By Chris Harris
From seven wins in a row to one win in seven - what's gone wrong at Blackburn? Mark Hughes' side have a well-deserved reputation for being hard to beat but something must be up when you're shipping five goals at Wigan and four at home to Aston Villa.
Never mind. If anything can fire up this faltering Blackburn side, it's the visit of Arsenal. Rovers always make life tough for the Gunners at Ewood Park and tonight they will entertain the Premier League pacesetters for the fourth time in this calendar year. Three tight, tense encounters have spawned a win apiece plus a draw - expect another close call when the sides lock horns in the Carling Cup.
We spoke to Andy Neild of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph to get a Blackburn perspective ahead of the Quarter-Final tie. Read on for his explanation of Blackburn's recent problems, the impact of new boy Roque Santa Cruz, the need to freshen up the squad in January and the three previous meetings at Ewood Park in 2007.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They ran into a tough run of fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United. They picked up a few draws and lost their winning sequence. Since then they have struggled a little bit. They had a run of games in which you'd expect them to pick up points but they lost four, including two at home. One or two key players have lost a little bit of form, the likes of Ryan Nelsen, Chris Samba and Stephen Warnock, who were all very influential earlier in the season. That has disrupted the team a little bit and Blackburn have lost the fluency they had a couple of months ago.
"Mark Hughes prides himself on keeping things nice and tight at the back and they were achieving that earlier in the season - Nelsen and Samba looked a good combination. But for whatever reason both players are struggling and Rovers have shipped some soft goals, especially from set pieces."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Roque Santa Cruz. He came in during the summer, a bargain signing from Bayern Munich at £3.8 million which is looking like good business at the minute. He had a bit of a spell when he stopped scoring but he returned to form on Saturday with a hat-trick, albeit in a losing cause at Wigan."
"I think someone will come in when the transfer window opens. Hughes will probably want to freshen the squad up a bit with one or two new faces but he will have to scour for bargains unless he was to cash in on one of his star players. I do expect a bit of movement in the window just to keep everyone on their toes and freshen things up.
"They possibly need a bit more creativity in midfield. Tugay has performed well again this season but he is 37 now and is coming towards the end of his career. This might be his last season. If there was one area where they are looking to invest some money it would be probably be a creative midfielder to play in the middle of the park."
"I think Hughes will have them fired up because he was desperately disappointed with their performance on Saturday, particularly in the first half when Rovers were 3-0 down after 37 minutes. He came out afterwards and said the first half was 'unacceptable', which is strong language from Hughes - he doesn't use those terms lightly. I think he'll make a couple of changes, try to shake things up a little and maybe give one or two of the fringe players a chance to show what they could do.
"They have an excellent record in the cup competitions since Hughes came to the club. He always tends to pick a fairly strong team, he doesn't make wholesale changes generally speaking. I think they've reached three semi-finals in his time at the club, in the FA Cup twice and the Carling Cup once. Hughes will be determined to make progress in this competition if he possibly can."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I suppose the one game Rovers fans will pick out is the FA Cup replay at the start of the year when Benni McCarthy came off the bench and scored a wonderful goal in injury time to give Blackburn a 1-0 win. That was probably the highlight of the calendar year so far. They were comfortably beaten in the League, a cracking goal from Thierry Henry that day. And then in the League earlier this season Blackburn were the first team to take points off Arsenal. That was quite a feisty encounter, a few words were exchanged afterwards. They always tend to be incident-packed games between these two clubs, there is quite a bit of passion on view, and I'm sure Tuesday will be the same.
"I think Arsenal have surprised everyone. I don't think many people were tipping them to be title contenders at the start of the season having lost Henry. But their young players have matured very quickly, they have really found their feet at Premier League level and they deservedly sit at the top of the table. Arsenal play some exceptional stuff, they are good to watch and they play the game the right way. I think they have had a cracking season so far."Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 17 Dec 2007