Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents. Arsène Wenger's side take on Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Andy Cryer for their views.
Amazingly, Michael Appleton is the fifth man to have been responsible for picking Blackburn’s side this season, following Steve Kean and Henning Berg’s sackings, and spells for both Eric Black and Gary Bowyer as caretaker manager.
Such instability is hardly the recipe for a solid side - but there have been promising signs of cohesion in Blackburn’s recent matches.
The central-midfield combination of Jason Lowe and Danny Murphy has worked well in recent weeks. Lowe provides the energy and mobility, allowing Murphy to sit deep and play intelligent passes towards the flanksMichael Cox
Appleton has favoured a simple 4-4-1-1 shape, and his side are likely to defend deep and narrow on Saturday afternoon, forcing Arsenal into wide positions.
If this results in plenty of crosses, Arsenal should put goalkeeper Jake Kean under heavy pressure. The 22-year-old has replaced Paul Robinson between the sticks, but is inexperienced and lacks presence when dealing with aerial balls.
In front of him, the centre-back combination of Grant Hanley and Scott Dann are dominant in the air, but Hanley lacks pace. The same can be said of right back Bradley Orr, who is a tough tackler but struggles when the ball is knocked in behind him.
The central-midfield combination of Jason Lowe and Danny Murphy has worked well in recent weeks. Lowe provides the energy and mobility, allowing Murphy to sit deep and play intelligent passes towards the flanks.
Blackburn will look to play on the counter-attack on Saturday, which means Arsenal must prevent Murphy from getting time on the ball to hit long, diagonal passes.
Up front, Appleton will use Jordan Rhodes, who has been in wonderful form this season. He’s an instinctive finisher in front of goal, and capable of mixing it physically with tough opposition centre backs.
However, Rhodes lacks pace and depends upon reliable service from the flanks. Although relatively untested at the top level, Rhodes’ extraordinary scoring record in both League One and the Championship demonstrates his raw quality in front of goal, and Arsenal mustn’t allow him freedom inside the penalty box.
Former Portuguese international Nuno Gomes is a handy back-up striker. He’s slowed significantly since his prime a decade ago, but his intelligent movement and neat link-up play is still apparent.
ANDY CRYER, LANCASHIRE TELEGRAPH
It’s been a real rollercoaster season so far. Rovers were tipped to run away with the league with the quality of the players they signed - people like Danny Murphy, Colin Kazim-Richards and Dickson Etuhu, as well as Jordan Rhodes. Things didn’t work out and they are on their fifth manager of the campaign already. Things look to be settling down at the moment but I daren’t speak too soon!
I think Rhodes can go all the way. He does nothing for most of the game and then scores a goal out of nothing. He doesn’t miss many chances and has scored in seven out of Rovers’ last eight games.Andy Cryer
They are very hard to beat now. They’re not very pretty going forward, but they’ve got Rhodes, who scores goals for fun. Appleton has built the team on defence.
I think Rhodes can go all the way. He does nothing for most of the game and then scores a goal out of nothing. He doesn’t miss many chances and has scored in seven out of Rovers’ last eight games. He’s been feeding off scraps lately but is finding the net all the time. He keeps his feet on the ground and I’m sure he will be in the Premier League next season.
Rovers are not at their strongest in central midfield. Murphy hasn’t been at his best, but has improved recently. I think Rovers can be dominated in midfield, and we’ve seen that happen in the last few games.
I think Arsenal will win 2-0. Rovers will make it hard but you have to expect Arsenal’s quality to come to fruition.