The opportunity was obvious, the chance to set a standard he has long wished others would follow clear, yet Arsène Wenger's condemnation was only qualified. The focus on dangerous tackles fixed uncomfortably on Arsenal last night as Jack Wilshere was sent off for a studs up foul, with Emmanuel Eboué fortunate to escape with only a caution from a scissor challenge, to scar this fractious encounter. The victims now stand accused.

The irony of the timing of the offences was lost on no one, Wenger perhaps least of all. The Arsenal manager had used his programme notes to bemoan the demise of the "technique of the tackle". The scissor challenge "is putting another player's career under threat" he had written, concluding that: "Managers have an important part to play as we are all responsible for the behaviour of our teams."

Yet here was evidence of just how powerless the manager can be – a reality that presumably applies as much to the likes of Tony Pulis and Mick McCarthy as Wenger – once adrenalin kicks in out on the turf. Wilshere had been this game's outstanding performer, a buzzing presence in central midfield and a blur of clever passes, only to ruin an afternoon's work in stoppage time. His slide in on Nikola Zigic was implemented with studs raised, the midfielder planting his left foot into the Serb's right ankle.

The striker was fortunate to depart merely bruised, unlike Eduardo da Silva, Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby from infamous fouls in recent years. But, while Wenger did not dispute that the offence warranted dismissal, his assessment – inevitably – was far less scathing than that so often delivered of opposing players when his own are hurt. "He mistimed his tackle and got the red he deserved," he said. "But it was his first tackle of the game. He didn't spend the whole game kicking people: he played football and was one of the best players on the pitch. "

Wilshere's challenge was not malicious, yet Birmingham still insist that neither had been Martin Taylor's at St Andrew's two years ago when Eduardo had shattered his leg. That, too, had apparently been "mistimed". "We've had to put up with the 'Eduardo stuff' for the last couple of years every time we play Arsenal," said Alex McLeish. "Even in the programme today, the interviewer says he's going to interview Eduardo 'about that tackle'. It's scandalous. Martin Taylor is not a dirty player, but it was a mistimed challenge. We're not citing Jack Wilshere as dirty, but that tackle could have caused Zigic terrible damage. It just shows that anyone can mistime things in this hurly burly modern football."

The dubious challenges here were not all inflicted by the hosts – Roger Johnson's aerial clash with Marouane Chamakh might have prompted fiercer scrutiny – yet Eboué's scissor challenge on Liam Ridgewell, which prompted only a yellow card, had potentially been as dangerous as Wilshere's foul. When asked about the Ivorian's misdemeanour, Wenger rather squirmed, snapping back: "You write what you want.''

Chamakh's goal early in the second half, supplied by the England midfielder and taken slickly after he turned away from Stephen Carr, secured a victory that might have been more comfortable had over-elaboration not consistently clicked in when Ben Foster loomed large.

The Moroccan had perhaps been fortunate to earn the penalty from which Arsenal had equalised before the break, tumbling eagerly over the grounded Scott Dann's ill-advised flick. Samir Nasri's conversion was emphatic and momentum had swung in the hosts' favour for good.

Birmingham never recovered the poise briefly achieved when Zigic had thumped a header from Keith Fahey's centre across Lukasz Fabianski into the far corner. Had the Serb added a second from Johnson's nod-back they might have aspired to a first win at these opponents since 1957. Instead, their lead was extinguished within eight minutes, with the relief in narrow victory all Arsenal's.

THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICTBECKY THOMAS, Observer reader It was the usual kind of thing. We only kicked into gear when we went a goal down. Lacking in ideas, didn't have the drive to kill the game off and it was always a struggle. Wilshere's sending off was fair but it was a shame as up until that point he had a good game. It was probably over-exuberance and excitement with the game so close. Wenger should come out and condemn the foul or otherwise we look like hypocrites. I am sure he saw it on this occasion. The main thing was we won today – too often in the past we have slipped up – and it was great considering United dropped points at home to West Brom.

The fan's player ratings Fabianski 7; Eboue 5, Squillaci 6, Djourou 6, Clichy 6; Song 6, Wilshere 7; Nasri 8, Diaby 6, Arshavin 5 (Rosicky 70 7); Chamakh 7(Bendtner 79 5).

KEVIN CUMMINS, Observer reader Nasri's penalty looked dubious and was very soft. Martin Atkinson has previous with us with penalties and awarded a bad one to Villa in the derby last season. Nasri could have been sent off in the first half for a couple of challenges. However, we can take a lot of positives. Birmingham played really well for the most of the game. If we had played like that in the last two games we would have done better. Zigic was excellent, as was Ridgewell and Ferguson. Wilshere's sending off looked like a nasty challenge. He seemed to dive in. We deserved a point.

The fan's player ratings Foster 7; Carr 7, Johnson 8, Dann 7, Ridgewell 8; Larsson 6, Bowyer 6 (O'Connor 80 5), Ferguson 8, Fahey 5 (Murphy 78 4); Hleb 7; Zigic 8

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