Ok, before getting into the match analysis I just want to congratulate Blackburn Rovers and Steve Kean. They worked hard, took whatever came their way, and fully deserve to move up from the bottom of the table.
Now let’s get on with Arsenal. What does one say after a performance like that? If the Gunners took all the excellent chances they created they’d have scored half a dozen or more. As it was, five Arsenal players entered the scorebook with only Yakubu replying twice but such is the nature of the game that the scorecard and points table doesn’t quite reflect that.
There can be some arguments that the third goal was off-side and that was the turning point. Without seeing the replay it’s hard to say but Walcott was upended in the last minute so that is another talking point. But the bottom line is that one cannot excuse such a defeat even if an element of bad luck was involved.
Arsene started with Santos at left-back and surprisingly, Ramsey made a sufficient recovery to make the starting line-up. Theo moved to the bench for Arshavin. Benayoun and Gibbs also made way. It was a strong enough line-up to win this game.
The start was predictable. Arsenal had most of the ball while Blackburn tried to defend. But there were warning signs as early as the second minute. Hoilett got past Sagna on the right but his cross from the by-line went straight to Szczesny.
The Gunners were getting some joy down the right and Sagna was putting in good crosses. The goal came in the 10th minute. Van Persie dropped deep while Gervinho took up a central striking position. Song found the Ivorian’s run with a deft through-ball. A slight deflection off Samba’s attempted sliding block was enough to take it past Robinson. It looked like this could be a good day for the Gunners and Kean must have been worried.
Wenger’s side continued their domination of the ball but Blackburn were naturally more purposeful after the goal. Another warning sign came in the 18th minute when a free-kick was floated to the back post where Samba and Dann were completely unmarked. The Congolese defender must have been disappointed with his header that was well wide off the mark.
Arshavin then had a couple of shots on goal in quick succession. One was deflected for a corner while the other drew a good save.
In the 24th minute Gervinho wasted a gilt-edged chance after Sagna found him completely free inside the edge of the box. It was a terrible strike given the time and space he had.
As if in some sort of punishment by footballing gods, Yakubu scored at the other end a minute later. Arsenal’s back line was all over the place. Santos was too deep even when he could see the others. Koscielny let his man run presumably attempting to play off-side. There was no pressure on Hoilett who was able to slip a simple pass through. Szczesny came out and was beaten with a simple flick of the boot.
A couple of minutes later there was another long free-kick and Szczesny came flying out to collect it. The Arsenal Keeper looked like a clown as he missed the ball and only a desperate header from Koscielny prevented Samba from connecting with an overhead kick six yards out. The giant defender again won the header from the resulting corner but couldn’t keep it on target.
Around the half hour mark Dann clattered into Sagna while making a clearance and that might have been the reason the Frenchman had to go off later in the game. Hopefully it won’t be too serious as the Gunners really cannot afford to lose Sagna at this stage of the season.
The lead was restored in the 32nd minute. Song played another excellent ball forward that found the run of Ramsey whose cut-back was perfect for Arteta arriving late at the edge of the box.
Arsenal squandered a couple of glorious chances to score the third goal. In the 41st minute Gervinho played a terrible, terrible pass when there was an opportunity to go 4-v-2 on a counter. A couple of minutes later the Ivorian didn’t pick Van Persie who was free in the box. His head was down as Dann blocked his strike. Extremely poor choice and for the third game in a row Arsenal have missed that extra pass in front of goal!
At half-time Steve Kean must have told his team to get the ball into the box. Arsenal had shown enough weaknesses. There was every reason to believe Blackburn could get something out of this one but even the most optimistic of fans must not have expected such generosity (or rank incompetence) as we saw from the Gunners in the second half.
It didn’t take long. Four minutes into the second half, Arshavin committed a foul just outside the left edge of Arsenal’s penalty box. The set-piece looked innocuous enough as Van Persie and Samba challenged for it. Both missed. It went in off of Song’s knee with no Blackburn player around him. The Cameroonian was having a great game thus far but was caught on his heels. He should have been anticipating the ball to come through and should have been prepared to clear it or at least control it better.
Song then hit a header over at the other end from a corner while Formica was able to get through one-v-one following further defensive shambles. Szczesny got a strong hand on the ball but the game was more even now with the home side in ascendancy. Around that time, Djourou came on for Sagna.
Arsenal looked a bit lost and struggled to move the ball under pressure. A bit reminiscent of their midweek troubles but not forced back to that extent. Hoilett was troubling Djourou and that was forcing the Gunners back.
In the 57th minute the quick winger won a corner from Djourou. The resulting delivery went deep at the back post. Arsenal didn’t have anyone in that area. Nzonzi struck it back across goal between the outstretched leg of Koscielny and the extended arm of a diving Szczesny. Yakubu, who tapped it in from two yards, was off-side. Just. But the goal stood. Again Arsenal’s zonal marking was found wanting and linesman, even though he made a mistake, was not the main problem for this goal.
