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By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger intends to send out a team of ‘imposers' at Blackburn on Saturday.
When these teams met at Ewood Park last May, the home side trailed early on but then enforced their physical game and won with a couple of scrappy, scratchy goals.
It perpetuated the argument that Arsenal were too young, too weak and too vulnerable when they faced the brute force of the Premier League.
Less than 300 minutes of game-time has past since that fixture but Wenger believes his side have steeled in that period.
In the past the Arsenal manager has been accused of camouflaging the deficiencies in his team by branding them as ‘young'. But these days, Wenger reserves that label merely for his Carling Cup crèche. He is well aware that the likes of Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Abou Diaby, Denilson and Bacary Sagna are getting on. Only the Dutchman can be classed as ‘in his prime' but all have at least 100 starts on their Arsenal CV after three seasons at the Club.
That is why the manager believes his side are equipped to chisel a win out of the granite at Ewood Park.
But, in order to achieve that, Saturday must be about what they do. Not what is done to them.
"It is always important that you're strong away from home," said Wenger at his pre-match press conference.
"We had a difficult first game at Liverpool and now we have this second away game at Blackburn.
"In this one it is vital we deal with their strengths - good commitment, an efficient game - but we must not forget to play our game too. It will be a little bit a confrontation of two styles so it's important that we dictate our style.
"We have more [steel] than a few years ago when I felt we were a bit too immature with this kind of game. But I don't feel that anymore. I'll tell my players to be committed and that means dealing with every single challenge.
"For us it will be important that we are strong in the air because they favour that style. They have [keeper] Paul Robinson who kicks the ball very long and they have long throws too. It's important in England if you want to win the title that you deal with all this.
"I feel we have a good opportunity to send a strong message on Saturday."
Much was made of Wenger's pre-match comments about Stoke's tough tactics against Tottenham last Saturday. The Arsenal manager suggested that referees had to be strong so that association football did not morph into rugby football.
"I'm not really concerned about [what happened in that game]," said the manager. "What I mean is that, even though you have to deal with the tactics you face, you still want your goalkeepers to get the right protection.
"The rules are the same for everybody and every manager is free to play the style he wants. I don't have a problem with that, it's just the rules have to be respected."
Given strength is the watchword on Saturday, you can see Laurent Koscielny coming straight into the side after suspension and Alex Song returning to his more usual position at centre back. Denilson is fit after an abdominal problem but Johan Djourou is still likely to be bench-bound as he works his way back from a hamstring injury. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie have had another week of training since the 6-0 win over Blackpool but, on Thursday,
Wenger was still non-committal over their involvement from the start.
It was interesting to note that, when Van Persie came on last Saturday, it was Marouane Chamakh who moved position. The Dutchman has more of a history on the flank but the Moroccan actually went to the wing.
Saturday is perhaps the first time when Wenger will have a real choice over his spearhead striker. When pressed on the matter, he hedged his bets.
"I don't know what I will do yet," he said. "But one thing is for sure. You cannot play 4-4-2 with Arshavin, Walcott, Van Persie, Fabregas and Chamakh. That is not a system, that is suicide.
"But we have a number of games in front of us and a number of international games too. That is why I feel having two strikers of that calibre - plus Bendtner coming back and Vela who can play right or left - is not a luxury. You have to rotate."
Goals have been a burning Premier League all issue week. Three 6-0 wins, including one from Wenger's side, made headlines at the weekend and leaders Chelsea have rattled up a goal difference of +12 after two games. However the Frenchman predicted it won't last.
"It is down to good attacking but some other things as well," he said. "There are new defences that are not completely coordinated in the way they play. I have seen some goals where you have three players on one line and one guy who plays five yards behind. I don't think that will happen in October. That happens in the first two games.
"I watched the Villa game and if you had told me after Carew took the penalty that that would finish 6-0 to Newcastle I would not have believed you. There are some strange games at the moment but overall that will calm down, and for Chelsea too."
Saturday is more than a marker for Arsenal. It will make an early-season statement on the team. Defeat leaves them wide open to well-worn clichés of weakness, victory will help manifest physical strength into mental steel.
Blackburn will offer no surprises and no apology. They don't need to.
It is simply up to Arsenal to show they can cope this time around.
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