Arsenal were rewarded with all three points for a concentrated and energetic performance against Blackburn at Ewood Park.
The home side caused trouble for us throughout the match with their game plan to attack aerially via long balls but our boys stood up well, scoring two goals either side of Mame Biram Diouf’s equaliser to secure a 2-1 win.
Our two best attacking players, captain Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, returned to the starting team along with Laurent Koscielny, meaning Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Marouane Chamakh (rather harshly, in my opinion) were dropped to the bench. The changes meant that Rigobert Alex Song pushed further forward to join Fabregas and Abou Diaby in what I consider to be our first-choice midfield combination.
We knew what Blackburn would throw at us and the went for it right from the first whistle, launching long balls into the area through Paul Robinson and long throws through Morten Gamst Pedersen. It was a little worrying to see us allow the first two long balls bounce in the area but the defence adjusted quickly, lead by a determined Manuel Almunia who confidently claimed the first cross he went for and commanded his area well throughout.
While Blackburn enjoyed their fair share of attacking success early in the game, having a header cleared off the line by Fabregas and forcing Almunia into a superb fingertip save, it was us who scored first. Song, Arshavin and van Persie were all involved in a superb move that allowed Theo Walcott to race free on the right, take a touch and fire a well-struck shot across the goalkeeper that quite literally, broke the net.
It was a relief to take the lead after all of Blackburn’s pressure but they leveled the game just seven minutes later as Christopher Samba’s foray forward surprised our defence and eventually allowed El Hadji Diouf to set up his long-lost cousin to score. It has to be said it was quite poor defending by our boys, particularly Koscielny who misjudged his contact with El Hadji Diouf and was bodied off the ball.
The contest could be viewed by some to be evidence that Koscielny is too lightweight for the Premier League but I think this is incorrect: he won similar challenge with Fernando Torres at Liverpool on the opening day and my opinion of the incident was that Koscielny simple believed he would win the tackle more comfortably than he did. Indeed, given his tackling statistics over the 90 minutes, you can forgive him for thinking he would!
Soon after their goal van Persie was taken off after twisting his ankle, replaced by Chamakh. The Dutchman looked to be in quite a bit of pain but the good news is that it was not the same ankle he injured last season and he should be available again in around two weeks.
I have to admit feeling extremely frustrated with Arsene Wenger when van Persie went down: with Chamakh in good form I firmly believe the Dutchman should have been given another week of preparation before starting and I just hope he can shake off this new problem as soon as possible. The last thing we want is our number one forward having another injury-ravaged season which prevents him from making the impact that we all know he can.
At 1-1 at half-time I was a little worried: both sides had enjoyed good opportunities, it was a real end-to-end game and it could go either way. So what delight I felt when Arshavin tucked away his chance to make it 2-1!
Although the finish was a little scrappier, like the first goal, our second came about because of an excellent passing move. Just like van Persie for the opener, Chamakh dropped deep to receive from midfield, feeding a hungry Bacary Sagna down the set up Arshavin’s chance via a Fabregas shot blocked by Walcott’s arse. Arshavin’s finish to beat Robinson and three Blackburn players on the line was classy.
From this point on it always felt like our game to lose and while Blackburn still created some half-chances, the most notable one coming through serial goalscorer (and burger-eater) David Dunn, we looked more likely to score.
Fabregas had an inconsistent game but still managed to conjure up the most memorable moment of the game: an exquisite pass threaded through several Blackburn defenders to set up Chamakh with a shot on goal. It was the sort of pass that only the very best players in the world can see let alone execute and underlines one of the reasons why Wenger was so desperate to keep him in the squad. Just look at the images below.
The ebb and flow of the game was maintained right until the final moments when Jack Wilshere, on for Arshavin, did a John Terry after being put in the clear by Walcott and Chamakh. Diaby in particular will have been frustrated to see Wilshere waste the opportunity after doing his best Patrick Vieira impression earlier in the move, but 2-1 it ended as the Arsenal boys came away with a terrific win at Ewood Park.
It was great to see Walcott make his mark against a side that afforded him less space: he was a joy to watch throughout this match, causing Blackburn all sorts of problems with his movement on and off the ball and confidently finishing his only real chance. He’s started the season on fire and every Arsenal fan will be hoping he can maintain a level of consistency throughout the rest of the campaign.
Likewise, Diaby was absolutely sensational today. I have said time and time again that Diaby becomes a different player when he has Song and Fabregas around him. He is not and will never be a leader, it’s just not his nature, so he usually tends to flourish when less responsibility is placed on his shoulders and he can play his natural game. On days like this decision-making is sharp, his unique attacking style causes defenders all sorts of problems and it is for this reason why I would always play him if Fabregas and Song are also available.
It should also be noted that Diaby did an important defensive job on Samba: maintaining body contact with the Blackburn man and preventing him from having any real impact on set pieces. The one time Samba made real contact on the ball he headed over, a direct result of Diaby’s physical pressure. Well done, Abou!
In conclusion, I want to reiterate how good I feel this result was for Arsenal.
Blackburn’s record at home last season was formidable and if you had said we would have taken 7 points from our opening three games of the season, including two away trips to Blackburn and Liverpool, I would certainly have taken them. There is obviously still some concerns with our defending but you could see that every single one of the fourteen players who entered the pitch were ready for the contest, ready to fight for the red and white and were duly rewarded.
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