Arsenal (3) 6 - 2 (1) Blackburn Rovers|
Ashburton Grove, Saturday 23rd December 2006
Hoyte Toure Djourou Clichy
Hleb (Walcott 88) Gilberto Cesc Rosicky (Flamini 71)
van Persie Adebayor (Baptista 88)
A great win and a decent performance, although the final
score doesn't tell the whole story, with worrying periods
in both halves making us expect the usual home draw (given
that the visitors scored first).
No surprises in the line-up. Lauren would have been on the
bench in the aborted
Liverpool game in the League Cup last week but wasn't ready to start
a Premiership match, so Justin Hoyte deputised for injured
Emmanuel Eboue at right back. Up front we had Robin van Persie
and Emmanuel Adebayor in a 4-4-2, Jeremie Aliadiere not required
even for the bench, where Julio Baptista and Theo Walcott were
available as attacking options (both came on, for no reason in
particular, for the last couple of minutes). It wouldn't be
surprising to see Aliadiere leave in the transfer window, his
ineffective half-and-a-bit against
Portsmouth an unfitting end to a promising but frustrating
and injury-cursed Arsenal career. We'll see, maybe if Anthony Stokes
and Nicklas Bendtner stay at their loan clubs then Jeremie will
still be useful in what could turn into a packed season (especially if we
get past Liverpool in both cups. Tomas Rosicky returned from injury,
and improved as the game went on and he got warmed up.
The first goal came after about 2 and a half minutes when former
Arsenal player David Bentley was put through down the middle.
Kolo Toure kept with him, trying to keep goalside as Bentley
came into the box to the left of centre, and as they ran along
shoulder to shoulder Bentley went down. They were running towards
my position, so it's possible that something was going on behind
them which the ref could see and I couldn't. But it looked like
a generous penalty decision for Blackburn. Nando persuaded someone
else (Bentley perhaps?) to let him take it, and he took it well
Moments later, we nearly levelled things after Emmanuel Adebayor's
good run took him to the goalline on the left. He cut back for
Robin van Persie whose first time shot from 12 yards was just
short of the near post.
Johan Djourou had a couple of uncharacteristic dodgy moments.
First when his challenge in our box sent the ball straight up in
the air and he clearly had no idea where it had gone (not his
fault, to be honest, presumably he didn't get a call to look upwards
for it), and then when he miscontrolled a ball rolling slowly and
easily towards touch, putting it out for an unnecessary Blackburn
Then on 9 minutes we were level. Toure had put a Cesc corner from
the left onto the crossbar with a glancing header. From the
goalkick we quickly won it back and forced another corner. This
time van Persie took it, from the right, and floated it to
the near side of the box, level with Brad Friedel's left hand post.
Gilberto got in front of his marker and jumped high above 2 defenders
to divert a header inside the far post. Notably, Rovers had only placed a
man on the goal line at the other post. Friedel didn't move.
Seconds after the restart, Adebayor was put through and Friedel
came to make a great save at his feet, the rebound being cleared
just in time before van Persie could get to it.
Bentley seemed to get away with a foul to win the ball, then
won a soft free kick off the visibly annoyed Adebayor (who did
well, in the end to control his feelings). Bentley took the
long-range free kick himself, it didn't look too hard for
Jens Lehmann but perhaps the keeper got late sight of it,
anyway he fell to his left to make the stop, spilled it,
but recovered quickly.
On 16 minutes a good touch by Bentley in the D left Toure
stranded and made space for a dipping shot which Lehmann
tipped over the bar.
On 19, Nando broke dangerously, with Djourou appealing for a
foul when he should have been following the striker's run.
Fortunately for him, Toure got across to make a challenge.
Then, Arsenal started playing a bit. A nice few minutes of patient
possession ended with Cesc on the right. He slipped a short
pass forward through the defender in front of him, to Adebayor
who followed it with another nutmeg forward for Alexander Hleb's
run into the box. I'd just been thinking that both Hleb and
Rosicky had been over-playing things rather on the wings. This
time, Hleb controlled the ball beautifully on the edge of the box,
cut to his left after a couple of yards to wrong-foot the man in
front of him, and passed the ball past Friedel for 2-1.
On 25, van Persie won a penalty which, from the other end of
the pitch, I wasn't in a position to judge. Rovers clearly saw
it as a dive but after a while, and a consulation with the lino,
the ref confirmed the penalty and booked Lucas Neil for his
moans. Adebayor stepped up and sent Friedel the wrong way for 3-1.
