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Nasri magic fills Arsenal with cheer

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Having concluded, in his half-term report, that the team with the deepest reserves of mental strength would win the title, Arsene Wenger watched his Arsenal team withstand Birmingham's efforts to test their courage and ultimately impose their own methodology where once, perhaps, they would have been found wanting.

It was by no means a brutal performance from Birmingham, who are better and classier than to resort to such tactics as a means to an end. But there were a couple of challenges - a robustly committed tackle on Cesc Fabregas by Roger Johnson in the first eight minutes and, later, a stamp (spotted by the cameras rather than the officials) by Lee Bowyer on Bacary Sagna - that might have unnerved a less mature Arsenal.

But instead of wilting, Arsenal built on the foundation of a free-kick from Robin van Persie, deflected past Ben Foster, after 13 minutes, retained their belief in the quality of their football and became stronger. It helped that three of Birmingham's back four had to play most of the second half on yellow cards but it was difficult not to admireArsenal's technical gifts, not least those displayed by Samir Nasri, who wrote another uplifting chapter in his outstanding season, scoring his 13th goal and setting up another.

"We were prepared today to face physical challenges and prepared to not lose our game, to be calm and remain focused on the way we play," Wenger said. "We had chances in the first half and I believe we grew stronger and in the second half played an outstanding game. I would rather talk about my team's performance than any individual challenges. I am convinced the way we played today will strengthen the belief in the squad."

Indeed, after the squandering of points at Wigan, where Wenger gambled badly with a much-changed team, this was more like the superiority required from potential champions. Where Manchester United could secure only a point, Arsenal became the first visiting team to score three goals here in more than two years.

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