Arsenal Pass Blackburn Test Of Strength

A hard fought 2-1 win against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park will certainly have made this a good weekend for all the Gooners. Last season, none of the top teams were able to come away with 3 points on that ground. Even if it is still very early in the season, these are three very crucial points in the bag as far as Arsenal are concerned. Of late, games away to the likes of Blackburn, Stoke, Bolton etc with their much-discussed about ‘physical football’ have always been ear-marked as potential pit-falls and points dropped for the Gunners’ passing style of football. That said, we had started to show that we can ‘win ugly’ last season but that evaporated somewhere along the way with all the injuries and what not.

So it was heartening to see us get a goal in first, fight back after Blackburn had equalised, get the winning goal and defend the score-line, showing a certain mental resilience in the process, that does seem to go missing at times when most needed for men in red and white. For all of Blackburn’s ‘physicality’, it was a relatively clean game with the first yellow coming only in the 74th minute, and it was good to see the Arsenal passing game see them through the first tough test of the season.

The opening goal, against the run of play, was vintage Arsenal and all the players involved in the build-up did their job well – Song, Arshavin, Robin Van Persie and of course Walcott. The Dutchman controlled the ball beautifully and spotting the run of Walcott, played in a perfectly weighted ball in the path of the young Englishman, who didn’t even have to break stride. It was evidence of Theo’s newly-found confidence, composure and form, that he took one touch and fired a low shot in the bottom left corner that left the net needing repairs at half-time! Like Wenger said in his post-match conference, even though the number 14 wasn’t as involved in the play as in the match versus Blackpool, he stepped up and scored the goal when the team needed it, and was unlucky not to get two goals towards the end of the game. That’s all you want from a centre-forward.

I don’t know what Wenger’s half-time talk consisted of, but it certainly did the job! The Gunners seemed to settle in quicker after the break, show more confidence, not give away the ball cheaply, show more composure and intelligence in possession and generally avoid committing too many fouls in potentially dangerous areas. (Fab seemed more his real self and settled in too) The build-up and the actual winning goal when it came, was delightfully Arsenal as ever. Sagna did really well on the right, before cutting back to a still not completely match fit Cesc Fabregas, who had a shot at goal. Unluckily for him it bounced back, but luckily for Arshavin and Arsenal in general, it bounced off Theo Walcott into the path of the dimunitive Russian, who coolly slotted past Robinson and a couple of Blackburn defenders. A small note on Wilshere though. It was his inexperience that led him to miss that sitter, which Walcott so unselfishly provided, but he’s definitely a talent who needs to make the most of first-team opportunities this season, to go from ‘promising youngster’ to a ‘finished’ player.

The bottom-line is that the guys do deserve much applause for passing this stern test without dropping any points. It is wins in tough games like this which will matter in the run-in towards the final weeks. However, once the jubilation following the weekend win dies down, what remains are the same potential frailties that have prevented us from winning silverware since the spring of 2005. So, defensive instability, injury concerns and a potential finale to the ongoing goalkeeping saga are the topics I’m going to concentrate on this week, rather than talk about the positives which were very clear for all to see.

I felt that we dealt with Blackburn’s aerial threat very well. Especially in the first half when the home team had their periods of intense dominance and battering of the Arsenal defence with consecutive corners and long balls and very impressive and penetrating long throws by the ever annoying Norwegian Morten Gamst Pedersen (who, by the way, seems to have taken a … ummm … towel out of the book of a certain Rory Delap. That’s all I’m going to say!) The Londoners did look vulnerable during that time, but they managed to hold Sam Allardyce’s men at bay.

That said, defensive worries need to be at the top of Wenger’s ‘Look into and amend ASAP’ list. Blackburn’s equaliser was a very Arsenal-esque goal with wide, fluid movement, pace and them pretty much passing the ball into the net. A Double Diouf? (Haha, sorry couldn’t resist!) What was more disconcerting was the fact that we let them! After Sagna got caught too high up the field, newcomer Koscielny got a very harsh taste of the speed and the physicality of the EPL when he found himself thrust aside after a tussle with El-Hadji Diouf on the left flank and near the left-corner flag. Diouf then proceeded to cross the ball in towards his very much unmarked namesake Mame Biram Diouf, who coolly tapped in from close range. Both Gael Clichy and Thomas Vermaelen failed to deal with the threat of both the cross and the tall striker, on loan from Manchester United. Clichy didn’t seem to register the simple fact that Diouf had strayed into the penalty area. It was a very cheap goal to concede and Arsenal really cannot afford to make it a habit – even if they can continue to score more goals than they let in … which is a big IF in itself, as there are going to be days when even the solitary goal is going to be hard to come by.

Apart from Thomas Vermaelen, none of our first-choice back four have the presence or command of a Sol Campbell or a Lauren or even an Ashley Cole in the days of the Invincibles. This is the reason why I am keen to see what Squillaci can bring to the field. We really do need an experienced, assuring and commanding centre-back to steady and strengthen the defensive forces, and get the best out of them.

Second concern should be keeping all of our players as injury free and fit as possible … and already, just three games into the new season, we have Nasri out for a month due to minor knee surgery and RVP facing an uncertain (It was a couple of weeks at last call) spell on the side-lines. The Dutchman just cannot seem to catch a break, huh? I mean, how injury-prone and/or unlucky can any one player be? Especially one who is so amazing for us when completely fit and in fine form. *Triple sigh* Fingers crossed that both will be raring to go and firing on all cylinders very soon!

And, finally … will tomorrow’s transfer window closure put an end to the summer long speculation of a new man between the Arsenal goal-posts? Will it bring with it a fitting finale, in form of Mark Schwarzer’s arrival, to the ongoing goal-keeper saga Arsenal have going on with Fulham? We can only wait and watch. The news at the moment is that Shay Given will NOT be given out on loan or sold to any rival English club by the Man City brigade. So much for healthy competition, ay? So, that rules him out as a potential GK for the Gunners as was a rumour. It also rules him out on loan to Fulham, who, in the light of a decent replacement, were then ready to release Schwarzer to make the move across London. But, another piece of information floating around the transfer news is that Reading keeper, Adam Federici is being sized up as a potential replacement for the Australian.

Most Gooners would be very happy with Schwarzer’s arrival tomorrow. I have never said that Almunia is terrible. He actually had a good game against Blackburn, being unusually aggressive, commanding the back-line and his box well and making some good saves. But he will need to back it up with a host of similar performances to restore the Gooner faith. And I’m just not sure he has the quality required to be top-class, week in and week out. Who knows, though? I could totally be proved wrong! It’s something I really wouldn’t mind 🙂

All in all, second place is a good position to be in, going into a break!

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