By Richard Clarke
Arsenal face another FA Cup replay after their Fifth Round tie with Blackburn ended in a frustrating goalless draw on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger's side are not prone to scoreless matches. This was the first domestic 0-0 in 56 games. However they were kept at bay by a resolute Rovers side and in particular keeper Brad Friedel.
In injury time, the American made a superb double save from Thierry Henry and Justin Hoyte. It was the highlight of a largely forgettable match.
After 120 minutes of unremitting entertainment in the Fourth Round replay at the Reebok Stadium in midweek this was definitely a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's Show'.
The replay will take place at Ewood Park on Wednesday, February 28.
Last Wednesday's win at Bolton had been as tiring as it had been exhilarating. Therefore, as expected, Wenger rotated his squad.
He retained only Manuel Almunia and Kolo Toure from his starting line-up at the Reebok Stadium. Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Denilson and Tomas Rosicky all dropped out of the starting XI and onto the bench. Abou Diaby, Gilberto and Julio Baptista were left out completely while Alex Hleb (virus) and Johan Djourou (knee) had minor ailments.
Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Philippe Senderos, Mathieu Flamini and Jeremie Aliadiere, Justin Hoyte were called upon to start. As was William Gallas; the former Chelsea defender was fit after almost three months out with a thigh problem.
Emirates Stadium was swaddled in sunshine for this lunchtime kick-off. Given the Stakhanovite schedule of the last few weeks, you could have forgiven the Arsenal players for having leaden legs this afternoon. However you could not tell at the start of the game.
Arsenal were sprightly, sparky. In the opening minutes, Henry volleyed over the bar from an acute angle and Gallas put a header wide at the far post. Flamini thumped a long-range effort wide and then Friedel clutched Walcott's deflected flick after Henry had sent a free-kick over from the left.
Blackburn were compact and solid but lacking invention. Their only effort in the entire first half was David Bentley's wild pot-shot over the bar.
Arsenal had the territorial advantage but the massed ranks of the Rovers defence were quelling their attacks. It was as if Hughes had told his side to keep the game tight until the latter stages in the hope that the home side would tire. It did not make for an entertaining game.
Wenger's men rather lost their way as half time approached. In injury time Gallas thumped over but, overall, it had been a poor first period.
The second half followed the same pattern early on. Arsenal attacked, probed for an opening, Blackburn's snuffed out the opportunity and played an optimistic ball forwards. The home defence would collect easily and the whole process would start again.
The first chance of note came 13 minutes in. Aliadiere slipped the ball to Walcott inside the area and the 17-year-old cracked his effort into the sidenetting.
Something had to change and, on the hour, Wenger made his first substitution. Clichy came on for Gallas.
Blackburn attacks had been so rare they were becoming an endangered species. However in the 63rd minute Bentley's free-kick was nodded towards the far post by the giant Christopher Samba and Clichy hooked the ball away from danger.
Wenger responded with his last two subs - Adebayor for Walcott and Rosicky for Ljungberg. Obviously the Frenchman was intent on winning this game in the 90 minutes.
In fairness, the game did start to yield some opportunities. Matt Derbyshire's chip was hurriedly tapped over the bar by the stretching Almunia. Then Aliadiere had a realistic shout for a penalty when Stephen Warnock brought him down. Referee Martin Atkinson waved play on.
Seven minutes from time, Rosicky burst clear in the area but Friedel rushed out to save his shot with his legs.
The Blackburn keeper would keep Rovers in the tie a minute later. Adebayor found space down the left and crossed. Henry flicked the ball up and sent a lofted shot goalwards, the American keeper saved it with his fingertips then recovered to block Hoyte's follow-up with his legs.
Given Arsenal's crammed fixture list, it was a save - and a result - they did not need.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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