Wenger's tough talk on tackling backfires

Arsenal 2 Birmingham City 1: Manager's call for action results in Wilshere seeing red as Arsenal ride luck.
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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger may be more careful about what he wishes for in future. After using his programme notes for yesterday's match to call for strong action by referees on dangerous tackles, he saw Jack Wilshere, the man of the match, sent off in injury time for exactly the type of challenge that he had identified.

With Arsenal nervously holding on to a 2-1 lead, Wilshere dived in recklessly from behind on Nikola Zigic, the Birmingham City forward, catching the Serb's ankle and being shown a straight red card by Martin Atkinson, the referee.

"We must fight to keep beautiful tackling, and that's tackling with the desire to get the ball back, rather than jumping in at any cost, " Wenger had written. But he had also added that "Managers... are all responsible for the behaviour of our teams," and, to his credit, he did not display his occasional myopia where his players' shortcomings are concerned afterwards, even if he defended Wilshere as far as he could.

"He mistimed his tackle and got a red card he deserved," Wenger said. "It was his first tackle in the game. He didn't spend his whole game kicking people, he was one of the best players on the pitch. It was more frustration. We do not complain about this tackle, but you cannot say that he had a dirty game."

This fixture, of course, is remembered by both sides for the leg and ankle injuries suffered by Eduardo da Silva in a challenge by Martin Taylor of Birmingham at St Andrew's in February 2008. "We've had to put up with the Eduardo stuff every time we play Arsenal," Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, said. "Martin Taylor is not a dirty player, but it was a mistimed tackle and it caused terrible damage to Eduardo. That tackle could have caused Zigic a lot of damage. We know that Wilshere is not a dirty player, but it shows that players can mistime tackles."

In fact, Emmanuel Eboué could also have been shown a red card, rather than yellow, for a two-footedchallenge on Liam Ridgewell of a type also described in Wenger's notes. As it is, only Wilshere will serve an automatic three-match ban after a match that Arsenal had to come from behind to win, Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh scoring either side of the interval after Zigic had put the visitors ahead.

Arsenal were far from their best but three points – which took them into second place in the Premier League table – were all that matteredfollowing a home defeat by West Bromwich Albion and a 2-0 reverse away to Chelsea. "It was imperative," Wenger said. "Our fluency was affected by the fact that we hadn't won for two games and it was never comfortable today."

Arsenal, though, began strongly, Abou Diaby leading the way in an attacking midfield role. Eboué's unintentional backheader from Sebastian Larsson's free-kick was the only effort to trouble Lukasz Fabianski until the 33rd minute, when the 6ft 8in Zigic outjumped Johan Djourou to head in Keith Fahey's cross.

Arsenal, though, equalised in controversial fashion four minutesbefore the break. Scott Dann ended a run by Wilshere with a well-timed tackle, but as he went to clear the loose ball, Chamakh nipped in and Dann's foot made contact with the Arsenal forward instead. Chamakh's theatrical fall angered the Birmingham defenders, but a penalty was the decision, and Nasri converted.

"It looked like a penalty, but when I saw the players' reaction I thought there was more to it," McLeish said. "People are going to dive and if that's the case it's difficult for referees."

Barely two minutes into the second half, Arsenal were ahead, and luck was on their side again. Chamakh ran on to Wilshere's clever flicked pass but turned his back as Stephen Carr challenged, only to find the ball at his feet after all, and reacted quickly to round Ben Foster and score.

Arsenal could have scored more, but fell into a familiar pattern of over-elaboration. A better final ball on a number of occasions might have settled the nerves which resulted in Wilshere's aberration.

Bookings: Arsenal: Eboué, Nasri. Birmingham: Carr, Bowyer.

Sending-off: Arsenal: Wilshere

Attendance: 60,070

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Man of the match: Wilshere