Monday, August 30, 2010

Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Arsenal

Arsenal had enough quality to edge out Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Ewood Park in a lively encounter that sees the Gunners take a provisional lead at the top of the Premier League table.

The Gunners drew blood first with Theo Walcott finishing off an excellent move to put his side ahead in the first half. Rovers responded through Mame Biram Diouf but after the break, Andrei Arshavin pounced to secure maximum points. In a slight downer for the Gunners, Robin Van Persie had to be taken off injured.

Arsene Wenger shuffled the starting line-up that demolished Blackpool last weekend at the Emirates. Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie were finally deemed fit enough to start with Alex Song switching back to midfield in place of Jack Wilshere. Laurent Kocielny, after serving a one-match supsension, slotted back into defence.

Rovers made two changes from their league defeat at Birmingham last week. On-loan striker Biram Diouf came into the side after his midweek hat-trick against Norwich in the Carling Cup, and Vince Grella was preferred in midfield to Steven N'Zonzi.

All the top sides struggled to take anything away from Ewood Park last season but Rovers almost allowed Arsenal an easy goal with less than five minutes on the clock. Slack defending from a corner saw the ball worked out to Abou Diaby on the edge of the box and the Frenchman's shot was deflected and ricocheted off Paul Robinson to safety to let the home side off the hook.

But Rovers were showing typical commitment and intensity in the way they started the game and minutes later from a corner down the other end, Fabregas had to clear off the line a Ryan Nelsen headed effort.

Arsenal didn't look comfortable dealing with an aerial bombardment that was winding into full swing at this point and the pressure was kept up with Samba next leaping high to head the ball goalbound from a throw but Manuel Almunia was adept enough to push the ball away.

It was back and forth now in an interesting clash of styles and it was only a matter of time before someone's goalmouth was breached and that duly arrived in the 19th minute, with Arsenal going ahead after a great move.

The ball was played up to Arshavin and under pressure the Russian squeezed the ball out to Van Persie who looked up and delivered a slide-rule pass to release Theo Walcott into the box. With a great first touch, the youngster cut into goal and finished superbly into the far right corner to give the Gunners the lead.

Wenger's men were now passing the ball around brilliantly and worryingly for Allardyce, Walcott seemed to be working the lines dangerously. Another good passing move saw the ball spread out wide to the youngster and a terrific turn of pace by the England international left Gael Givet for dead and allowed him to cross low into the box but Samba did just enough to block the ball from danger.

Rovers continued to look dangerous with their direct style though and they found a way back into the game on the 26th minute.

A brilliant ball by Samba released El-Hadji Diouf down the left and the attacking midfielder shrugged off Laurent Koscielny to square to Mame Diouf who had the simple task of tapping in his low cross to draw his side level.

More bad news arrived for Arsenal minutes later when Van Persie had to be replaced injured by Marouane Chamakh.

But to their credit Arsenal continued to press and Walcott in particular seemed to be carrying his excellent form from last week into this game. The Englishman almost made another impact in the match when he was played into the box by Fabregas but he was cornered to the right of goal and could only force a corner that was eventually cleared.

Right at the end of the half the Rovers dangerman, Mame Diouf, was nearly played in by a long ball over the top but Clichy did enough to force the ball out for a throw and things ended all square.

The second half and the open nature of the game resumed, Morten Gamst Pedersen was allowed space in the middle to unleash a powerful drive that curled wide of the top right of goal.

Straight down the other end Rovers were caught napping and a lung-busting run from Bacary Sagna down the right ended in the Frenchman crossing dangerously into the box. Fabregas received the ball and took a shot but it was blocked, only for it to land at the feet of Arshavin to the right of goal who made no mistake and beat Robinson with a low accurate shot into the far corner. Arshavin had been quiet up until that point but that has so often been the trademark of the Russian and Arsenal were ahead again none-the-less.

The Gunners superior quality was really beginning to tell at this point with Fabregas doing what he does best and dictating the movement of the ball around the field and Arshavin waking up.

The two linked again when Fabregas slid-through the Russian who jinked past two players only to be stopped in front of goal by Nelsen.

Rovers tried to respond but their forays forward were becoming rarer. Pedersen nearly created something when he was allowed to cross from the left but the ball was just a little too high for Hadji-Diouf who was in the right place to profit.

With Rovers chasing the game, there was ample space for Walcott down the flank and Givet was given the thankless task of trying to halt the speed demon with open space between them. The full-back wasn't really up to the task though and another darting run saw Walcott breeze past and fire low and hard at goal but Robinson got down well to save.

The home crowd were now subdued but substitute David Dunn nearly changed all that when he muscled his way past the Arsenal centre-backs and fired a shot that Almunia was thankful was straight at him.

Rovers streaming forward was a dangerous game, and after Hadji-Diouf had been denied a shout for a penalty on the edge of the box, a good break from the Gunners saw Walcott square to sub Jake Wilshere in acres of space on the right but his shot was denied by Robinson at the death.



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