Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers
The John Jensen Mercantile Trophy
KO: Saturday, 4 February, 2012 at 8:00 AM ET
Emirates Stadium, Landaan Borough of Islington, Norf London Is Ours
TV: ESPN2, ESPN3.com
Arsene Wenger said on Wednesday evening that every league game is a cup final from now on, and he couldn't have been more right. On Saturday afternoon, Arsenal can end their 7 year trophy drought by winning the inaugural John Jensen Mercantile Trophy if they beat Blackburn Rovers. Given Arsenal's recent record, both in league play and Cup finals, though, a victory will be no sure thing.
Blackburn, of course, beat Arsenal 4-3, in a game that brought back the worst memories of losing in Lancashire 8-2. They were lucky to beat Arsenal, with Yakubu scoring an offside goal, and Alex Song and Laurent Koscielny scoring uncharacteristic own goals. Yakubu is suspended for Rovers, so to replace him, Blackburn will likely play Scottish striker David Goodwillie (no laughing in the back!). For a relegation threatened side, they don't play bad football, and with Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica, along with Junior Hoillet, they have the potential to cause Arsenal problems on the counter attack. Goodwillie, though, isn't as good as Yakubu, and that'll be a major plus for Arsenal (To emphasise that, Blackburn had 26 shots Wednesday, and scored 0 goals). Blackburn are also a threat at set pieces, as outlined by the two they scored against us in September. Without Chris Samba, though, who seems to have been dropped, they lose a major force in attacking set pieces and in defending.
With Arsenal, the team should be more of the same. Arsene Wenger has shown a reluctance to rotate this season, preferring instead to run players like Aaron Ramsey into the ground. After his terrible performance, and effectively terrible last 6 weeks, one would expect Theo Walcott to be dropped, for either Yossi Benayoun or Andrey Arshavin. The latter, though, hasn't played since being booed on against Manchester United, despite Arsene Wenger's insistence that the fans reaction doesn't come into his decisions. Maybe that's right, but given that he didn't come on against Bolton when Arsenal needed a goal, and had a sub left, and given that he can't be any worse creatively than Walcott, and likely could be better due to the fact that he can make an attacking pass, it seems surprising that he didn't come on. Maybe he'll start against Blackburn, but he probably won't. Arshavin is no great shakes defensively, but neither is Walcott; it's hard to believe that Arshavin would collect the ball in his own corner and then try to beat 3 Bolton players by running through the middle. Yossi Benayoun would be a fine choice to start, giving Arsenal technical quality in wide areas, but he has only two starts in the Premier League this season, and hasn't been seen since playing in an unfamiliar role in the midfield against Swansea. As with Arshavin, he'd add more to Arsenal's attack than Walcott would at the moment. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up a knock, but was featured in the pictures of the players training.
Tomas Rosicky could start against Blackburn, given that he came on for Ramsey at the end of the Bolton match, perhaps an admittance from Arsene Wenger that Ramsey is tired. Of course, Wenger also rather ludicrously called Rosicky one of "4 strikers" he had on at the end of the match, so that probably means Ramsey will again start. Given that Arsenal have 13 or 14 games in the next two months and that Aaron Ramsey has played the joint most games of all Arsenal outfield players, it seems odd that he isn't being rested now that Mikel Arteta is back from injury. Alex Song could also do with a rest, having had more pressure than most in recent weeks, and Francis Coquelin is available to play in the midfield again. But with this being the final of the prestigious John Jensen Mercantile trophy, Song will likely start again. With no new fullbacks having returned, the back 4 should stay the same.
Arsenal will be up against a team that'll likely look to clog the middle. Because of this, it's important that Arsenal score early and open the game up, and also use the width that Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott/Arshavin and Sagna will provide. Aaron Ramsey hasn't been as penetrative as late, which is why Tomas Rosicky should start. Blackburn do have quick wingers, and that'll be a threat for Arsenal's fullbacks, but with Sagna back, that threat will be slightly lessened.
Lineup: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Song, Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Subs: Fabianski, Coquelin, Arshavin, Benayoun, Rosicky, Park, Henry
Writer's desired lineup: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Coquelin, Rosicky, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, van Persie, Benayoun
Subs: Fabianski, Song, Walcott, Arshavin, Ramsey, Park, Henry
Prediction [ed. note: from Ted]: Arsenal score early from an unlikely source, Laurent Koscielny storming up from the back to lash home a shot from 20 yards. The match stagnates at 1-0 until late, when Chris Samba scores on a corner, Szczesny stranded behind him, unable to move him out of the way. The match seems set up to finish at 1-1, but then, in a Deus Ex Machina moment never before seen in football, Abou Diaby slowly floats down to the pitch from the roof above the clock end. Steve Kean, in a moment of desperation, releases a thicket basilisk, but Diaby rolls a d20 and successfully saves vs. petrification, takes one touch, lays it off to Henry, whose return ball the Frenchman gleefully taps home. 2-1 to the Arsenal; everything's coming up Abou.
*The John Jensen Mercantile Trophy: Every game is a Cup final, according to Arsene Wenger. So, I've made this a cup final. And shall be doing it for every single league game hereafter. John Jensen played for Arsenal and coached for Blackburn, hence the connection.