Ewood Park, Lancashire
September 17, 2011; 12:45 GMT
The last time Arsenal finished playing an away game in the Premiership, there was doom and gloom all over the Gooner Hoi Polloi, with them staring at the league table and at the available squad with utter disbelief. There has been significant alteration to that tragic picture of Arsenal – new faces have adorned the Red & White, the first league win has been achieved, while a confidence boosting away performance has brought back some kind of belief among the players and fans. Now, it is the time to build on that performance, taking one match at a time. Long-distant goals such as fighting for the title should be thrown out of the window because quite frankly, this team is not yet ready to brag about the same. The patient approach which includes commitment from every player in the team along with a belief in their abilities will certainly help Arsene get back his boys men to the much talked about Top Four position.
The story at Ewood Park is more complicated than it seems from the outside. The fans are quite discontent with the owner and even the new manager. If Arsenal are to fancy playing any team right now, it has to be Blackburn Rovers, lying at the bottom of the table with one point from a maximum of twelve. From media reports, there is a possibility of a protest march before the game; the agenda being ‘sack the manager’. The man under fire right now, Steve Kean believes that the fans should be backing the team; he understands the frustration and promises to bring the Lancashire club back to stable ground. He also has the backing of the relatively new owners of the club. An incredible statistic shows that he has won just seven out of the 28 games he has managed the club, things can only get better from here; or can Arsenal make it worse?
Team News and Tactical Brief
The home side traveled to Craven Cottage last weekend to pick up their first points of the season. A strike from Ruben Rochina had put Blackburn ahead but Bobby Zamora had equalized in the dying minutes, denying full points to the visitors. With the club in turmoils, the players need to stand up and get counted. Almost an entire summer of transfer speculations linked Christopher Samba with Arsenal, yet the massive positive at the end of the transfer window was that Samba was still with the club. Highly experienced keeper Paul Robinson was up to his task at Cottage last weekend; he needs to stay focused against Arsenal, who pose a totally different kind of threat in attack. Young striker and scorer of last weekend’s goal Rochina has some belief going as he thinks Blackburn can spoil Arsenal’s traveling plans.
Despite of all the unrest at the club, the home team still has a strong defence with Samba partnering Scott Dann in the center, experienced campaigner Salgado at right-back, while Givet will be fulfilling left full-back duties. David Dunn will be a key figure in the midfield for the home team and is expected to take up some creative responsibilities. Star man Fornica, N’Zonzi and Goodwille are expected to fill in the other slots left in the middle of the park. Steven N’Zonzi, with all his experience and a lethal left foot, is expected to give the Arsenal defense some headache. Up front, it is a doubtful situation with Junior Hoilett, as the attacking midfielder was stretchered off the field with a concussion in the last match. Goal-scorer Rochina is sure to start at the top of the pack. The Blackburn bench also boasts of the big Jason Roberts, who is capable of turning matches on their heads.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-3-3) : Robinson; Salgado, Samba, Dann, Givet; Dunn, NZonzi, Hoilett; Formica, Rochina, Goodwille
Arsenal started the last game against Swansea without Alex Song, which meant defensive responsibilities in the center of the park fell to Frimpong and Ramsey. Even Arteta spent a considerable amount of time in his own half, cutting down the urge to attack and feed van Persie and Theo more consistently. Now, with Song back and understandably on song, Arteta can play a little more free role, connecting more with the forward line. Arshavin got his deserved rest in midweek in Germany, so he will probably get to start ahead of Gervinho in an away trip. The man from Ivory Coast had a tough outing against Dortmund, almost spending the entire match on the left flank, and finding it quite difficult to link with his team-mates. Aaron Ramsey, if declared fit, will keep his place; if not, Yossi will certainly start in central midfield alongside Arteta, in a more advanced role. The Israili Captain can provide Arsenal a lot of creativity upfront once he gets back his confidence. The Back Four will be unchanged with Koscielny giving the team the much needed boost with his incredible defending in recent times. The man standing in front of the pole is easily the player of the season so far for Arsenal. Szczesny is not only capable of making spectacular saves, but he also arranges his defenders into correct positions during corners and set-pieces.
As far as team news is concerned, Arsenal will be waiting for news on Ramsey’s fitness before the tie. Rosicky, Wilshere, Diaby and Vermaelen are all out with injuries. There has been no casualties from the midweek European fixture, so Arsenal are expected to field a similar team as was seen in Germany. The suspension horror has gone too, as all players are now available for the game at Ewood. Arsene will ideally keep a similar setup for this game to make sure the team builds up some chemistry with many new players trying to gel into the team. From a different POV, he might even try to make it a little more defensive by bringing in Frimpong and giving one of Arteta or Ramsey some rest.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1) : Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Frimpong; Arteta, Theo, Arshavin; van Persie
- Blackburn Rovers are playing at the same stadium since 1890. Persistence.
- Robin van Persie has scored 12 goals in his last 11 away games. Consistency.
- Rovers have lost to Arsenal at home, more than any other team in the league. Nemesis.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal FC)
The new Spanish acquisition from Everton has been given the task of being the creative fulcrum of Arsenal. Arteta is a fantastic footballer with an eye for a pass all the time. The Spaniard can slowly fit into the team as other players such as Yossi, Ramsey, Theo and Arshavin take care of supplying to van Persie. With a not-so-decent outing in Germany, Arteta will be looking to make a mark in this game as Arsenal look to erase the ‘away’ ghosts of Manchester.
Blackburn 1 – 2 Arsenal
A similar score-line as last time, wherein Arsenal triumphed despite bad weather conditions, thanks to a fantastic move and goal from Theo Walcott. Arsenal, with renewed confidence against a team very low on the same, will look to pick up three points at Ewood Park.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST
TheHardTackle’s POLL OF THE WEEK