Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday March 15 2009
Having not arrived back from Italy until the early hours of Friday morning, the Blackburn game appeared to come around all too quickly. It seems upon chatting to people pre match the focus from Italy was more on the violence than the victory. I should point out I did not see anything untoward myself, but the eternal city- whilst probably my favourite destination in Europe- is patently not fit to host a European Final. It is simply not expedient to move the final now as UEFA executives will be hard pushed to find five star hotels with sufficient vacancies at this notice, but UEFA really has to begin looking at their criteria for awarding such games in the first place and begin just at least pretending to care about supporter safety.
Anyways, with Wednesday's exertions having added a few deep seated lines to all of our faces, it is understandable that the boss wanted to rotate. Johan Djourou came in for Gallas to negate Blackburn's long ball tactics, Arshavin came in for van Persie- who had played poorly in Rome- and Song replaced Diaby whilst Walcott earned a first start for four months. The Gunners began effusively and after so much frustration in front of the Emirates goal, it was perhaps entirely predictable that the Gunners would trouble the net after just 77 seconds. Nicklas Bendtner played an excellent first time ball to Theo Walcott on the right, who showed great awareness to wave away the offside Alex Song, Walcott's low cross was aimed towards Arshavin and the ball pinballed off of the back of Andre Ooijer and into the net with a coccophiny of limbs strewn about the Blackburn penalty area. It was the sort of early goal that we could really have done with in the games against Sunderland and Fulham. It was also the sort of goal Aston Villa were scoring plenty of a few weeks back. As I have said before, there is no such thing as luck- it's purely probability taken personally. Still, it's hard not to feel as though the wheel is slowly turning our way. Or to paraphrase the manager, the boys are swimming with the stream now.
The Gunners might well have had a penalty soon after when Stephen Warnock rugby tackled Walcott in the area. In fairness, Phil Dowd- a referee I cannot stand- had an excellent game and did not tolerate Blackburn's cynicism for much of the match. However, upon seeing a replay he might question whether Diouf's disgusting studs up lunge on Almunia was deserving of a red rather than a yellow card. It was a tackle entirely in keeping with a team coached to be deliberately vicious by their perfidious manager. This is why you don't get the top jobs Sam, not because you're English, it's because you're despicable. Blackburn briefly flurried with some long balls, Blobinson providing the ammo as Pedersen's looping header forced Almunia into an impressive save. But the respite from Arsenal's four pronged attack was brief, orchestrated by Arshavin and Bendtner, with Nasri and Walcott pinning the full backs firmly to the edge of their area. It was Nasri who went close next with a gorgeous dipping free kick which rattled the crossbar. I make that two free kicks Nasri has taken for Arsenal from shooting positions, both of which hit the woodwork. Robin van Persie might have to accept some competition there.
If Arsenal had Blackburn on the ropes on the first half, they had them spitting blood and looking dazed and confused in the second. A minute into the second period, Nasri played the ball into Bendtner, who played an excellent first time pass to Walcott who placed his shot terribly wide with just the keeper to beat. Arsenal carved Rovers open again sixty seconds later, Arshavin playing Walcott through and his low cross found Bendtner in the area who thought too much about the finish and ended up scuffing horribly wide. But the football was ebullient again, incisive, natural, one touch stuff. Having an outlet like Walcott aids that, he is still rough around the edges and makes very elementary errors at times, but he penetrates. Bendtner looked confident, relaxed and while his ideas have always been right, his execution was coming off with his passing. Nasri looked a lot more relaxed now not tasked with being the sole bearer of Arsenal's creative crucifix. But the attack was neatly dovetailed together by Arshavin, who seems to have instantly lifted the confidence of his teammates. An instinctive sort of player who, like a snooker player, is thinking three or four strokes ahead. Instant, first time passes, drifting and finding pockets of space. His acclimbatisation period is still in its infancy but his class is effusive, effortless. What a shame he cannot play in Europe. There are still likely to be games he finds tough and we should be patient, but he has given this team a personality again going forwards. Wenger spoke after the game about Nasri imposing his personality on the game and I think that is largely due to the part Arshavin has played tying all the ends together.
