Gunners' stars inspired in two-goal win over Brummies

Arsenal 2

This was wounded pride at its most potent.

Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord and Patrick Vieira had been shadows of their normal selves in the Far East amid France’s embarrassing early exit.

Back in Highbury, however, they were as inspired as ever as Arsenal made an imposing start to the defence of their title against the Premiership newcomers.

Henry struck the early opener, albeit with a helping hand by keeper Nico Vaesen and was a constant thorn in the visitors’ side thereafter.

His strike was nevertheless outclassed by Wiltord’s mesmerising solo effort as Birmingham, who were reduced to 10 men late on with new signing Aliou Cisse sent off, were comprehensively outplayed.

With Vieira also producing a midfield masterclass, it was clear that the painful World Cup memories of the French trio were being summarily consigned to the history books.

Beginning this campaign as confidently as they finished the last, Arsenal are quite clearly determined to heed their manager’s call to establish themselves as the dominant force in English football.

This victory, which established a Premiership record of 14 consecutive league wins, was founded on the same virtues of pace, movement and teamwork that took them to the title.

Having emerged to raucous chants of ‘‘champions’’, they proceeded to prove to their rivals that there is no intention to rest on their laurels.

After all, up against a team deploying a back five and an industrious closely-knit midfield trio designed to deprive the home side of central space, Arsenal could have struggled to impose themselves.

Instead, they took to the flanks to circumvent Birmingham’s defences and were also aided by Vaesen’s costly handling error after just nine minutes.

There appeared little real danger from Henry’s softly-struck 20-yard free-kick only for Vaesen to flap at the ball as it bounced in front of him, allowing it to roll inside the post.

The Belgian displayed rather sharper reflexes soon afterwards as Henry pounced onto a cross by Wiltord but it was not long before Arsenal struck again.

After Stern John had blazed a half-chance well over, the immediate comparison with the finishing prowess of Wiltord could hardly have been greater midway through the first half.

Following a foul on Dennis Bergkamp, the Frenchman seized on a loose ball on the halfway line and gathered momentum as he surged towards the visitors’ goal.

Cisse, Damien Johnson and Kenny Cunningham tried to bar his path but that was merely an invitation to Wiltord to find another gear and burst clear before unleashing a cultured finish into the far corner.

Birmingham were now being picked apart almost at will. Ray Parlour was the next to threaten, with Vaesen this time managing to rescue his side, while Sol Campbell struck the post with a header.

Arsenal did have to reshuffle as Bergkamp went off with a tight calf muscle, being replaced by Gilberto Silva as Wiltord moved up front from the left flank.

However, their dominance continued and a long-range pot shot by Olivier Tebily, which was easily grasped by David Seaman, was Birmingham’s first effort on target nine minutes before half-time.

Neither side could reasonably have complained at the match ending then, with Arsenal simply resuming their advantage after the break despite strangely failing to score again.

Darren Purse’s last-ditch tackle denied Wiltord, while Henry, Edu and Silva also came close, but Arsenal allowed the tempo of the game to drop in the heat.

Birmingham did come back into the fray but Cisse displayed his growing frustration levels with two late tackles in four minutes leading to his dismissal.

It was incredible that Arsenal did not extend their lead but Purse produced two goal-line clearances, first from Parlour and, then, an amazingly acrobatic lunge to frustrate substitute Kolo Toure.

Vaesen also denied Vieira amid frantic late pressure but the result had never been in any real doubt.

Birmingham’s season was always realistically going to begin next weekend at home to Blackburn. Arsenal, however, had started exactly as they mean to go on.

ARSENAL: Seaman, Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Cole, Parlour, Vieira, Edu (Toure 86), Wiltord (Aliadiere 76), Bergkamp (Silva 31),

BIRMINGHAM: Vaesen, Kenna, Cunningham, Purse, Grainger, Damien Johnson, Tebily (Carter 60), Cisse, Hughes, John, Horsfield (Lazaridis 71). Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox