Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Arsenal v Blackburn, March 14, Premier League

The Gunners took the lead in the second minute with almost the only piece of beautiful football they played in the entire first half. Bendtner kept possession and then played a great pass which was lacthed on by the speedy Walcott near the by-line and was played in for Arshavin who would have scored had it not been put in by a defender (at least that’s what I think happened and I haven’t bothered to check the facts).

After that it was a horribly boring first half and by half time I was having imaginary conversations in my head where I was arguing with Arsenal fans and telling them that this whole thing about Arsenal playing beautiful free flowing football has been a myth for most of the last season and a half. I still believe in that, though in the second half they did enough to shut me up even in imaginary conversations for the moment.

The big change that Wenger made at half time was to move Nasri to the centre behind the strikers and ask Arshavin to push to the left. With the Russian still very much a threat down the middle as well, Blackburn could not prevent a string of effective passes from the centre of the pitch and Nasri played the Central Advanced Midfielder role to perfection.

It is a joy to see Arshavin on a regular basis and the sight of him cutting in from the left brought a massive smile to my face. In the end it finished four nil to the Gunners and they truly played in the manner that they are reputed for, in that second half.

Causes for concern for them – the fact that Sagna and Clichy are both clearly not at their best. They have been overworked like a dial-up connection streaming porn and it shows in their performances. Also Walcott has failed to improve this season to the level that was expected off him and he is still a bit of a one trick pony. The injury must have made an impact but a large part of what is lacking in his game is in the head and how well he reads the game and I think over the next couple of seasons, it will be clear if he is eventually going to be world class or not.

One big plus for Arsenal that is not being spoken about much is the performance of Almunia in goal. I think he is now amongst the best in the EPL and his decision making is very impressive, especially when it involves anticipating when he needs to step out of the box. I think he is a better central defender away from receiving rave reviews every week.

Now to Blackburn. They didn’t play like a Sam Allardyce team at all and that was stunning. They seemed to have no steel and the most stunning aspect of their game was that they didn’t look to take charge of the midfield. Very often this season, one strong midfielder has been able to dominate Arsenal’s two, but Blackburn never tried to impose themselves in that area. Especially after Nasri moved to the centre they did not know how to react and failed to close down Nasri or Denilson after that.

They have had the reputation of being a dirty team and it was very evident why. Diouf, an Allardyce favorite made a flying tackle on Almunia which could have been very dangerous and deserved a red but got a yellow. It was very ugly and thoroughly unnecessary. Then Pederson, who I have a lot of respect for, took a dive in the Arsenal box which has to rank as one of the worst I have ever seen. Absolutley shocking!

I guess Big Sam will have noticed a number of things and will know that the relegation fight is on. Based on the weekend’s performance, Blackburn are no better than the other teams around them and a lot will depend on how much they are willing to fight to stay in the league because the difference in class is hardly too much when you compare the teams at the bottom.

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