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Posted: 17/09/2011
By Michael Strevens
Category: Match Reports

Blackburn Rovers 4-3 Arsenal: self-destruction

Team: Szczesny, Sagna (Djourou), Koscielny, Mertesacker, Santos, Song (Chamakh), Arteta, Ramsey, Arshavin, (Walcott), van Persie , Gervinho

The Short Report

Arsenal find yet another way to lose after twice throwing away the lead  to go down 4-3 at Blackburn. Two own goals and some disastrous defending contributed to a result that leaves us rooted towards the bottom of the table.

The AL Report

This is the year in which we celebrate our 125th anniversary. If we carry on like this, I worry we will end up marking the occasion by conceding at least that number of goals.

Before yesterday’s game, Blackburn fans staged a protest calling for manager Steve Kean to be sacked. By the end of it, they had moved above us in the table. We threw away the lead twice, as a brace from Yakubu and two calamitous own goals ensured the spotlight was firmly back on Arsene Wenger following two promising results.

There has been at least one full debut in each of our five league games - a sign of the massive upheaval we have gone through in recent times. This time it was the turn of Andre Santos, who came in for Kieran Gibbs at left-back. Andrey Arshavin returned at the expense of Theo Walcott, whilst Aaron Ramsey recovered from injury to replace Yossi Benayoun, making it  three changes from the side that drew at Borussia Dortmund.

We made a bright start and had the lead within ten minutes. Gervinho latched onto Alex Song’s exquisite ball, shrugged off Chris Samba  and side-footed home. It was a beautifully crafted goal from two players eager to make an impact having missed the last three games through suspension.

For a brief spell, we looked like the Arsenal of old – knocking the ball about beautifully and seemingly capable of scoring at any time. Arshavin was causing the Rovers defence all sorts of trouble and spurned two great chances to extend our lead, curling a shot over the bar and forcing Paul Robinson to save a half-volley following a corner. Gervinho ghosted past the Rovers defence with ease, but his finish, although struck well enough, was hit straight at the former Spurs keeper.

During this period of dominance, there was a chilling reminder that we are capable of conceding at any time, especially from set-pieces. Samba was left completely unmarked at the far post as Ruben Rochina floated in a free-kick. He could only head wide, but it showed a worrying lack of focus at the back that would only get worse as the match progressed.

The first of Blackburn’s equalisers came on 25 minutes. On the edge of the area, Song’s interception fell straight to David Hoilett who sprung the offside trap with a superb pass through to Yakubu. The Nigerian produced a deft finish, tapping it past the onrushing Wojciech Szczesny. It was a well-worked goal, but one that was eminently preventable.

The hosts, delighted at finding themselves on level terms against the run of play, put us under pressure as Samba headed over again, this time from a corner. Bacary Sagna, as he has done so often already this season, rescued us with a great headed clearance before getting clattered by Scott Dann, picking up an injury that would eventually force him off.

In the meantime, Bac soldiered on as you would expect, playing a big part in our second. His pass found Aaron Ramsey, who had broken free on the right. Leaving his marker for dead, Ramsey cut it back into the box, allowing Mikel Arteta to lash into the roof of the net. It was his first goal in red and white, but already his second of the season at Ewood Park, having scored there in Everton colours last month.

Gervinho could have made it 3-1, but shot when he might have passed to a better-placed Robin van Persie. The skipper made his displeasure known in a similar way that Thierry Henry used to do to him and we went into the break with a one goal lead to protect. It was an encouraging half and despite showing the usual defensive frailties, it was the most fluent we had looked going forward for some time.

Sadly, the second period was as shambolic as anything we have seen in recent years, matching last season’s 4-4 draw at Newcastle for sheer farce.

Less than five minutes in, Blackburn won a free-kick in a dangerous position to the right of the box. Van Persie failed to deal with it and it bounced straight in off Song’s knee. There wasn’t much Song could do about it, but we were utterly static as Rochina sent it in and nobody attacked the ball. Forget zonal marking, this was defending in the twilight zone.

The rain started to come down in sheets as Djourou was thrown on at right-back for the stricken Sagna. Szczesny brilliantly kept out Mauro Formica, before the home side took the lead for the first time. In the build-up, Wenger pointed out that we were yet to concede from a corner – talk about tempting fate. We failed to deal with Hoillet’s delivery and the ball fell straight to Steven N’Zonzi, who drilled it back in for Yakubu to score from close-range. He was fractionally offside, but it was more a product of our own ineptitude rahter than bad luck.

Despite our shakiness, we still offered an attacking threat, Van Persie had a couple of chances and Theo Walcott was dangerous after coming off the bench to replace Arshavin, although inevitably this left us even more open to a counter-attack. When Ramsey’s shot was deflected behind for a corner, we threw everyone into the box. It was headed away easily by N’Zonzi, sparking a quick break from Rovers. Yakubu found subsitute Martin Olsson on the right, who skipped past Djourou’s mistimed challenge and drove into the box. His cut back was steered in by the unfortunate Laurent Koscielny to make it 4-2. All that heroic defending in Dortmund was now a distant memory.

To our credit, we never gave up and threw everything we could at Blackburn. Robinson, so generous to us in the past made two fine saves from Van Persie headers and denied Marouane Chamakh a goal from his first touch. With six minutes left on the clock, it was the Moroccan, who gave us a glimmer of hope, heading home Robin’s excellent cross on 84 minutes. It was his first league goal since last November and the sort of finish he was producing regularly at the start of last season.

It set up a frantic finale.  Per Mertesacker and Chamakh both missed free headers in stoppage time, but Blackburn managed to withstand our aerial bombardment and it stayed at 4-3. That’s a scarcely believable 12 goals conceded in our last two away games and a result that shatters any illusions we may have had about turning the corner.

Next up: We are in Carling Cup action on Tuesday night at home to Shrewsbury before Bolton to come to town – one of the few sides who are struggling even more than us.

Man of the Match

Gervinho scored his first Arsenal goal and was a menace on both wings throughout. He was a little greedy at times, but his directness and pace kept the Blackburn defence on their toes all afternoon.

Player Focus

Along with the rest of the defence, Laurent Koscielny had a day to forget. He was caught cold by the first goal and was at fault for the third as he failed to deal with the corner. There wasn’t much he could do about the own goal, but it capped off a miserable day. He was so impressive in Germany last week, but sometimes he appears to switch off – an affliction he obviously shares with his team-mates.

Moan of the Match

After the own goals went in, the tannoy announcer gleefully shouted the names of Song and Koscielny for the fans to cheer. Obviously it made no difference to the outcome of the game, but it left a nasty taste in the mouth – an utter lack of class.

The Final Word

“At the moment we do not have the capability to focus defensively for 90 minutes to win games.” This was the worrying conclusion from Arsene Wenger as he tried to come to terms with another chaotic defensive display. Over the last two games, there were promising signs that we were starting to get the basics right. Unfortunately, these green shoots of recovery have been well and truly choked and confidence has to be rebuilt from scratch.

As grating as it can sound after defeat, the boss was right to say that it was not all negative. We passed the ball well for the most part, dominated possession and always looked threatening going forward.  Yet we just couldn’t handle the most basic of set-piece routines at the back. Individually, the defenders are good players, but has something gone badly wrong with the coaching? Is it time for Wenger to finally swallow his pride and bring in a defensive coach? How on earth do we sort out this mess quickly?

I don’t know what the answers are, but I would dearly love Wenger to find them as we head into a run of three consecutive home games. If we lose any of them, especially the Bolton match, even the most moderate of fans will be questioning his future.

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

Category

2011-12 | Match Reports

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