By Adam Clark
When Blackburn visited Emirates Stadium two days before Christmas they came and had a go.
Unfortunately the plan backfired.
In fairness the 6-2 result was harsh on Mark Hughes' side, who at 3-2 could so easily have equalised, only to concede three times in the final eight minutes.
However, if Blackburn needed a catalyst to change their season that result was it. The Lancastrians have won all four of their games since that Christmas catastrophe - and won them in style.
A 1-0 victory at home to Liverpool on Boxing Day was followed by a 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough and a 3-0 romp at Wigan before three first-half goals saw them cruise past Everton in the FA Cup, eventually emerging 4-1 winners.
As Arsenal prepare to face the resurgent Rovers at Ewood Park we asked Andy Neild, from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, for his thoughts on the change in fortunes, the form of Benni McCarthy, Matt Derbyshire's emergence and why Blackburn will attack once again.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They could have gone one of two ways after the defeat at Emirates Stadium. Many teams would have been dispirited especially with Liverpool visiting three days later. But the response has been magnificent. They won four on the bounce, scored 10 and only conceded two, both of which were penalties. Having spoken to the players after the Arsenal game I think many felt the scoreline was a bit flattering. There was a spell in the second half where Blackburn could have got it back to 3-3 and I think they took encouragement from that. I don't think the position Blackburn were in before Christmas was false because the league table doesn't lie, as you so often hear, but they struggled with injuries to key players and that does have a big impact on a squad like Blackburn's. I think in the second half of the season, with everyone back, you'll really see them kicking on."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Benni McCarthy is on fire at the minute. He's been one of the signings of the season. A lot of Clubs have looked at him over the last six or seven years but didn't manage to lure him, and deals fell through. Mark Hughes got him in during the summer though and he's been superb. There's even been talk of interest now from bigger clubs. Originally he came in as a replacement for Craig Bellamy, who was a speedy player, but McCarthy plays off the shoulder, drops deep and gets involved in the link up play. He's intelligent, he's got a great touch and he's proven deadly in front of goal."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"It's a big ask for a top-six finish again, simply because of the amount of games they have to play. If they keep going well in Europe and the FA Cup then it's going to be a tall order to keep it up. Nonetheless, I can certainly see a top-half position and, who knows, they could start reeling in some of those clubs above them."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"I think they've staved off any talk of relegation now. It was starting to look a bit dicey around the time they travelled to Emirates Stadium but they've opened up a 10-point gap on the bottom three and I don't see them getting sucked back in. They usually have a good season and finish sixth, then a bad season and finish 16, then sixth, then sixteenth again. That's how it's been in the past. Every league place is worth around half a million pounds so, for example, eight places is £4million and that's a big chunk of Mark Hughes' budget. Therefore every place is vital to them and they won't be taking their foot off pedal."
THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO
"Matt Derbyshire's story is great. He left school and joined the club as a coach on one of the football in the community schemes. He was also playing part time for a non-league side called Great Harwood; Blackburn saw him and signed him for £20,000. He's been playing in the academy and had a couple of loans and did particularly well at Wrexham last season. Recently he's been given his chance in the first team and done really well. In fact, he came on at Emirates and it was his header that hit the crossbar in the build up to the second goal for Shabani Nonda. Since then he's scored his first goals for the club and he looks to have a bright future. He's still raw but he's very, very quick and has a definite eye for goal. He's a natural goal poacher who sniffs out goals but I don't think he'll be curling them in from 30-yards."
"Hughes will probably go with 4-4-2 as he's only played 4-5-1 once and he switched it at half time. From talking to the players they were hurting after the 6-2 defeat at Emirates and they're desperate to prove that they're not as bad as that scoreline suggested. They looked to attack and were very ambitious - perhaps a bit too ambitious - and they got punished. They've got a decent recent record against Arsenal at Ewood Park though, including last season when they beat them, so they'll be flying out of the traps this time and I expect a closer game."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I thought the whole set-up was fantastic. The whole experience was a good one and the facilities are second to none in the Premiership. They've always treated you well at Arsenal and I always enjoyed trips to Highbury. I enjoyed Emirates equally, if not more so."
11 Jan 2007