By Richard Clarke
Arsenal began their long-distance week in the best possible style with a comfortable 4-0 win at Blackburn on Saturday.
England hero Theo Walcott set up the first for Robin van Persie in the eighth minute. But after that Emmanuel Adebayor took centre stage. He nodded home a first just seconds before the break, slotted home a penalty in the 81st minute and hooked home his hat-trick goal in injury time.
Blackburn were competitive in the opening 45 minutes but faded badly after the restart. Arsenal were efficient rather than stylish but that was the requisite quality this afternoon. They have now played six games this season, winning five and conceding just one.
It is a proud record but one that will be severely tested this week as Arsenal follow this trip with journeys to Kiev and Bolton - a total of 3,400 miles.
Speaking of journeys, Jack Wilshere started along the road to Arsenal glory this afternoon. His late substitute appearance made him the youngest player to appear in a League game for the club at just 16 years 256 days.
In the build-up Wenger had indicated that another teenage prodigy, Walcott, might be left on the bench after his midweek exploits in Zagreb. In the end he only moved position. Emmanuel Eboue retained his role on the right so the 19-year-old switched to the left.
In fact, Walcott was the only change to the side that hammered Newcastle two weeks ago. But there were major changes on the bench with youngsters Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Wilshere all named among the replacements.
Blackburn were lively early on, mostly through Brett Emerton. The Australian’s low-slung crosses from the right would be a persistent danger in the opening period but it would be Arsenal who took their chances.
They grabbed the first in the eighth minute. Walcott picked up the ball on the left hand side, darted in-field, hurdled a couple of challenges and fed Van Persie just inside the area. The Dutchman cleverly allowed the ball to run across his body then stabbed a shot beyond Paul Robinson and into the far corner of the net.
Blackburn might have responded immediately. Arsenal failed to clear their lines and the ball ran loose on the edge of the area. Roque Santa Cruz was the first to react but he slid a shot over the bar with the help of a slight deflection off Kolo Toure’s head. A key moment.
Arsenal might have made Blackburn pay an immediate penance. Adebayor led a three-man breakaway and fed Walcott on the left. The former Southampton star set himself up to steer a sidefoot shot into the far corner but sliced his effort well wide.
Overall, however, Blackburn responded well to going behind. Arsenal seemed satisfied with their goal and allowed the home side more space to go forward. Wenger’s men were just happy to cash in where they could on the break.
Although it invited pressure, that policy should have brought them a second goal on the half-hour when an unmarked Van Persie fired into the sidenetting after collecting the ball six yards out.
However Blackburn had hit their groove after that and probably deserved to draw level before half-time. Firstly Santa Cruz scuffed an effort wide, then Steven Reid went close and then finally Keith Andrew somehow failed to convert a low cross from the right. In the final minute of the half the Paraguayan striker nodded over at the far post.
But there would be a sucker-punch. Deep into injury time, Denilson floated over an inviting cross to the far post on to the head of Adebayor. The Togolese striker had the simplest of jobs to steer home his first Premier League goal of the campaign.
Blackburn tried to rally in the opening minutes after the restart but it soon fizzled out. As a result, Arsenal took the ascendency by creating a number of clear opportunities.
Walcott nearly pulled off a carbon copy of his opener for England on Wednesday, Eboue’s piledriver was tipped over the bar by Robinson and then Toure somehow failed to turn in a corner from only four yards out.
Blackburn were still competitive but it seemed that they had run out of ideas. Nine minutes from time, Arsenal ended the argument when Eboue tumbled under a challenge from Stephen Warnock and Adebayor stroked home from the spot.
Wilshere came on in the final stages to break a record and Adebayor steered home his third – Arsenal’s fourth – on the whistle.
It was his 50th goal for the club.
At full time, the visiting players were quick to thank the fans and head to the dressing room.
They needed to get home asap. It is a big week.
But they had started the right way.
Referee: Mike Dean
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