It may have been a dodgy penalty but as I said, theirs looked
dodgy too. Soon after, van Persie was booked for diving.
We'll take that, I think.
Then Hleb got booked after a Rovers man ran into him by our right
corner flag. For something he said, perhaps? It may have been
a foul but hardly a bookable one surely - didn't look that
easy to get out of the way.
Adebayor gave the ball away in their half and got himself in the
book too when he chased back and made a clumsy late sliding tackle.
The free kick came into our box and was scrambled clear after a
scary bit of pinball.
On 36 Hleb broke forward brilliantly again, got into the box,
and tried to square for a van Persie tap-in when he might have had
a shot himself, which presumably he would have done if he'd seen
that a defender had got into position to
The rest of the half was end-to-end. Up our end, Lehmann had to be alert to tip a Pedersen corner
out from under the bar at the far post. Then Rosicky had a good
run but a shot which went down Friedel's throat. Bentley brought the
ball in from their left which forced Lehmann into a good save at the
neat post. Then, a nice Arsenal move, from one wing to the
other, ended with van Persie coming in from the left and shot low
and straight at Friedel.
Arsenal started the second half in typical 2 goal lead mode,
not looking in any hurry to extend the lead. Not that we didn't have
the best chances. A nice attack
on 51 minutes ended with Cesc's first time shot from just outside
the D, which was deflected inches past the post. Five minutes later
Rosicky came into the box from the left and slipped the ball forward
nicely for Cesc's overlapping run. He brought it forward and shot
but Friedel saved with his legs. Van Persie turned nicely on the edge
of the box but was leaning back as he pulled the trigger and
sent the shot well over the bar. Then some good work from
Adebayor got him to the goal line on the left, his cut back
found Rosicky in space and his powerful shot was turned onto
the crossbar by Friedel - a great save.
But as I said, Rovers weren't sitting back and we weren't forcing them
to. About halfway through the half, a cross looped into the box
from their right. Bentley did brilliantly to stoop and lunge and
get his head to it at the far post. Lehmann was beat but the ball came
back off the bar, to Nando who with back to goal did really well to
score with an overhead kick for 3-2.
Oh dear. We looked a bit rattled. Rovers had a good spell... a cross flashed across our box
dangerously... Lehmann came up trumps with a great save, palming a shot over the bar
Mathieu Flamini came on for Rosicky during this period. But we weathered the
storm and in the end it was Rovers' feeling that they might snatch a
draw that helped make the loss sure. First, with 8 minutes to go, a terrific break from defence
saw Cesc feed Adebayor on the wing. He took the ball forward then cut it back
for van Persie coming into the box at the left corner, he side-footed it
over the bar - a really good chance to clinch things.
Three minutes later, Robin did clinch it, weaving his way into the box
from the right with Oooijer in front of him, taking him left, then
right, then left again to get onto his good foot, with the
defender out of the picture, and firing a fine low shot past Friedel and
inside the far post for 4-2.
Another 2 minutes after that, with 3 minutes to go, it was 5.
Arsenal relaxed and Rovers were cut to bits by a great passing move.
It ended with Cesc on the left of the box, slipping the ball sideways
for van Persie, whose presence made the defence outnumbered, to
shoot past Friedel. The keeper was scrambling back to the centre of the
goal when he saw Cesc's pass, but Robin placed it back where Friedel
had come from.
Then came the double substitution, Walcott and Baptista coming on
for Adebayor and Hleb. In injury time came the 6th goal, and
perhaps the sweetest. Van Persie tried to break through down the
left wing, gave up and passed back to Cesc. He chipped the ball forward
over Savage and followed it through. Savage chased him to the corner
flag, maybe thinking Cesc would try to waste some time down here.
Instead, the young Spaniard made him look a fool, slipping the ball
under Savage's foot and following it along the goal line as Savage
loist his balance off the pitch. Friedel did well to bat Cesc's
near post shot away, but it fell to Flamini near the spot and
he made no mistake.
Fair play to Rovers for making such a good game of it. While the scoreline may reflect a true gulf in quality, it could have been
very different as previous home draws this season show. And good luck to Bentley and his England ambitions. He may not have been
good enough for Arsenal but he could well be good enough for his country.
No progress in the table sadly, with the top 6 all winning today. Next stop is Watford, live on Sky on Boxing Day. Then Sheffield United and home to Charlton over New Year. Anything less than 9 points would be a disappointment of course, but this season we know better than to count our chickens.