By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal signalled their return to top form with a record-breaking – and hugely satisfying – 7-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
Robin van Persie struck his second hat-trick of the season as Arsène Wenger’s side recorded their best Premier League win at Emirates Stadium.
The Dutchman put Arsenal in front after 82 seconds and again in the 38th minute after Morten Gamst Pedersen had equalised with a pin-point free-kick.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal and Gael Givet’s sending off followed before the break as the hosts effectively secured the points. The youngster caught the eye once more and, after Mikel Arteta had made it 4-1 just after the restart, fired in his second at the near post.
On 62 minutes, Van Persie turned in a cross from Francis Coquelin to complete his personal treble and his team’s half-dozen.
The Arsenal captain has now scored 13 goals in 13 games against Blackburn. But then the Lancashire side have a habit of coming unstuck against Wenger’s side - this scoreline edged out their 6-2 defeat at December 2006 as the heaviest Arsenal victory at Emirates in the Premier League.
Thierry Henry upped his own record as the Club’s top-scorer by slotting home a seventh with the final kick of the game.
It was the perfect riposte on a magnificent day for Arsenal.
Wenger would have taken any kind of victory this afternoon but you sense each goal pumped a little more confidence back into the veins of those on the pitch and in the crowd.
You better believe it - Arsenal are still very much alive in the fight for fourth place.
Wenger made two changes from the side held to a goalless draw at the Reebok Stadium against Bolton on Wednesday. Coquelin replaced Bacary Sagna at right back. The latter’s 90 minutes in midweek represented his first involvement since October 2. Meanwhile, Tomas Rosicky came into central midfield for Aaron Ramsey. It was the Czech international’s 150th game for the Club.
The closure of certain sections of London’s underground network had meant this game had been brought forward by two hours. Heavy snow was also forecast for late in the afternoon. With Liverpool and Chelsea playing Tottenham and Manchester United respectively later in the weekend, everything seemed to suggest that this was a good game to ‘get out of the way’ early.
Presuming Arsenal won of course.
And the home side would start the process inside two minutes. Theo Walcott escaped on the right and reached the byline. His low cross gave Van Persie a tap-in at the far post.
It was the Dutchman’s 26th goal of the season and 20th in the Premier League – the first player to reach that mark this season.
It was also the 121st of Van Persie’s Arsenal career, moving him clear of Dennis Bergkamp as the 10th most prolific striker in the Club’s history.
It was also just the start Arsenal required and they attempted to capitalise straight away.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made space for himself on the left but no-one could convert his dangerous ball across the face of goal. And, on the quarter-hour, Van Persie’s free-kick flew through a crowded area, narrowly missing its intended target – Per Mertesacker.
Blackburn had arrived on solid away run – five points from trips to Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton. But the early goal had been a blow and the closest they came was when Anthony Modeste flew in at the near post and connected with Wojciech Szczesny not the ball. Both carried on after treatment.
Midway through the half, Walcott hit the byline again and Rosicky teed himself up for a shot. It was goalbound but blocked.
Shortly afterwards the veteran midfielder’s cross-shot whistled just wide. Then Mertesacker met Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner at the far post and Stephen Nzoni desperately hacked the ball over his own bar.
Such was Van Persie’s confidence he even tried a trademark chip.
This was becoming a strange game. Arsenal had all the possession and were creating all the attacks but they were still some way away from top gear.
But Blackburn had done nothing thus far so their equaliser in the 31st minute came out of the blue. Laurent Koscielny hauled down Modeste just outside the area and Pedersen whipped in a free-kick. Szczesny got a hand on the ball but could not prevent it from finding the top corner.
It had been a game of one-way traffic and Arsenal had now hit a speed bump.
However, within nine minutes, they were in cruise control again as the home side increased the tempo.
In the 38th minute, Song sent Walcott racing to the byline and his cutback was slotted home by Van Persie from close-range.
Two minutes later, Van Persie nudged a pass into the path of the sprinting Oxlade-Chamberlain. A wonderful first touch allowed him to skip around Paul Robinson and slide home the third goal of his Arsenal career.
Since they had scored it had all gone wrong for Blackburn. Before that brace they had lost Ryan Lowe after a tackle from Rosicky. After it, Givet upended Van Persie with a two-footed lunge. A red card was inevitable.
Now Arsenal had their tails up. A short corner saw Arteta angle a ball towards the far post, Mertesacker flicked on and Vermaelen failed to convert at the far post.
It was the final chance before the break.
Little changed after the restart as Arsenal began with style. Five minutes in, substitute Grant Hanley nearly turned Walcott’s cross into his own net. Van Persie’s corner eventually fell to Arteta, who thumped home his fourth goal of the season from the edge of the area.
Blackburn seemed a broken team now but Arsenal were in an ominously unforgiving mood. Walcott traversed the area and fed Oxlade-Chamberlain at the far post. The midfielder fired home with glee.
Walcott or Van Persie had made or scored all the goals but the 18-year-old was starting to take the limelight.
On the hour, he outpaced one Blackburn defender then tricked his way past another before picking out Arteta at the far post. The Spaniard’s volley was ambitious - and wildly high.
However, in goal-scoring terms, Van Persie is still unequivocally the main man this season. In the 62nd minute, the Dutchman converted Coquelin’s low cross to complete his hat-trick.
Wenger clearly did not want to take his foot off the pedal. That is why he brought Thierry Henry and Sagna for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny.
However, inevitably, Arsenal slackened off and you could not really blame them. Coquelin cracked a shot over the bar and substitute Yossi Benayoun fired at Robinson. But it seemed they had settled at six.
Still, this was a day when almost everything went right for Arsenal.
Van Persie set up Henry to score with the final kick of the match.
A perfect end to a perfect afternoon.
- Koscielny 67 Yellow Card
- Vermaelen Yellow Card
- Arteta Goal!
- Song 72
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 67 Goal! Goal!
- Persie (C) Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Sagna 67
- Benayoun 72
- Henry 67
- Lowe 35
- Olsson Yellow Card
- Givet Red Card
- Pedersen Goal!
- Dunn 45
- Nzonzi Yellow Card
- Modeste Yellow Card
- Orr 35
- Hanley 45