Winning, while not playing well in an away game – that is the sign of champions. I think this game showed us that Arsenal have learnt some lessons and made many improvements over the summer.
I was most impressed by our collective defending. We all knew what Blackburn were going to do. Their primitive style is not a surprise for anyone. Last year a depleted Arsenal side lost at Ewood Park against that ‘route one’ approach so this was going to be a real test of our credentials.
I’ll analyze the tactical and technical aspects of the game in detail in a separate article after watching the game again. In this piece I just want to share some top of mind observations.
- Collective defending, most of the balls into the box were headed away by the outfield players
- Keeper wasn’t forced to come for everything and looked solid when he was called into action (As I’ve often said in the past, the real problem has been in front of the keepers)
- We didn’t lose many physical battles anywhere on the pitch
- No one was afraid of knocking the ball out for a throw in or a corner. If we can do this more consistently many of the suicidal clearances that end up in dangerous areas will be eliminated
- There was no panic in the box although initially we were a bit nervy
- The team had a lot more confidence in the second half and knew they could deal with the primitives
- We held on to a lead against a system that is our biggest weakness!
- We lost our concentration a bit after the first goal and got sloppy
- Gave the ball away far too often by our standards
- Defenders got caught ball watching in the box (this really irritates me)
- We weren’t clinical enough in the final third even though the hosts gave us plenty of space
Any way you look at it, this was a big, big result from a confidence point of view and sends a clear message to the rest of the contenders. On a day when the Tiny pretenders lost at home we clearly showed the gulf in class between the top teams and the wannabes. That made the result doubly sweet.
I must also acknowledge Wenger’s genius. He put Chris Foy under the spotlight with his comments about the Stoke — Spuds game. Those were perfectly valid observations but the timing and the fact that Foy was refereeing this game made a big difference. This time Blackburn didn’t even try to go near the keeper because they knew the ref will be forced into calling the fouls. That made a huge difference. Last year we conceded both goals because of fouls on the keeper/defender and once that was eliminated Blackburn didn’t look threatening.
Yes, they got a lot of balls into the box but that style is considered primitive for a good reason. The percentages of scoring from such tactics are negligible. For the million balls they put in our box the hosts barely created three half chances. One was headed over, one was cleared off the line, and the keeper saved the third.
The only clear chance they created was, ironically, from open play and with the ball on the ground! I found Fat Sam’s comments laughable when he started talking about the chances they’d created. And frankly, I don’t see them troubling other top teams this year unless they improve their defending. As Wenger said, that might happen once there is a genuine fear of relegation.
Almunia: Excellent. Caught what he had to, punched when he had to (only once if I remember right), and saved whatever came his way. He is not a bad keeper by any means and if the defending in front of him stays solid I can see him do well all season.
Sagna: Excellent. He did a great job at the back and made some impressive contributions in attack. Many players were involved in the second goal but Sagna did the best work in that move.
Koscielny: Got caught out physically against Diouf but apart from that he had a solid game. Won a number of headers in the box and read the game well. He was composed under pressure and his distribution was good.
Vermaelen: Was caught ball watching but I wouldn’t blame him for that goal. Another one who defended well in the box.
Clichy: There were five or six players at fault for the Blackburn goal but I’d say Clichy was the worst offender. After all these years he has to be better aware of players running from behind him especially when there was no other threat in the box. Had a great game on the left as he cut out many diagonal balls and did well to restrict the crosses from that side.
Song: Not close to his best but he had a relatively solid game. The only negative was the number of times he gave the ball away. Good contribution for the first goal.
Diaby: I was impressed by his physical game, was probably the strongest player in our team. He too won a few headers in the box. Even his distribution was better than what we saw last year.
Cesc: He looked far from his best and disinterested at times. His work rate was quite poor by his lofty standards. It’s a different matter that he was still the best midfielder on the pitch. I’m not sure he is mentally ready right now. Hopefully, he will be more focussed once the transfer window closes.
Arshavin: Lost the ball quite often in the first half hour. Played much better after that. Did his share of defending as well. Took his goal well, I was surprised the ball went through that many home players but it was a well placed strike.
RvP: Really sad to see him go off injured but if the Dutchman misses only the international break then it will be a blessing in disguise. Once again showed his value with an inch perfect assist.
Walcott: Didn’t get on the ball as often as I’d have liked but he was my man of the match. I wasn’t sure this would be a good game for Theo to start but he proved me wrong. The first touch and technique for his goal was amazing and showed he was a natural. Looked lively every time he was on the ball.
Subs: Chamakh worked hard and played his part in the second goal. Rosicky and Wilshere did well defensively and helped us hold on to the lead.
Last year we were in top form but had two wins and a loss after three games. This year we haven’t been anywhere close to our best but have two wins and a draw. I think it will get better if we can get through the internationals without many injuries.