From that headline, you can hopefully tell that I’m not yet sure what to make of that result. With the Man U one, it was obvious- freak result. Not happening again in a million years, even if both teams played exactly the same way. But if that was freak result, this one was harder to qualify. You could also say freak result, what with two own goals and an offside goal, but it seems to suggest that there i’t's more than that. And with the amount of goals we’ve conceded so far this season, something’s not quite working in defence.
So. The line-up. Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho, Arshavin and Robin van Persie. Most surprising bit of team news was that Gibbs was being replaced by Santos, making his full debut for the club. Other than that, no other surprises.
We actually started quite well. Pressing the ball, passing it relatively well, looking like we were up for it, and a well-deserved first goal came after 10 minutes. Song picked up the ball in the Blackburn half, the Blackburn players step off him, and his threads a lovely ball through to Gervinho on the right, and with the angle a bit difficult, he curls the ball low down into the far corner, through the legs of Samba (there was a slight deflection off his leg). Good goal, though! Could have had a second goal shortly afterwards, but so could have Blackburn, with Samba pushing a free header wide of the post.
But we really did look comfortable and should have doubled our lead, in the least! But as always, what happened next, though against the run of play, was not in the least bit surprising. Blackburn scored. An opportunistic goal by Yakubu. Our defensive line was all skewered- it was pretty much diagonal!- and with Santos playing him onside, he was through on goal, and finished in a flash. First touch I think it was, rolling it into the far corner as soon as he got it, without even looking up. Brilliant finish. Szczesny could not do anything about it, because he took the chance very early.
1-1, and back to square one. The crowd was suddenly alive, and you knew we had to quieten them by scoring asap. The home fans, that is. The away fans were brilliant throughout, as usual. Despite Blackburn starting to show signs of life, you just felt that the next goal was going to be an Arsenal one. But in the meantime, unlucky Sagna got taken down by a Blackburn player. He needed a bit of treatment while the game continued, but he soldiered on and rejoined the game. Our second goal did come, and it was a beauty. The third game of the match, all 3 players scoring their first goals for their clubs. This time it was Arteta. Through-ish ball from Song to Ramey, who gets in the box and pulls the ball back perfectly for Arteta to hammer first time into the back of the net. Only 33 minutes in.
We continued to press, and Blackburn continued to defend. To be honest, they don’t really know how to do much else. I think if we combined both teams together and split them in half, we might get two quite good teams equally adept at defending and attacking, but I SHUDDER at that thought! We really should have made it three just before halftime on the counter, Ramsey playing a lovely ball to Arshavin, who runs with it to the edge of the box, finds Gervinho, and with Robin in a very decent position with only the goalkeeper in front of him, Gervinho takes one touch too many, and has his effort blocked by a Blackburn defender. Would have been a very good goal. But that was another chance squandered.
Half-time came, and although we were ahead, there was just that worry that we’d wasted too many chances already. Still, not sure I was prepared for what happened in the second half.
Barely 5 minutes into the game, and Blackburn had equalised. Free-kick on the edge of the box (right side, so close to the corner flag), poorly taken, but we didn’t react well enough, and next thing you know, the ball is bouncing off Alex Song’s knee and into the net. Very poor goal to concede. But don’t worry, it gets worse.
Sagna had to come off, I’m guessing because he couldn’t run off the earlier knock, with Djourou replacing him. So we had 3 centre backs on, with Djourou having to play right back. Less than 5 minutes after the equaliser, and Blackburn almost take the lead! Heart in mouth moment as Formica was through on goal, but ‘I am, the One and Only!’, was there and stuck out a giant palm to deny him. I guess Formica only does smooth surfaces! (Geddit?) I am trying to inject some humour into this match report, because in all honesty, it was a very depressing match. But hey, there’s nothing we can do to change the result.
Then they take the lead, this time not an own goal, but Yakubu was offside. This time a corner. Played deep to an unmarked Blackburn player who curls a low effort right across goal, and who’s there, if not a slightly offside Yakubu to turn home for his second of the game. Goal shouldn’t have stood, but I guess at this point, it’s pretty irrelevant, because it did. 59 minutes in, and you worried that the players were going to lose it mentally, big time, if we weren’t careful. We started to lose the ball cheaply, and you know what happens when we don’t have the ball, we start to look as if we haven’t got a clue what to do. How about harry the other team into giving the ball back? Instead we lose possession, and hope someone else retrieves it.
Still though, we could have made equalised! Gervinho bullied his way to the edge of the box, and instead of shooting like he did in the first half, he passed it to RvP who was in a good position (he wasn’t happy earlier on, rightly so, when Gervinho didn’t pass to him), but he then dilly-dallied, and his late effort was blocked. From the resulting corner he should have scored, but his header flashed just wide! Theo then came on for Arshavin shortly after, but it felt a bit too late.
And next thing you know, Blackburn go all Arsenal on us and take the lead through a counter attack. Blackburn clear to the right from our corner, pass the ball to Nzonzi who runs straight down the line, Djourou commits and goes to ground, but the Blackburn player retains possession and heads for the box, and with two Blackburn players to aim at in the box, he pulls the ball back from the byline, and an Arsenal player is there to tap in. I guess it was only fitting that the final touch came off an Arsenal player, Koscielny the unfortunate one. That’s the type of goal WE score, and it hurt to see it being scored against us, especially by Blackburn, of all clubs! 4-2.
