Arsenal 7 Blackburn Rovers 1
Following a disappointing goalless draw at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday night, eyes were firmly fixed back on navels. I have found the mood has varied from anxious to outright aggressive amongst Arsenal fans. A win was imperative both for the team and the health of their league position and for the fans too. Reports circulated on Thursday evening of a suggested "bin bag protest" to take place at the match. It turned out to be one nut job with the phone number of the Mirror`s sports desk. Funnily enough, The Mirror hasn`t been held to account for its reportage, given that no such protest took place. Yet the word of one loner with a blog was sufficient for a back page splash on Friday`s newspaper.
With the Victoria Line suspended, it meant an early kickoff. London Underground being its usual incompetent self also meant that no extra trains were laid on on other lines, so the Piccadilly Line journey Northbound was undertaken incredibly slowly and in conditions that would make sardines wince. But within 90 seconds of the game starting, Arsenal looked determined to make the travel travails worth while. Coquelin controlled Jason Lowe`s clearance, prodded the ball down the line for Walcott. Theo produced a simple low cross to allow Robin van Persie a comfortable tap in with practically his first touch. It was a touch that took him past Dennis Bergkamp into 9th place in the list of Arsenal`s all time goalscorers.
An early goal against a poor side bereft of their two best players you felt was just the ticket for a smooth win. The Gunners looked to press home their advantage; Mertesacker met Chamberlain`s left wing cross only for N`Zonzi to hack away from his own line. Robin van Persie attempted a trademark right footed chip, which had Robinson deceived, but drifted gently wide. But with the game rather drifting towards a coasting victory, Koscielny dragged down Blackburn debutant Anthony Modeste on the edge of the area. Morten Gamst Pedersen stepped up and pinged the resulting free kick into the top corner via the upturned palm of Szczesny. The feeling of "not again?" began to linger in the cold, crisp air.
But Rovers were only level for nine minutes. An injury to Jason Lowe briefly unsettled their back line, but Song`s cutting ball again found Blackburn left back Olsson floundering, allowing Walcott to power in behind, Walcott`s cut back was again allied to the penalty box savvy of van Persie, who gratefully accepted another tap in. Two minutes later Arsenal were 3-1 to the good. Rosicky found van Persie in space thirty yards from goal, he controlled, effortlessly spun past Dann and delivered an inch perfect reverse pass to the onrushing Oxlade Chamberlain, who took a settling touch, rounded Robinson before slotting the ball into the empty net.
If the game was not already over at that point, a minute later, Rovers` damage limitation task was set in stone. Van Persie ran onto a loose ball, a 50-50 with Gael Givet, but the French centre half bafflingly decided to launch in with two feet. Quite what was in his mind I haven`t worked out, but a red card nevertheless followed by a rueful apology to Wenger as he left the field of play. Blackburn removed David Dunn for Grant Hanley. But Arsenal were in no mood to afford their opponents any mercy.
Hanley had already been forced to hurriedly force Walcott`s low cross inches wide of his own goal, when the home side moved into a 3 goal lead. Chamberlain`s corner saw Dann head only as far as the edge of the Arsenal area, Koscielny looked to control but unwittingly succeeded in teeing up Mikel Arteta, whose low half volley ricocheted into the bottom corner. It was Arteta`s 3rd goal against Rovers this season, having already registered for both Everton and Arsenal at Ewood since the campaign got underway. The tang of blood was in Arsenal nostrils and they moved in for the kill. Walcott dribbled in from the right, again exposing Olsson who had a torrid afternoon, meandered into the box and teed up Chamberlain, whose deceptive finish crept inside the front post.
The youngster has quickly established himself in the absence of Gervinho- which was really meant to be Arshavin`s big chance to reassert his status. He seems to combine power, skill and an effortlessness about him. He can shoot with either foot with minimum back lift. It`s a drum I bang often enough, but being adept with either foot makes you twice the problem to your opposition. Managing expectation will probably be beyond the club given his nationality, but managing his workload will be the trick now. We as supporters will have to be understanding and not throw our dummies out of the pram if and when he is rested or subbed. Wilshere`s ankle and Fabregas` hamstrings are cautionary tales, though I hold little hope of them being told in the heat of the microwave culture.
Chamberlain had the crowd in their feet again when he sauntered down the left, nicking the ball past Pedersen first, then shimmying around Bradley Orr before standing up a cross to the back post which Arteta volleyed just over. But with twenty five minutes still left to play, Arsenal had bagged their sixth. Coquelin, who had a very distinguished game at right back, jinked his way past Olsson on the right and played in a low cross. Van Persie was on hand at the front post with a beautifully guided, delicate finish into the top corner, allowing the pace of the cross to do the work for him and offering up the top of his boot to curl beyond Robinson. His second hat trick of the season. Effortless stuff.
With the job now done and three big away matches on the horizon, Arsenal understandably let the game drift. Sagna, Henry and Benayoun entered the fray. I have to say I found the decision not to wrap van Persie in cotton wool a little odd. Benayoun had a shot from inside the area but, for a change, Robinson decided to save something. The coup de grace arrived in the final minute. Scott Dann slipped John Terry stylee, Henry picked up the loose ball. In his pomp, Henry would have been away and the ball would have been in the net before Dann was vertical again. But Henry checked and found the run of van Persie. The Dutchman had the presence of mind to roll the ball back across goal for Henry, whose right footed effort was slightly fortuitously deflected past Robinson. For the second time in the afternoon, Arsenal`s top ten record goalscorers list had to be rewritten, as Henry stretched his total to 228 as the club`s all time record scorer.
The 7th added an element of poetry to a fine afternoon. Rovers were meek opposition and the five second half minutes that saw them concede two goals, lose one defender to injury and another to recklessness killed their chance to compete. But it was refreshing to see the side prey on their wounded opponents and, in the process, share some goals around. Two for Chamberlain and a hat trick of assists for Walcott will do those two no harm at all. Van Persie`s strike rate has come to such a stage now where the only surprise is when he doesn`t hit the target. Three away games in three different competitions await on the horizon. The phrase "season defining" is an overused adage in football; but on this occasion, it is somewhat apt. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 39.COQUELIN, 4.MERTESACKER, 6.KOSCIELNY (3.Sagna `67), 5.VERMAELEN, 17.SONG (30.Benayoun `72), 8.ARTETA, 7.ROSICKY, 14.WALCOTT, 15.CHAMBERLAIN (12.Henry `67), 10.v.PERSIE ©. Unused: 9.J-Y.Park, 16.Ramsey, 21.Fabianski, 23.Arshavin.