After the hour mark Walcott came on for Arshavin.
In the 68th minute the Gunners conceded another own goal. This time from a counter-attack. Olsson got away down the right as Santos and Gervinho were high up the pitch in search of an equalizer. Arsenal still had enough bodies back. The big mistake came from Djourou who didn’t read the danger well enough. He was ambling across when he realized Olsson was going to go past him. A quick burst and an attempted sliding tackle weren’t enough. The Swiss defender didn’t get enough on the ball or the man. Even then Song was there covering but was beaten but a simple drop of the shoulder inside the box. Szczesny then made a daft attempt to get a hand on a cut-back he was never going to reach. Either he got fingertips on it or distracted Koscielny enough that the defender couldn’t sort his feet out. Another own goal. More calamitous defending.
In 23 second half minutes the Gunners had managed to convert a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit.
Credit goes to the players as they kept trying and created a number of chances. It was good to see Chamakh finally scoring as he got on the end of a delightful Van Persie cross.
The off-the-ball movement was good in this game. Some of the crosses were superb. There are some positives if one tries to look at the bright side. But there is just too big a question mark over the defending and I am finding it hard to concentrate on anything else. Unless there is an immediate addition to the coaching staff – and I know it will be extremely hard to find the right person – I don’t see things improving. It is not an issue with individuals but is more of a problem with the way Arsenal think about defending which leads to systemic errors.
I also feel it is important people stop talking about title challenge. It just adds an unnecessary pressure. There is no way this squad is winning the Premiership or the Champions League. The focus must be on a top four spot, which will be hard enough to achieve, and one of the domestic cups starting this Tuesday.
Szczesny: I thought he was uncharacteristically edgy in this game and transferred a bit of it to the defenders. Came out more than once when he had no chance of getting the ball. Was partially at fault for the fourth goal. Can’t blame him for the second or third. I have to see the first one again.
Sagna: Struggled against the pace of Hoilett but was dogged enough to get back. Put in some good crosses. Not at fault for any of the goals.
Mertesacker: Missed a great chance in injury time. Can’t really blame him for the performance. Won the balls that came his way but he can’t cover the whole box.
Koscielny: Uncharacteristically slack all through the game. Passing was sloppy as was his positioning. Decision making wasn’t very good. Probably his worst game in an Arsenal shirt.
Santos: Looked competent on the ball but didn’t have a great understanding with the rest of the defence. That’s not his fault though. Should get better with more game time. Put in a couple of good balls and will add more of an attacking threat as he settles.
Djourou: Didn’t read the game well enough, wasn’t decisive at a key moment, poor crossing. Struggled against pace.
When a team conceeds four goals and looks so vulnerable on set-pieces there is a natural tendency to blame the back five. To an extent that is valid as there were a number of individual mistakes. Some might say that a commanding English centre-back like Cahill (so dominant and effective against United a fortnight ago!) is the answer. I strongly disagree.
If you look at the number of chances Arsenal got from crosses and set-pieces, it’s clear that even with players like Dann and Samba it’s not easy to defend good balls in dangerous areas. It just cannot be about individuals.
There are technical mistakes, errors in judgment and positioning, but most of all the thought process related to defending needs a serious revamp.
Song: Looked brilliant in the first half. Was impressive in attacking areas and played some delightful passes. Should have done better for the second and fourth goals.
Arteta: His movement was better in this game as he got more time on the ball. Good timing for the second goal. Passing was effective but he will have to produce a lot more if the Gunners have to challenge for a Champions League spot. Set-piece delivery was impressive.
Ramsey: Some of his passing and movement was amazing like the run and pass for Arteta’s goal or the pass to Arshavin that led to a great chance in the 43rd minute. Some of his touches were loose and struggled a bit under pressure. Tired towards the end, which was surprising.
The midfield was better in this game when compared to the last few. But the errors in defence were just too many. The midfielders should also create a lot more when they get as much time and space as they did in the first half.
Gervinho: Well taken goal, good movement and work rate, messed up three excellent opportunities. Typical Gervinho – exciting and frustrating.
Van Persie: Tremendous effort once again. Good assist for the third goal. Got into great positions but the passes didn’t come.
Arshavin: Had a few good moments on the ball but overall another disappointing game. He too got into good positions but the midfield didn’t find him often enough. Conceded a needless free-kick for the second goal.
Walcott: Looked lively, put in good crosses, no complaints.
Chamakh: Good to see him get off the mark for the season. He can be a real impact player if Arsenal use him well.
The attack, Gervinho in particular, should have done better. There were more goals in this game for the Gunners.
Wenger: I don’t think he did much wrong in this game per se. But the problems are long standing and the buck stops with the manager.