Still though, over 20 minutes to go, and the ever positive me still thought we’d at least draw the game. At this point, we had 13 attempts to Blackburn’s 7, with 4 on target, to Blackburn’s 3. In what world is it fair that they had 4 goals to their name!? But thing is, of late, it only ever happens in our world. Anytime Theo misses, we all go ‘unlucky Theo’ (Tuesday Podcast). Maybe we ought to change it to ‘unlucky Arsenal’ everytime something goes wrong for us. For example, Paul Robinson suddenly remembering, 15 minutes to go, that he is a former England international and starting to pull of top saves! One pointblank from a Chamakh header (he’d come on for Alex Song moments earlier, and it was pretty much his first touch) from a corner. Oh wait, it wouldn’t have counted, as the whistle had blown for a foul on the defender by Chamakh. But Robinson was all of a sudden inspired, and we would have scored more than once if not so. There was another close-range effort from Robin, which he pushed away, and I think I remember another effort which would have dipped in, had he not tipped it over the bar at the last second.
(Having watched the match again now, it no longer seems as if Robinson had to be superman. It just felt that way towards the end of the match! Oh well!)
To be honest, the full scale meltdown that I thought would happen, didn’t. We were still sloppy in possession, but Blackburn pretty much didn’t get any more chances. But I guess the damage was already done in the first 10-20 minutes of the second half when we started as slowly as anything. I think that’s when the brain freeze occurred. It slowly thawed out, but this is the Premier League. You don’t have brain freezes on the pitch, because it’ll cost you. That’s the biggest lesson we need to learn. you’ve GOT to be switched on for 90 minutes, not just in the beginning and towards the end.
We rallied towards the end, with Chamakh grabbing our third goal, with 85 minutes on the clock. A header, obviously. A great ball whipped in from the right hand side by Robin, and Chamakh is able to squeeze in between two defenders and nod in. If there’s anything to be ecstatic about in this match, it’s the fact that Chamakh scored a goal! Like seriously, where did that come from? I really hope he’s FINALLY found his shooting boots, because nowadays, you don’t actually expect a goal from Chamakh. Please, please, Chamakh, be back for real. Good goal though. But alas, that was the end of the revival, Blackburn doing what they know best.
The match ended 4-3 to Blackburn, not 4-2 as some would have you believe. You can obviously tell those who thought it was full-time when Blackburn scored their fourth and stopped watching. Disappointing result, no doubt, and I have to say, totally undeserved win for Blackburn. They didn’t do much to earn it, but then, that says more about us than them. Not only are we in the habit of conceding goals, we’re also in the habit of of throwing away leads. We were ahead twice in the game, but kept letting Blackburn back in. We miss Vermaelen like crazy at the back, and Jack’s absence is telling, although Arteta is ensuring that it isn’t showing as much. I still maintain that it’s early days, though. Having 10 new players in the space of one transfer window is always tricky, as you’re pretty much a new team, so it will take a while to settle into a rhythm. I’ll admit I was extremely worried about the result earlier on, but I’ll be out of my mind with fear if this was us in December. I can stake my pension on us not being this abject and leaky come December.
The negatives in our game are glaringly obvious at the moment, but with everything, there are always two sides. We lost 4-3, but it could so easily have been different. Do not forget we’ve got our best defender out, and our back four have hardly played together. 2 of the goals were own goals, one other being offside. Yes, this is what happens when you play at the top level, but I’m sure as hell that it won’t be happening every other game. We’re in a bad patch of form at the moment, but like I always tell my dad every time he calls me to complain about Arsenal, better to have your dodgy spell as early as possible! We obviously aren’t winning the league, but I refuse to believe that we’ll end up mid-table at best. Every team goes through bad spells, and provided we snap out of it soon- it’s not magic, it does not happen in a flash- we’ll be alright. That defence needs sorting though, but surely our situation cannot get any worse than it currently is?
Our next matches aren’t the easiest- we’ve got Spurs, Stoke and Chelsea within the next 5 league games- so it will be tough, but all we need do is string 3-4 good results together, I don’t care if it’s ugly, and things are looking up. We aren’t looking into an abyss, we need to remember. It’s just a dark room, and we just need someone to change the bloody lightbulb! It’s that simple! Okay it isn’t, but the point is that it’s not as bad as it seems. Defensively we’ve got a lot of improving to do, but as they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. People suggested getting Martin Koewn in as a defensive coach, maybe that’ll help somewhat, but I’m not too sure. We get Vermaelen back, and suddenly we’re a much better team defensively, but in the meantime, we have to work with what we’ve got. We defended relatively well in the half, so we just need to find a way of keeping out concentration for the whole 90.
There are still 33 games to go. That’s a whole lot of games, so it’s not too late to turn things around, although I’m not deluded to the point of thinking that we’ll win all of those games, we definitely will be winning more than 1 in 5, which is our current ratio. I still have faith that we can get out of the rot that we’re in, I just hope the players feel the same way.
Next match (after Shrewsbury on Tuesday in the Carling Cup) is home to Bolton. Hopefully we won’t be throwing away leads, and can come away with 3 points, so we can build on it!