Birmingham v Arsenal, Premier League, March 27, 2010
â€œI donâ€™t consider Barcelona for the next game. At the back we need to be solid to win this game [at Birmingham]. We fight the whole season to be in there and this is a priority. I believe my players are very intelligent and if we were distracted it would mean we were not [intelligent]. The best way to prepare for Barcelona is to win the game before. We have fought like mad until now to be in the position we are in. Itâ€™s ten months preparation, fight and work to be where we are in the championship so we want to take advantage of that and win the Birmingham game.â€ â€“ Arsene Wenger.
It is not only the spectre of the worldâ€™s best team hanging over this match. The last time Arsenal played at St Andrews was that game in February 2008 where the Gunners were pegged back in a 2-2 draw late on (17.23 to be the same score) and Eduardo suffered a horrific injury.
The Crozilian striker has an outside chance of playing for Arsenal at Birmingham with Nicklas Bendtner nursing an ankle injury although the Dane is expected to start. Eduardo will likely be on the bench and the romantics will be hoping for a goal scoring cameo appearance as he returns to Birmingham.
Leaving Barcelona and Eduardoâ€™s injury aside, three points are the most important thing for Arsene Wengerâ€™s side. Since the 10-men victory over West Ham last Saturday both Manchester United and Chelsea have leapfrogged the Gunners and in his press conference on Thursday Wenger spoke of winning all seven remaining matches. (Arsenal are 3.60 to win the Premier League.)
Of the games left for Arsenal in 2009/2010 this looks to be one of the trickiest especially as Thomas Vermaelen will miss out after receiving a red card against West Ham. As a result this will be the first Premier League game of the season with neither the Belgium defender or William Gallas in the centre of the Gunners defence. Alex Song is expected to start alongside Sol Campbell in the middle of the backline and the likes of Denilson and Abou Diaby will have to win the midfield battle against Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson. (2.28 to bet on either Birmingham or a draw.)
The home side will be smarting from their defeat at Blackburn on Wednesday night in a game where they were undone with a brace from old boy David Dunn. Manager Alex McLeish felt his side played well and James McFadden scored a fine free-kick, as he did against Arsenal in March 2008.
With their Premier League safety assured Birminghamâ€™s recent form has been pretty woeful. They have picked up just one point from the last possible nine and their last win came at bottom club Portsmouth just days after they had been knocked out the FA Cup by the same opponents.
Striker Cameron Jerome has been on a hot streak though. The 23-year-old striker has scored four in his last four games and will be a real handful for Song, Campbell and co. McLeishâ€™s main dilemma will be who to partner Jerome with, on Wednesday it was McFadden whilst for much of the campaign it was Christian â€œChuchoâ€ Benitez. If he plays Sebastian Larsson will also be eager to impress against his former club. (1.80 to be more than one goal in the game.)
On paper there looks like only one team with anything left to play for this season which points the way of the Gunners. Throw in the Eduardo factor and Arsenalâ€™s recent win at Stoke after Aaron Ramseyâ€™s injury and we are likely to see a hugely spirited performance from the away side. Birmingham though will be keen to prove their mettle at home – both Chelsea and Manchester United drew at St Andrews.
101gg predicts: Birmingham 1 â€“ Arsenal 3 (9.48)