by Phil Gregory
Blackburn come to the Emirates this weekend, with manager Sam Allardyce arguably the antithesis of everything our own boss stands for. Ever unpopular amongst Arsenal fans for his teams’ “anti-football” physical approach to the game, credit must be given to Allardyce for making small clubs punch above their weight for years on end.
However, Blackburn Rovers have been distinctly average this season and not as hard to break down as one would expect an Allardyce side to be.
With Arsenal notching up three consecutive wins in the league and Europe, Gooners everywhere will go into this tie full of confidence. A 2-0 home win over an Olympiacos side that looked to park the bus much as Blackburn will try to do found themselves dominated throughout the game, despite the goals only coming later on in the match
With only one loss in their last six games, and a 89th minute winner in their previous game versus Villa (who normally travel so well) things are looking up for Blackburn.
Early on, a poor start became a desperate mission to get their first win under their belt and from then on the form has steadily improved. It’s still a mixed bag, with the home win over Villa a highlight, and a 3-0 away loss at Goodison Park a sore point amongst the Ewood Park faithful.
Arsenal are without long term absentees Denilson, Djourou, Nasri and Fabianksi, with Almunia also out with a virus, though back in full training (again, it seems). Eduardo is out with a thigh muscle injury, though Bendtner and Walcott are now available.
Blackburn are missing the impressive left back Gael Givet with a knee injury.
With Blackburn fairly poor up front, and expected to park the bus anyway, Arsenal are going to look towards the creative players in the squad to break down the massed Blackburn defence.
With a plethora of riches in this regard, Fabregas, Arshavin and Rosicky all be looking to pick the pass unlocks the defence. With the previously goal-shy Robin Van Persie entering what looks to be a rich vein of form, Arsenal are not lacking matchwinners.
Blackburn’s recent resilience has owed much to a strong defence, with Gael Givet slotting in well to replace the departed Stephen Warnock, though injury has ruled the Frenchman out. Samba will always pose a threat at set pieces, while David Dunn has been performing superbly at the heart of the Blackburn midfield.
Arsenal expected line up:
Eboue Vermaelen Gallas Clichy
Bendtner Van Persie Arshavin
Subs: Szcznesy, Diaby, Silvestre, Ramsey, Wilshere, Vela, Walcott
Where to start in terms of the detail? Manuel Almunia’s chest infection must be more like tuberculosis than was explained on Arsenal.com when the news initially broke.
It’s all very peculiar, considering he was “back in full training” to quote Wenger two weeks ago, and in the pre-match press conference issued today, he’s back in full training again! Surely if he’d had a setback, a statement would be released as it was during Rosicky’s lengthy layoff?
Eboue slots in at right back to aid breaking down Blackburn’s ten man defence; I only got to see the first half of the Olimpiacos game, but his performance arguably warrants this start too. That said, we could see Sagna for purely tactical reasons: he offers more aerially than Eboue, which will be important when we defend set pieces.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Ramsey replace Tomas but it’s unlikely. There wouldn’t be a drop in the quality of the final ball, and Rosicky should be wrapped in cotton wool during these physical matches.
Bendtner comes back into the side after his crash (I’ve heard some crackers from Arsenal fans “…in the aftermath of the crash, Arsène Wenger was heard saying Bendtner lacked experience and sharpness on the night…”) I quite like Bendtner in that wide right role, he offers a long option on the counter and often catches fullbacks out with unexpected trickery.
I’d like Song off when we have a two goal cushion. Sagna isn’t included on the bench as we are struggling for space, and he’s unlikely to be called upon even if he is included amongst the subs.
I’m going to agree with Ben, my Blackburn season-ticket holding friend, and go for three nil to the Arsenal. We aren’t the same team who could regularly be held to a draw by a poorer team; the creativity of the personnel at our disposal has seen to that.
Blackburn too aren’t the same team that were in and around the European places over recent seasons: previously impressive players such as Gamst Pedersen and Emerton are looking decidedly average, and Benni McCarthy is nowhere near the level of the 06/07 campaign, form that had him linked with Chelsea in the summer that followed.
With Manchester United’s multimillion pound medical department presumably taking the utmost care of Michael Owen, was anybody else surprised at Fergies quote of “… but he had a rest day, and he thought he was fine…” speaking in regards to the player playing after pulling a muscle in a recent training session? Correct me if I’m wrong, but is Owen a qualified doctor? Seems a very carefree attitude from the Manchester United medical staff, given his injury history…
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