By Declan Taylor
“Can we play you every week?” boomed out of the away section at Ewood Park when Arsenal cruised to a 4-0 victory over Blackburn back in September.
At the time Rovers were under the tutelage of Paul Ince, whose attempts to bring ‘proper football’ to Lancashire only succeeded in establishing the Premier League’s leakiest defence. However, those Arsenal supporters might change their tune now Sam Allardyce is in charge at Blackburn.
The Gunners were one of a number of teams who dropped valuable points at the hands of Big Sam’s Bolton, and he has swiftly instilled his direct style at his new club.
We caught up with Andy Cryer of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph for an in-depth view of Saturday’s opponents, a look back at September’s 4-0 humbling and Blackburn’s “complete striker”.
THE STORY SO FAR
“After Wednesday night’s result, things look a lot brighter. Under Sam they have tightened up a lot and they have started playing as a unit more. They have had problems finishing teams off, they have been playing well but missing chances. The win against Fulham was massive and they are now as high as they have been for three or four months.
“Is relegation a threat? Without a doubt. Until they beat Fulham I thought they were favourites to go down. It is only two points between them and a host of teams but really I think anyone up to 11th or 12th can still go down.”
THE MAN IN CHARGE
“He has just got the team a lot tighter. Fair play to Paul Ince he wanted to play football, he was keen on keeping the ball on the ground and he wanted to play open football. Rovers didn’t really have the players for that and they’ve relied on being hard to beat for a good four or five years. They were left too exposed in the first half of the season and they leaked goals for fun. They had the worst defensive record in the Premier League.
“It is fair to say it is not pretty at times. At the start of the season when Allardyce was first linked a lot of fans didn’t want him because of his football with Bolton. Now they realise it’s needs-must and there is some flair there in people like El-Hadji Diouf, Roque Santa Cruz and Morten Gamst Pedersen. It’ not all direct, boring football but it’s certainly effective.”
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
“I just think that in recent times it suits their style of football when they go away. They can defend and there’s no doubt that Ryan Nelsen, Chris Samba and Andre Ooijer are good defenders whatever happened in the first half of the season. They can sit back and defend but still score goals. Perhaps it suits them going away; soaking up the pressure and hitting teams on the break.
“At this stage of the season we’ll see a whole variety of strange results. When you’ve got teams fighting for their lives they always produce strange results and we’ve seen that with teams like Stoke and Middlesbrough already. People think they can win anywhere because they simply have to.”
THE MAN OF THE MOMENT
“The fact that they turned down almost £20million shows just how much Roque Santa Cruz means to Blackburn. They felt they couldn’t replace him with that amount of money. He hasn’t had the best of seasons and he has struggled for fitness and even form at times. But, if you want a striker to score a goal to keep you up at the end of the season, you would want Santa Cruz.
“He is the complete striker really. A lot of people talk about the big man upfront but you don’t expect him to be so good on the floor. Roque does both - he is dominant in the air but he’s also a very clever footballer.
“He’s got a bit of a swollen knee but he should be alright for the weekend. I have no doubt that Rovers will try and hit him and Jason Roberts with long balls early on and get people up to support them.”
“Sam is favouring a 4-5-1 at the moment but with the players at his disposal, getting forward at every opportunity, it can look very attacking sometimes. They went to Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago and they really could have won but they lost on a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions. They didn’t defend too much and I think they’ll have a very tight back four at the Emirates with a solid midfield to protect. However I think Allardyce knows there is no point in putting 11 men behind the ball and just protecting because Arsenal will break them down eventually.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“It has been an on-off season for Arsenal in many respects. They have some undoubtedly quality players and on their day they are the side that anyone in the country would pay to watch – some of their football is simply brilliant. Maybe they are going through a transitional phase and they need a centre forward who will score more regularly. It just seems that they aren’t quite up at the same notch as Man United at the moment.
“Back in September it was men against boys really. Rovers had built their reputation on being hard to beat and being able to stand up against the big boys. They certainly haven’t done that this season; they haven’t done it against Arsenal, Man United or Liverpool. But I do think under Allardyce it will be a different prospect come Saturday.”Copyright 2016 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