Arsene Wenger rarely manages to leave St Andrew's in good humour but Arsenal's 3-0 victory over Birmingham City has put him in the mood for more success against fellow title contenders Manchester City on Wednesday.
After Arsenal defeated champions Chelsea at the start of the holiday fixture programme, Gunners manager Wenger insisted his side could no longer be bullied out of the title race. The Londoners justified their French boss's words by winning away to relegation-threatened Birmingham, one of the most uncompromising teams in the English top flight, yesterday. But in between those wins, Arsenal dropped points in a draw away to Wigan.
However, an emphatic win at Birmingham saw Arsenal stay in third place, two points behind both leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand over the Gunners, and second-placed Manchester City.
Having seen Arsenal outclass Chelsea at home, Wenger knows another impressive display at the Emirates Stadium against Roberto Mancini's expensively-assembled side will be the ideal way to back up the performance at St Andrew's.
"We will concentrate on (Manchester) City now," said Wenger. "It is a very big game and we know that. We have had a difficult schedule with away games, but now we are back at the Emirates. We know how important the Emirates can be for us. We are happy playing there and we know that we have great support. It is good for us that we play all our rivals there in the second half of the season."
For a change, Wenger and his team escaped St Andrew's without either heartache or injury, almost three years since former Gunners striker Eduardo suffered a horrific broken leg at Birmingham's home ground.
Wenger reverted to the side that beat Chelsea for the game against Birmingham, having been criticised for making multiple changes at Wigan. But as for the line-up against Manchester City, Wenger said: "I will have to see how we recover first. We have to see how our fitness is."
In the meantime he was elated by the way Arsenal coped with Birmingham's aggression while sticking to their passing game in a match featuring goals from Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Roger Johnson's own-goal.
"I am delighted with the victory. It was physically very tough but we had the mental strength to deal with it," said Wenger. "We also kept very calm, which was good and we kept the faith in the way we can play. That is why I am very proud of my team. They showed great nerve.
"We kept putting the ball down and passing and playing our game. It was a great performance and the team is getting stronger and stronger."
Wenger refused to comment on the stamp by Lee Bowyer on Bacary Sagna, but the Birmingham midfielder faces disciplinary action if referee Peter Walton is asked for his revised opinion on the flashpoint in the second half. "There were a couple of challenges that I would like to see again, but I would rather talk about the way we played," Wenger said.
McLeish plots January revival
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish has already held preliminary meetings with club vice-chairman Peter Pannu regarding new signings during the January transfer window and he will step up his pursuit of want-away Tottenham striker Robbie Keane after another blank in front of goal. "We are just not scoring enough goals," said McLeish, whose side are now only above basement club Wolves in the Premier League table.
"They have been hard to come by for us all season and we need to improve on that. We have to add quality to the team and we will be trying to do that. It has to get better over the second half of the season. It is not drastic yet - relegation is not confirmed in January - but we have to get better."