The Emirates, North London

February 4, 2012; 18:30 hrs I.S.T.



Two teams, which are struggling in their own ways, lock horns at The Emirates and will be craving for points in the same way a Pygmy searches for shelter after days of travelling in snow. It is a crucial game for both outfits – Arsenal has had a torrid year so far and are yet to register a league win while Blackburn are desperate to come out of the relegation zone before it is too late for them and their manager in distress. In their latest fixtures, the Gunners failed to pick up full points away from home at The Reebok while Blackburn performed decently at home yet lost to Newcastle United by two goals. The poor form of the once mighty Arsenal side somehow gives this a mid-table feel, much to the dismay of Arsenal fans world over.

Team News And Tactical Brief


The biggest dilemma for Arsene in this transfer window was whether to bring in another attacking option other than Thierry Henry. The professor didn’t think it was necessary, and that was exactly what costed them their last game. Apart from the classy van Persie, the team fails to put forward a man capable of sharing the goal-scoring load. Theo Walcott has had a very poor season by his standards, often lost during games, inconsistent over the season and even over the length of a game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a fantastic prospect, but such players need the ritualistic honing before they are capable of winning trophies for their team. Aaron Ramsey is still in that maturing phase and shouldn’t be given the responsibility of the ‘fulcrum’, the ‘Cesc’ role in the team. Arsene has clearly overplayed him and needs to start Yossi or Rosicky more than the Welsh captain. Mikel Arteta and Alex Song play too deep to be considered for the help that van Persie needs on the scoring front. The defense looks quite decent on paper but makes those occasional mistakes which costs them the game.

On the injury-front, Bacary Sagna is back and will start in his usual position. Kieran Gibbs is still not match-fit which means Vermaelen, who hasn’t really been great as a Full Back, will have to start in that position. Rosicky, Yossi, Arshavin, Park and Djourou are all available and the Czech might get a start ahead of the Welshman. If the manager thinks he needs to give Oxlade-Chamberlain some rest, he might go for the out-of-favor Andrei Arshavin, with the risk of a backlash from the fans. Diaby and Jack Wilshere are still out with injuries and the Englishman may have to sit out the season as per latest reports.

Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Song, Arteta; Theo, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain; van Persie

Blackburn Rovers

It is an understatement if one mentions that Steve Kean has had a terrible season, the rookie manager has got a lot of chances and backing from his board though. If he wants to keep his job and his team in the top division next season, he has to pick up points even from daunting ventures like the one at The Emirates. When they lost to the Magpies at home, they failed to score at home for the first time since November. Star man Nzonzi failed to find the net against Newcastle but the travelling party will be hoping he finds his shooting boots and more importantly he needs to play the all-important ‘distributor’ role in the team. It remains to be seen if the loan signing is of any significance – Anthony Modeste did start the last game but failed to score, he did look sharp though. They have even acquired the services of Marcus Olsson, the striker is capable of playing even wide.

Arsenal had lost the reverse fixture to Blackburn back in August, so they will look to correct all the errors from that eventful day. Blackburn has all their key men available – Pederson, Hoilett, Dunn and Rochina are all capable of providing enough firepower to trouble the home team. The players out with injuries with no specific dates of return are Michael Salgado and V Grella.

Possible Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Robinson; Lowe, Dann, Givet, Olsson; Pedersen, Formica, Nzonzi, Hoilett; Dunn, Modeste

Key Match Facts

  1. Blackburn Rovers has won one of the 11 away games they have played this season.
  2. Against Bottom-6 opponents, Arsenal has picked up 1.92 pts this season (average).
  3. Against Top-6 opponents, Blackburn has picked up 1.17 pts this season (average).
  4. Robin van Persie – with 120 goals is now among the top ten all-time goal-scorers for Arsenal.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)

The New Spark

Oxlade-Chamberlain has been like the ‘messiah’ for the distressed fans this season. His performances have been noteworthy and challenging enough to keep Arshavin, a seasoned International, out of the team. The manager might not want to put a lot of pressure on the young-star but he has proved he can handle the leveraged expectations. He is talented, level-headed and very effective with the football. Arsenal will hope he brings his A-game in this important fixture.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Arsenal 2 – 0 Blackburn

With the form of both teams, this looks like an even contest, but with the quality of the home team and their record at The Emirates this season, it looks like Arsenal will romp home 2-0. Goals from van Persie and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on either sides of the half!

TheHardTackle’s POLL OF THE WEEK

  • Blackburn had us all over actually, tallying 35 shots on goal to our 12 or so. They had us pinned back, coming forward repeatedly. They’re new number 9 is one hell of a prospect to look out for.