Arsenal finally gave their disgruntled supporters something to cheer about with a 7–1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers in Saturday’s early kickoff at the Emirates. It was the Gunners’ first league win of 2012 and a timely confidence boost ahead of the Champions League knockout phase.
Marksman par excellence, Robin Van Persie, scored a hat-trick, his second of the campaign, while teenage starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added two of his own.
Blackburn had twice come from behind to defeat Arsenal 4–3 at Ewood Park back in September, so Gunners boss Arsene Wenger took nothing for granted in this return fixture. Aaron Ramsey, who had appeared sluggish in the 0–0 draw at Bolton in midweek, made way for Tomas Rosicky, and Francis Coquelin came in for Bacary Sagna. A surprising move this, since the defensive midfielder was asked to play out of position at right full back.
Blackburn’s defensive line-up looked vulnerable without the commanding presence of Christopher Samba. Manager Steve Kean stated that Samba was fit to play but there was a question mark over his mental attitude following his unsuccessful transfer request. Thus, goalkeeper Paul Robinson continued to wear the captain’s armband. Top striker Yakubu was still serving a suspension, which provided another opportunity for Anthony Modeste who is on loan from Bordeaux.
Gunners on Fire
The game was just 80 seconds old when Coquelin sent Theo Walcott down the right flank to the byline. The England winger cut the ball back to Van Persie who had a simple tap in for his first of the afternoon. The home side proceeded to dominate play for half an hour with Blackburn barely able to break out of their own half.
However, when they did manage a rare foray into Arsenal territory, Modeste won a free kick in a prime central position just outside the penalty area. Dead ball specialist Morten Gamst Pederson made no mistake with his lethal left foot, curling the ball over the wall and into the top right hand corner of Wojciech Szczesny’s goal. The Polish keeper got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.
That was as good as it was going to get for Rovers and normal service quickly resumed. On 38 minutes an incisive pass from Alex Song again found Walcott in space and the winger’s pull-back resulted in another tap in for Van Persie.
Then just two minutes later Oxlade-Chamberlain was played in via the silky skills of Van Persie. A sure first touch from the 18 year-old brought the ball under control, the second took him round the keeper, and the third deposited the ball into the back of the net. This is a player with a very bright future ahead of him.
Blackburn already looked dead and buried, but any chance of a miraculous recovery disappeared completely with the dismissal of Gael Givet for a two-footed lunge at Van Persie shortly before half time. Blackburn was having enough trouble defending with 11 players and now they would have to make do with 10.
More of the Same
Arsenal started the second period a bit casually, but it was not long before they slipped smoothly into gear. On 51 minutes, a weak headed clearance from a Van Persie corner fell invitingly into the path of Mikel Arteta on the edge of the box. The former Everton man had enough time and space to pick his spot and duly rifled the ball home.
Only three minutes later the visitors were in strife yet again as Walcott ran them ragged before slipping the ball to fellow winger Oxlade-Chamberlain who made no mistake.
There are already cries from around the country for Oxlade-Chamberlain to be picked for England, and on the hour he showed us exactly why, leaving two Blackburn defenders for dead in a glorious run that, while not leading to another goal, was itself worth the price of admission.
Wenger spoke about Arsenal’s newly found spark plug, as reportedon ESPN Soccernet.com, “Chamberlain has made a big step in the last months. He produces team play, he is not only going forwards, he is contributing to the defending and has improved very quickly.”
The young man was surprisingly deprived of the chance of completing his hat-trick when Wenger substituted him for the second week in succession with 22 minutes still to play. But on came the legendary Thierry Henry instead of Andrei Arshavin.
However, more goals did come for Arsenal. The skipper completed his hat-trick with another one laid on a plate for him, this time by Coquelin. Van Persie has scored more goals against Blackburn in all competitions than against any other team having netted 13 times in 13 games—certainly not lucky for Rovers.
The icing on the cake for the home fans came in the final minute of stoppage time when Van Persie unselfishly set up on-loan substitute, and perennial crowd favorite, Henry for the former captain’s first Premier League goal in five years.
The win took Arsenal to within two points of Chelsea in fourth place, and of course did wonders for their goal difference, something that could prove crucial in the battle for that final Champions League qualifying spot come the end of the season.
“I felt that recently we had quite good performances but did not get the results. Today we got the performance and the result, which is ideally what you want,” Wenger said.
Blackburn remains deep in trouble with that heroic win at Old Trafford becoming a fading memory. Kean said after the game, “This was the first time we really got turned over, so we will have to analyze it and respond. I could shout at the players in the dressing room, throw tea-cups at them, but the hard work starts again preparing for the next game.”