By Chris Harris
There will be some tired legs at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Arsenal went to the North West and back in midweek but Blackburn went even further, traipsing to Germany for the first leg of their Uefa Cup tie against Bayer Leverkusen.
Rovers returned to England with two potentially vital away goals and, more worringly, another addition to their lengthy injury list. Benni McCarthy, Blackburn's top scorer this season, has hurt his heel, leaving Mark Hughes down to the bare bones for his second trip to the Emirates this season.
The first ended in a 6-2 defeat, although Rovers gave Arsenal a thorough examination before the home side raced away with three late goals. Since then the Gunners have won 2-0 at Ewood Park despite losing Gilberto to a red card early in the game. You might say Rovers have a point to prove.
We asked Jason Kayley of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph for his insight ahead of Saturday's FA Cup tie. Read on to find out why David Dunn's return could be just what Rovers need, why Hughes would have preferred to face Bolton, and why David Bentley has been compared to David Beckham.
Jason, what was the reaction in Blackburn to Arsenal's 2-0 win at Ewood Park?
"I think everyone expected Rovers to make it harder for Arsenal than they did. Once Gilberto was sent off they should have pressed home their advantage but Arsenal's passing game was absolutely phenomenal. As much as Rovers tried to hassle and harry them they couldn't make the extra man count. The defeat gave Rovers a bit of a wake-up call about the heights they have to hit. It forced them to take a hard look at themselves."
Were you surprised Tugay was left on the bench in that game?
"They were set up quite defensively with Mokoena in and Tugay on the bench. They didn't take the initiative from the start. Tugay is a very influential player for Rovers but he has been forced to play more games because of injuries to Steven Reid and now Robbie Savage. Having said that Rovers fans were disappointed they didn't take the game to Arsenal because they are a good footballing side now too."
How significant is the transfer-window return of David Dunn?
"Everyone here knows about 'Dunny'. He's a local boy and if he can recreate the form which got him an England call-up he will be a fantastic signing. He has already showed signs of his class but he's short of match fitness at the moment. Fingers crossed he'll get back to where he was because he's been hideously unlucky with injuries. He went from Blackburn to Birmingham but I'm not sure his heart was completely in the move. Now he's back he can bring a bit more flair to Rovers going forward. Tugay sprays the ball about but Dunn has younger legs, he can pick a pass, beat a man and he scores goals. He can be a driving force from midfield."
How about the other new faces - Warnock, Samba and Berner?
"Warnock was exceptional on his debut in the FA Cup win at Luton. He played on the left with Pedersen and looked very good going forward. I think he could be a great signing for Rovers. Samba has come in at the back. Rovers lost Ooijer to a bad break in the Manchester City game and with Ryan Nelsen finding his way back after injury and Todd and Henchoz missing, Samba offers cover in that area. He is a giant, an absolute giant, and he has shown some good flashes of ability. If he continues to progress like that he will be a good signing for Rovers. Berner is a left-back so he'll provide competition for Warnock and Michael Gray. The squad is much deeper than it was a couple of years ago, Mark Hughes has been very shrewd in his dealings and brought some talented players in."
How bad are Blackburn's injury problems ahead of Saturday's game?
"McCarthy hurt himself in the game at Leverkusen. It's a minor heel injury but Hughes doesn't want to risk him because he has so many long-term injuries like Reid, Savage and Ooijer. Tugay will be rested against Arsenal, Pedersen hurt himself playing for Norway and this game is a little too soon for him, and Derbyshire hurt his calf against Sheffield United. Since the turn of the year Rovers have had so many injuries, and most of them to first-team players."
So how are Rovers likely to line up at Emirates Stadium?
"Friedel will be in goal, the back four could by Zura Khizanishvili, Samba, Nelsen and Warnock from right to left. Hughes might go with five in midfield but with so many injuries it almost picks itself with Dunn, Bentley, Mokoena, Emerton and maybe Paul Gallagher or Sergio Peter. Up front it will probably be one from Jason Roberts and Shabani Nonda. Then again, Hughes wants it done and dusted on Saturday. He doesn't want a replay so there's a chance he'll go with two up front."
Is this game too much of a distraction ahead of the Uefa Cup second leg?
"With such a massive game on Thursday against Leverkusen I think Hughes will be very wary of getting any more injuries. From a fan's point of view they would have preferred to play Bolton because it's 10 minutes up the road and they have done a lot of travelling in the last few weeks. Hughes knows the size of the task but the fact it's the first year the Final will be at the new Wembley gives this game a bit more importance. Rovers know all about Arsenal's record at the Emirates but they have a lot of belief because they gave Arsenal a good game for 80 minutes there in December before those late goals."
How have Rovers done in the FA Cup this season?
"They won 4-1 at Everton and then 4-0 at Luton. In the Luton game the early goal from Derbyshire killed them off and Rovers were never really threatened. At Everton Hughes was criticised for picking a much-changed team. Some said he wasn't taking the Cup seriously but then the boys went out there and did a great job. Pedersen was superb."
And what about former Gunner David Bentley. How has he progressed?
"Shabani Nonda has said that Bentley is the Rovers equivalent of David Beckham. He sees a lot of similarities between the two. There are certainly elements of Bentley's game which are like Beckham's and as he gets older he is showing his capabilities. Bentley is excellent from free-kicks and crosses and that is an important weapon for Rovers when you consider the heading ability strikers like Nonda and Roberts have."
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