By Richard Clarke
Arsenal slipped to their ninth defeat of the Premier League season when they went down 2-1 at Blackburn on Monday.
Arsène Wenger’s side seemed to have the game under control for much of the first half. Robin van Persie headed them in front after only 13 minutes and, though far from their best, they were clearly showing more quality than their opponents.
However Blackburn built a head of steam just before the break and equalised a minute from the whistle when David Dunn tapped home at the far post.
The game was better after the break. Both sides had their chances but Blackburn grabbed a winner in the 68th minute when Christopher Samba nodded home from inches out as the home side piled into the six-yard area to meet a corner from Morten Gamst Pedersen.
It was an ugly goal to concede and perhaps less than Arsenal deserved on the balance of play. However it leaves Wenger’s men with a little work to do in order to finally secure third place.
A Tottenham victory at Manchester City on Wednesday will leave Arsenal needing a point against Fulham next Sunday to finish the job. It should be straight forward enough but right now the team are drifting towards the end of the campaign.
This was very much an end-of-season affair for Arsenal and, perhaps not surprisingly, Wenger made changes. However there were complications. Gael Clichy (ankle), Tomas Rosicky (ankle) and Alex Song (knee) had all picked up minor injuries so they dropped out of the side. Carlos Vela, Armand Traore and Emmanuel Eboue came in.
Nicklas Bendtner, who had been on the bench against Manchester City last week, was out with a groin injury. Meanwhile Johan Djourou was named in a first-team squad for the first time this season and Kieran Gibbs was back on the bench after breaking a metatarsal against Standard Liege last November.
This might have been the first game of May but it was bitterly cold in Blackburn. The home side were happy enough with a mid-table finish. The visitors were coming to terms with their deficiencies down the stretch.
Their task now was to cement third place and build for next term. And they started that process effectively and quickly this afternoon.
In the third minute, Theo Walcott’s pace allowed him to reach a runaway pass from Emmanuel Eboue into the right-hand channel. Paul Robinson initially went to meet it and then retreated. That meant he was stranded when Walcott’s cross came in. Vela timed his run well and lifted a shot over his marker. However it drifted wide of the post with the goal gaping. A glaring miss.
Pedersen thumped a free-kick into the chest of Lukasz Fabianski by way of response but overall Arsenal were clearly on top in the early stages.
Eboue fed Vela on the left and Mexican fired dangerously across of the face of goal. Neither he nor the Blackburn defence knew he had been flagged offside.
Arsenal were in impish mood and deserved the lead they gained in the 13th minute. Samir Nasri fired over a corner from the left, Bacary Sagna flicked it on at the near post and Van Persie steered home a header. It was the Dutchman’s eighth goal in his last seven games against Blackburn. It had been very, very simple.
Arsenal were showing all the quality. Blackburn were uninspired and seemed happy to make do with a clutch of high balls into the area.
Just past the half-hour, Van Persie curled a low free-kick past the wall only for Robinson to make a scrambling save and Michel Salgado swept the ball behind for a corner.
As half-time approached, Arsenal seemed to simply run out of steam. As a result they came under pressure.
Fabianski tipped a Pedersen free-kick over the bar shortly and, a minute before the whistle, Blackburn were level.
Pedersen took a corner from the right. Samba miscued his header and the ball fell to Keith Andrews at the far post. He drilled a pass across the six-yard box and Jason Roberts’ touch fell kindly to the unmarked Dunn at the far post. His job was simple.
Arsenal’s ambition returned again as the game restarted. In the opening 15 minutes, Salgado kneed the ball nervous past his own post and Van Persie sent a snap-shot past the other upright.
In between those efforts Pedersen burst through and forced a fine one-handed save from Fabianski. On the hour, substitute Junior Hoilett appeared on the right of the area and thumped a shot towards the top corner of the net. The keeper bent his body to tip over ball over. A wonderful stop.
Suddenly the game had found its impetus.
Van Persie turned Salgado on the left of the area and appeared to be hauled down by the former Real Madrid full back as he was set to shoot. The referee was on the blindside of the incident and waved play on.
A couple of minutes later, Blackburn grabbed the lead. As they had all afternoon, the home side steamed into the six-yard box at a corner. When Pedersen fired the ball towards the melee, Samba’s touch turned it home from inches out.
Andrey Arshavin’s first effort after replacing Vela saw him fire straight at Robinson. By now we had a free-flowing open game; nothing like the sterility of first period.
Arsenal thundered forward towards the end but Blackburn stood firm. The visitors failed to test Robinson and the game simply slipped away.
This was another deeply disappointing trip to the North West for Wenger’s men.
- Campbell Yellow Card
- Eboue 78
- Silvestre Yellow Card
- Persie Goal!
- Vela 67
- Arshavin 67
- Eduardo 78
- Samba Goal!
- Grella 58 Yellow Card
- Dunn 85 Goal!
- Pedersen Yellow Card
- Jones 85
- Hoilett 58