Blackburn Rovers, fighting for their Premiership survival, fought out to hold Arsenal goalless in what was a rather entertaining match, with both sides ruing chances gone by.
Steve Kean sent out a counter-attacking line up, with Roque Santa Cruz the man up top, whilst recent signing, Ruben Rochina, watched from the bench.
Roque Santa Cruz
As expected by the pundits, Blackburn attempted to sit back the opening quarter, with Arsenal applying the early pressure. Theo Walcott looked lively down the flank, whilst Nasri looked the threat down the middle. And it was the two who linked up early, Walcott darting down the wing, his cross narrowly over the head of Nasri. Walcott was again in the thick off it, this time his cut back finding Sagna, his shot deflected out for a corner. The ‘Jones Brothers’, Phil and Jermaine, played immense roles early, nullifying the pace of the Arsenal midfield, shutting them down at every opportunity.
However, Arsenal did manage to sneak the odd opportunity through, the best coming a quarter of the game in as Walcott found his way through the Rovers defence, denied by the onrushing Paul Robinson who stayed big and parried it out for a corner.
Things looked bad for Martin Olsson, after a tough challenge with Sagna, the Swede left worse off in the collision. However he did return to the pitch, and returned with style. The formidable partnership of Hoillet and Olsson down the left flank was always going to be the threat, and a threat was an understatement. The two dazzled and tormented, with throughballs, flick ons and overlapping runs the feature. The problem was though, with only Santa Cruz up front, it was always going to be tricky to find the Paraguayan’s head. Rovers did have a good chance midway through the half, a darting run by Hoillet ended when he was brought down 20 yards out, but Emerton could only slice it over the bar.
Rovers almost recieved a slice of fortune 30 minutes in. Martin Olsson decided to try his luck from distance, with erratic keeper Almunia almost having another howler, is fingertip save tipping it just wide of the near post. Hoillet again continued to threaten, however his shot on goal almost went for a throw in.
It was Arsenal though who dominated possession in the first half, but Nasri, Walcott and Wilshire all were wastefull upfront. Rovers almost snuck in a goal before the break. Paul Robinson sent it into the box, Nzonzi climbing highest, but his header drifted wide.
0-0 half time.
Strong words must have been said to both teams at the break, with Arsenal pushing higher up the pitch, whilst Blackburn becoming more enforsing in midfield. Phil Jones and Jermaine Jones locked horns with everybody, whilst their French relative, Steve ‘Jones’ Nzonzi, didnt want to be left out, using all off his lanky frame to steal the ball at every opportunity. Samba and Nelsen were in fine form, first to every header, and if not first, then enough pressure was placed on the Arsenal dangermen. Whilst we are at it, lets not forget our wily veterans on the right side of the pitch, Salgado and Emerton tracked well, defended solidly and shut down the flank. Unfortunately though, they offered little in attack, but hey, if you can shut down Arsenal on one side, a third of the job is done…
Wilshire wasted a glorious opportunity, possibly being too generous. After being threaded through into the box, Wilshire had the opportunity to bend it into the far post, however he cut the ball back, and Rovers pounced, clearing to safety. Santa Cruz came off, with Roberts coming on. Arsenal made changes of their own, Fabregas on for Arshavin.
Rovers were reduced to 10 men with 20 minutes to go. A soft dismissal the commentators agreed to, Nzonzi showing a touch of studs,Koscielny making a meal of it, with a performance that could earn England if he decided to take up citizenship one of their only Gold medals in the London Olympics.
So that really made Rovers park the bus, with any chance of a goal on the counter immediately removed. Arsenal upped the tempo yet again, but just couldnt crack a brilliant Rovers defence. Salgado fired up at Samba and Nelsen for leaving Fabregas unmarked, and rightly so. Samba almost put the ball in the back of the net, fortunately Robinson pulled off a stunning save.
But what really highlighted the desperation and significance of this point, was Martin Olsson, the tiny Swede, launching his body groundwards at a powerful drive, blocking the shot, and clinching the most important of points for Blackburn
Paul Robinson 9
Superb. Wasnt called into action as many times as we would of thought, but when he was, he was not to be beaten. Great distribution also, sending the ball into no mans land on several occasions
Martin Olsson 9
Amazing. The kid is proving to everyone he can defend as well as attack. To shut down the talent Arsenal has at its disposal is brilliant, and to put his body on the line, superb. A threat in attack as always
Chris Samba 9
Solid. Extremely solid. Took control of the 6 yard box, making it his own and provided a shield for Robinson on several occasions. Stood up to the task, and led the way for the team
Ryan Nelsen 9
Age does not weary him. Brilliant, marshalled the rest of the box, first to every challenge and showed exactly why he is regarded as one of Rovers finest.
Michel Salgado 9
Arsenals wingers should of had a field day. Salgado showed them that pace is not everything. Enjoying his career at Blackburn, the veteran just continues to defy his age, superb performance
Phil Jones 9
Arsenal were not getting through Phil Jones. Enough said. Brilliant
Jermaine Jones 9
Arsenal were also not getting through Jermaine Jones. His best performance in the Rovers Jersey. And showed a turn of pace and attacking intent, always the first man up there on a counter
Steve Nzonzi 8
A very good performance from the Frenchman, forcing his way back into the team. However a soft red card will return him to the stands unfortunately
Brett Emerton 7
Defended superbly, but will be dissapointed with his delivery at set pieces, looked rusty in attack
Junior Hoillet 9
Sign him up for life. Pay him what he wants, bring his family over, whatever needs to be done. Junior is our future, just needs to work on that final touch
Roque Santa Cruz 7
Held the ball up well, realistically all that he could do. Should of got in a better postition for the crosses
Went out and did the job. Troubled the Arsenal defence, was first to every long ball by Robinson, wasting valuable time in the latter stages
Got it right. Got it absolutely right. He has been drilled, he has been mocked, but we cannot question him at all in todays performance. Ok I will….whats wrong with Kalinic! 😀