Birmingham City 0 Arsenal 2: Henry masks Arsenal's deficiencies
Captain holds fort as Campbell announces his return
Sunday 05 February 2006
The Campbell news broke just before the interval at St Andrew's, via an announcement from his solicitor, that not only was the player about to end his hideaway spell following a nightmarish first half against West Ham at Highbury last week, but he was also insisting that, contrary to wild and frequent rumour, he had "no personal problems". Wenger revealed that this was old news to him, Campbell having telephoned to inform him on Friday.
"It was a short conversation. He is OK," said the Arsenal manager. And will there be a welcome at the training ground for the old defensive warrior on Monday? "I don't know," said Wenger. "I plan to take the day off." As to whether the reshaped Arsenal defence, with Johan Djourou alongside Philippe Senderos in the centre, was better or worse in the absence of Campbell, Wenger smiled: "That is a subject I leave to you," before making the point that he had picked a "very, very young team" with eight players under the age of 22.
He called the victory "a great performance of which the boys can be very proud," adding that it was a perfect way to rebut the criticisms flying in the direction of his players. Not quite perfect, perhaps. The remodelled defence grew in authority and confidence after a Dad's Army start in which everyone sought to out-panic his colleague.
They would surely have been punished by a better side than Birmingham, and it was indicative of the desperation of the home side's manager, Steve Bruce, that he eventually threw on two extra strikers, Mikael Forssell and the other Campbell, City's new signing from Brentford, Dudley, alongside Chris Sutton and Emile Heskey.
The quartet was, in short order, reduced to three when Heskey, unfortunate to have been shown a yellow card for an accidental collision with Senderos, drew a second yellow and dismissal from the referee, Mike Riley, when Mathieu Flamini made a meal of their mid-air clash and lay prone. The normally equable Heskey raged, with some justification, about his fate and had to be restrained from inflicting retribution on Flamini.
It was Birmingham's seventh sending-off of the season, and Bruce considered it harsh. While conceding that the second offence was a foul, the manager insisted, with reason, that the first card had been awarded unreasonably. He also pointed out that Henry, having been cautioned early on for dissent, then fouled Jermaine Pennant and was not treated as Heskey was.
"There has to be consistency," he complained. "If we are not careful, we are going to ruin a fantastic spectacle. Who wants to see 10 men? We are fighting for our livelihood, so Emile's frustration is understandable."
While Arsenal's defence were still getting to know each other their goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, proved the saviour, hurling himself to his left to turn away Jiri Jarosik's shot.
Arsenal, who had not scored away since Boxing Day at Charlton, were soon able to relax. Henry slid one of his speciality passes out to Abou Diaby on the right and the low cross struck the Czech centre-half Martin Latka, rebounded from goalkeeper Maik Taylor and flew into the air to provide a simple scoring header for the £7.5m arrival from Monaco, Emmanuel Adebayor, making his debut after participation in the African Nations' Cup.
Adebayor could have had a second in a breakaway, placing his effort too close to Taylor. In the second half, only an air shot by Gilberto prevented a second Arsenal goal from Henry's perfectly floated free kick, but the clincher was not long in arriving. Cesc Fabregas released a slide-rule pass from inside his own half to Henry near the centre circle and the great man accelerated away, brilliantly finishing with an unstoppable left-footer across Taylor's despairing dive. Arsenal's relief was palpable, particularly among their defence, as they swarmed to congratulate him.
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