Arsenal 2 // Birmingham City 1
Arsenal Nasri (pen) 41’, Chamakh 47’
Birmingham Zigic 33’
Red cards Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Man of the match Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
LONDON // Talk about the boot being on the other foot.
Over the past few years Birmingham City are one of the teams Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has had in mind when complaining of opponents who set out to kick his team off the pitch.
Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, has not taken kindly to such accusations, especially the constant references to the horrendous injury suffered by Eduardo, the former Gunners striker, following a tackle by former defender Martin Taylor three years ago.
But the tables were turned yesterday as the abiding memory of an Arsenal win that pushed them into second place of the Premier League was that of the red card issued to Arsenal's Jack Wilshere for a 90th-minute challenge that could easily have put striker Nikola Zigic in hospital.
Fortunately Birmingham's giant Serb suffered no more than mild bruising, but McLeish could not resist pointing out: "Maybe now we will stop keep hearing about, how is it put, 'that' tackle on Eduardo. We have said all along that it was just mistimed, not a reckless one. We were all upset about the outcome, but Zigic could so easily have suffered the same sort of injury.
"Yes we know Jack Wilshere is not a dirty player, but it was a bad tackle. We don't though make any accusations beyond that."
Wenger sheepishly agreed: "I have no complaints with the red card. It was a mistimed tackle and I have spoken to Jack about it."
Until then Wilshere, 18, had been the best player on the pitch, inspiring Arsenal's comeback after going a goal down, as he dominated the central midfield area.
And in some ways the fact that the young England international was chasing back so late in the game and has a competitive bite to his game bodes well for the Gunners.
Arsenal's recent failure to win trophies has been blamed by some on a lack of brawn to match their brain.
Wenger's men had found themselves a goal behind in the 35th minute when Zigic - a £6 million (Dh35m) summer signing from Spanish club Valencia who has so far struggled to cope with the physical side of the English game despite standing over two metres tall - struck a majestic far post header.
"It was just like we used to see in the English game 40 odd years ago," said Wenger.
It was the sort of incisive direct play that still seems anathema to Arsenal. For most of the first half they over-complicated in the final third.
But their pressure eventually told in the 40th minute when striker Marouane Chamakh went down far too easily after contact from the outstretched leg of Scott Dann just inside the area to win a dubious penalty.
"I have to say from the dugout it looked like a penalty," said McLeish. "But the reaction of all my players suggested it was a dive and if Chamakh did dive then I understand how it makes it very difficult for the referee."
Samir Nasri sent Ben Foster the wrong way from the spot kick to ease Arsenal's tension.
"In terms of the title it was imperative we won, but for a long while we were a bit too nervy," said Wenger.
Three minutes after half time, Chamakh showed his more honest qualities as he struck what proved to be the winner with a clever finish after superb approach play by Wilshere.
It was a pity the midfielder's last touch spoiled what had been such a sublime display.