Arsenal wrapped up a valuable three points up north today with an overall solid performance against a determined Blackburn Rovers side. It was a result that eluded a half-strength Gunners team last season, but today Arsenal showed some sand in withstanding a late Rovers onslaught to secure the win.
The match started off as advertised, Blackburn pressing for possession (which they ended up only having 36% of all match, anyhow) and launching crosses and long throws into the Arsenal box from the onset. After nine minutes, they had their best chance of the match so far when Morten Gamst Pedersen pinged a corner in, the ball eventually headed towards goal but cleared off the line by Cesc Fabregas.
Corner kicks were exchanged by both sides, the pressure increasing, until it finally gave. Arsenal constructed a triangular string up the pitch, Manuel Almunia to Alex Song, Song to Abou Diaby, Diaby to Cesc Fabregas, Fabregas to Song, Song to Andrei Arshavin, Arshavin to Robin van Persie, and van Persie through to Walcott. Walcott rocketed behind his man onto the pass and unleashed a laser through the rain across a despairing Paul Robinson into the far corner just inside the post. Such was the fury and accuracy of the strike that a knot in the net gave way next to the post, and it was 1-0 to the Arsenal.
But it was not to last very long, as Blackburn managed to pull one back within six minutes courtesy of an El-Hadji Diouf-led counterattack. Receiving a pass from Christopher Samba on the left, Diouf dribbled past Laurent Koscielny after shrugging off the Frenchman's challenge, got to the byline, and cut back for Mame Diouf (no relation) to slot home.
It was all too simple for Diouf, really, but to his credit, Koscielny looked more solid for the rest of the match. Hopefully the physical nature of the battle with Diouf will have awoken the young defender to the style of the Premier League's more, um, "robust" opponents. He was always going to face his first physical battle at some point, and he will learn and take a lot from this match.
The half continued in much the same manner. Worryingly, however, van Persie took a kick on his left foot that appeared to tweak his ankle (not the same one that he injured last year), and a few minutes later, took a second knock to the same spot. He came off under his own power, but had to be replaced by Marouane Chamakh. The Moroccan picked up where Robin left off, dropping very deep (deeper even than Fabregas, on average) in a false nine role, looking less to make his way into goalscoring positions and more to receive service from deep in midfield and link up play to Arshavin and Walcott, who were streaking through middle channels. The match rolled on through half time without any further major incidents.
It would not take long after the half resumed (following net repair) for Walcott to spark up the play again, his shot blocked one minute after the interval. Arsenal continued to exert pressure, and in the 50th minute, Sagna got loose down the right hand side and crossed to Fabregas. Walcott managed to accidentally block the Spaniard's shot with his backside, but the ball rolled to Arshavin, who popped it past a diving Paul Robinson and in.
Arsenal's lead was restored, but the match was still very much poised to get in any number of ways. Arsenal continued to control possession for the next ten minutes, but could not find a third, some of the passing looking a little rusty and not as sharp as usual. Arshavin managed to dribble around just about everyone in the box before running out of space for Arsenal's best chance after their second as they tightened their grip on the proceedings.
After 68 minutes of midfield graft, Wenger brought on Tomas Rosicky in relief of a tired Fabregas. Blackburn seized upon the substitution as signaling something of a change in the weather, and having brought on David Dunn and Steven Nzonzi and moved Christopher Samba further up the pitch, they piled as much into Arsenal's area as possible in a bid for an equalizer. Arsenal withstood pressure and looked to release counterattacks through Marouane Chamakh, one nearly coming good only for late sub Jack Wilshere to fluff his shot straight into the arms of Paul Robinson.
Referee Chris Foy watched as injury time withered away and brought the match to an end, Arsenal bagging three lovely points away, their first victory on the road in six matches. Those Gunners most in the spotlight, Walcott and Almunia, both had good matches, Walcott's goal one of high quality, and Almunia looking as solid as one could want on crosses and corners and long throws. He had a couple of excellent punches and overall looked pretty comfortable, or as comfortable as one could be with Samba trying to get in one's way for ninety minutes. He also got right in the face of Diouf early on, the pair having a little close-range chat.
All in all, it wasn't a dominating win, but three points at Ewood Park are always satisfying. Arsenal go into the international break waiting to see about Robin van Persie's ankle and with fingers crossed that all players return home in good condition. Tottenham will be Arsenal's opponents in the Carling Cup, is the news coming through during the match, so there's that, too.
A good start to anyone's Saturday, overall; more of the same going forward, please. Have a good afternoon, everyone.