Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Blackburn v Arsenal - Preview

Ewood Park - Blackburn Rovers

/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
font-family:"Times New Roman";

By Richard Clarke

The final task of Arsenal's season is to preserve their progress.

Ever since his team were undone at Tottenham and, four days later, unravelled at Wigan, Arsène Wenger has been reminded of his side's five-year spell without a trophy.

To be honest, he did not need the history lesson.

The manager's main defence has centred around planning and patience. He argues his long-term, firmly-founded vision IS becoming a reality and, despite running into a recession at the business end of the campaign, his young squad has made a sizable step forward.

In the last half-decade, Arsenal have had two realistic stabs at the title. In 2008, their attempt faltered at Birmingham in February amid injury and infamy. They ended up third, four points of adrift of Manchester United.

The other assault came this season. Arsenal were never favourites but their rollercoaster title run only truly ended at the DW Stadium a fortnight ago when Charles N'Zogbia's curler completed that stupefying comeback.

The Club have been licking their collective wounds ever since but victory at Blackburn on Monday would at least ensure a top-three position. Even a draw would give them their best points tally, apart from 2008, in the last five years.

"Compared to the difference that existed early on in the season, we have made progress," said Wenger. "But now we want to finish as close as possible to the team who will win the title.

"There is still an outside chance they will drop points and that means we can finish within maybe five points of them."

The August Arsenal supporter might have settled for that. But after the mounting expectations of March, the table at the end of April makes gloomy reading. However Wenger takes comfort from the fact that his side not only can get better but he also knows how.

"The squad is convinced we have a strong chance next year because we have room for improvement," he said.

"If you assess our situation, going forwards we have been very, very efficient - our goal-scoring rate is very good.

"Where we want to set ourselves a target next season is we conceded nearly 40 goals, and that is too many to win the League. This is one area where we want to improve."

There is only possible change from the squad produced that bore-draw against Manchester City last week and even Andrey Arshavin is still considered doubtful for Ewood Park because of a lingering calf injury. Manuel Almunia (wrist) and Denilson (groin) are going to miss the remaining two games.

Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou are now injury-free but they are not fit enough for first-team action. Meanwhile Wenger confirmed he will not be blooding youngsters in the final 180 minutes of the campaign.

"No, we want to win," he said. "I will play the team that I think is most efficient and balanced to win the game."

Expect exactly the same squad as last Saturday.

If Arsenal were still in the title race they would be visiting BananaSkin Rovers this weekend. Sam Allardyce seemed to enjoy rattling and then derailing Wenger's men back when he was in charge of Bolton. He seems to be working the same muscular magic at Blackburn in the last 18 months, taking them from regular relegation candidates to mid-table safety.  

"Blackburn have done remarkably well," said Wenger. "They are 11th in the League and they have turned things around. They have played good football this season I believe and had good games against Chelsea and Man United. It promises to be an interesting and exciting game because they will go for the win as they have nothing to lose anymore. It could be a good end-of-season game."

However Wenger would happily give up every scrap of free-spirited entertainment for the intensity of importance.

"Well we had those disappointing results at Tottenham and at Wigan," sighed the Frenchman. "Unfortunately that is where we lost the title.

"With five games to go, we were in a very strong position.

"I believe if we had won at Tottenham, then we would have been level with Chelsea today. And that of course brings immense regrets.

"But to be faithful to what we have done during the season it is important that we finish well, first to be in the top three, then be as close as possible to the top teams."

You can tell by the tone of his words, Wenger is hugely disappointed to be out of the title mix. By the time his side play on Monday, he feels this season's winners could be decided.

"I don't more know than anyone else," he said. "It is hard to assess. If you are Chelsea and Man United and I give you a choice, where you want to go this weekend. Sunderland or Liverpool?

"That is why Manchester United still have a good chance."         

As for Arsenal's chance, Wenger firmly believes that will come next year.  

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Friendly Match
Ticket Info