On Monday, May 3, Arsenal will travel north to Lancashire looking to consolidate 3rd place and group stage play in next year's Champions League. A win would guarantee this outcome, giving Arsenal 75 points with 73 being the maximum that anyone below them could reach. It would be a place that many would not have predicted Arsenal could reach this year, the press making them the preseason favorites to drop out of the top four.
In the reverse fixture in October, Arsenal were building momentum back after their Manchester tour. Wins home to West Brom in the Carling Cup, away to Fulham and home against Wigan in the league, and home to Olympiakos in the Champions League meant that Arsenal welcomed Blackburn to the Emirates in good spirits. Almost immediately these were put to the test, Steven N'Zonzi scoring in the third minute. An outstanding long-range goal from Thomas Vermaelen levelled before David Dunn scored on the counter for Blackburn to make it 2-1. From then on, Arsenal became undeniable, Fabregas setting up two goals before the half and scoring one after. Late goals from Walcott and Bendtner sent the Rovers back up north with a fresh 6-2 loss to consider.
If after that match, Arsenal looked to be on the right course, today, they seem to have lost their way. One win in seven has seen their title challenge come to an end. Injuries to key players mount up. Arsène Wenger says the squad want to finish as strongly as possible, and know that they have come closer this year:
"The squad is convinced we have a strong chance next year because we have room for improvement...If you assess our situation, going forwards we have been very, very efficient...Where we want to set ourselves a target next season is we conceded nearly 40 goals, and that is too many to win the League."
Because of the injuries, there cannot be many changes to the squad that faced Manchester City last Saturday. Andrei Arshavin is still a doubt; Johan Djourou and Kieran Gibbs are healthy, but not match fit.
ESPN has the game this week and will show it on ESPN 2 in the USA, starting at 12 EDT. UPDATE: ESPN appears to have dropped their coverage of the game. As of right now, the pub is your best shot, perhaps. More to come, hopefully.