The Gunners were again causing a rumpus in the Rovers area, Bendtner's shot was blocked by Ooijer and the rebound fell to Walcott, whose hooked shot was beaten out by one of Blobbo's chubby chippalata fingers. Arsenal broke again with Arshavin's ball to Bendtner, but he made a poor decision not to lay the ball off to Walcott. Instantly, the fans were on his back and his afternoon turned into a forgettable one as a result. With the fans fury still ringing in his ears, Arshavin once again but Bendtner through on goal, but one could see how the 'supporters' misplaced anger had sapped his confidence and dropped his head, the result was a panicky finish which Robinson saved as large sections of the crowd willed him to fail so they could once again vent their negativity. I do not understand why these people bother coming when they seem to enjoy berating this particular player and seek to actively harm the team. Bendtner must take the responsibility for poor finishing, but it's no coincidence that away from the Emirates last week, he was presented with much more difficult chances at the Hawthorns that he took comfortably. Booing a team after the final whistle is one thing- I do not hold with it but people are entitled to do it I guess. But to enjoy destroying a player's confidence so much during a game which you are winning reveals how unsatisfied some people are with their own lives. Credit to those who reacted to the malcontents by singing Bendtner's name loudly and credit to Kolo Toure who was quick to offer Nicklas some words of encouragement. But has it really got to the stage where we are creating work for our captain in a routine home victory?
But the air of discontent which was bafflingly circulating amongst people who enjoy moaning so much was soon lifted by a moment of genuine class. Denilson played an excellent ball out to Arshavin on the left, he jinked inside Danny Simpson on the touchline before squeezing the ball into the roof of the net from an impossible angle. A shot that put one in mind of Kanu and a piece of improvisation and magic in the final third that we have so lacked in 2009. Arshavin was Arsenal's 20th different goalscorer this season and those that sit in the North End of the ground have been treated to two very special goals in the last two home matches. However, they would once more be treated to Bendtner missing another sitter. The Gunners broke at speed from a rare Blackburn attack, Arshavin put Walcott away again, he cut the ball back to Bendtner in a sweeping move reminiscent of the Invincibles, but with all confidence drained out of him he scooped the ball horribly over. It was such a shame, he had started the game so effusively, so confidently and yet that all betrayed him as soon as the fans got on his back. Do these people not see the damage, or do they just not care?
With Bendtner departed it was fitting that Emmanuel Eboue would come on display his new found confidence. Sagna's right wing cross found Arshavin completely unmarked on the backpost, his volley was clawed away by Robinson's hot dog holders, before Eboue followed up to stud home the rebound. In the first minute of injury time, Carlos Vela's tricky footwork was too much for Martin Olsson, who felled him in the area. Eboue instantly picked the ball up and despatched the penalty before treating us to another of his elastic dance moves. It's amazing what a bit of confidence can do for a player. Something for the home support to think about? Blackburn were a poor side but a few poor sides have taken points from us this season, our play yesterday was more naturaland relaxed. Arshavin is a player who the players instantly recognise as someone they can trust with the ball and that has lifted some of the younger players, such as Song for instance, who has had a couple of marvellous games and looks so much more relaxed on the ball with more quality and experience around him. Nasri, Bendtner, Arshavin and Walcott formed something akin to a flying v, interchanging and rotating to devastating effect-and Blackburn could not handle the movement. The passing was quick and simple compared to the laboured, deliberate build up play that has been so easy to defend against. It's easy to forget that the Gunners were without any of their three first choice strikers yesterday nor their captain and lynchpin. Hopefully the sense of competition that is creeping back into the squad will help players to raise their games again in time to save our season.LD.
Date:Sunday March 15 2009
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