustration. The striker is now suspended for tomorrow's FA Cup replay with Reading, and Bruce's signing from Brentford, Dudley "DJ" Campbell, is Cup-tied following a pacy, skilful cameo here. Birmingham may need to win six of their 14 games to survive, but at least Campbell is unlikely to go missing.

Goals: Adebayor (21) 0-1; Henry (63) 0-2.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Melchiot, Latka, Upson (Bruce, 87), Gray; Pennant, Butt, Izzet (Campbell, 69), Jarosik; Heskey, Sutton (Forssell, 69). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Tebily.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Flamini, Djourou, Senderos, Larsson; Fabregas, Gilberto Silva, Diaby, Reyes (Hleb, 75); Henry, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Pires, Bergkamp, Walcott.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Birmingham: Heskey, Sutton. Arsenal: Henry, Larsson, Diaby. Sent off: Heskey.

Man of the match: Diaby.

Attendance: 27,075.