Blackburn Rovers 4 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Gervinho (10)
1 – 1 Yakubu (24)
1 – 2 Arteta (33)
2 – 2 Song (o.g.) (50)
3 – 2 Yakubu (58)
4 – 2 Koscielny (o.g.) (68)
4 – 3 Chamakh (84)
Arsenal’s frailties were haplessly exposed at a rain-drenched Ewood Park. Architects of their own downfall, Arsenal’s season was encapsulated in one match. Failure to capitalise, spurning chances at will was compounded by poor organisation in defence with twenty error-strewn second half minutes ultimately deciding the outcome.
We can point to individual errors, poor decisions by officials, bad luck as the reason for defeat. Contributing factors indeed but the first highlights the issues facing the club. Two own goals: one from a corner which Alex Song perhaps could not react to. Koscielny’s? I think he might have dealt better with it but bigger problems arose earlier in the move, Djourou’s failure to time his tackle, Song’s failure to make a challenge, Szczesny not moving toward the forward on the by-line.
The match has been relegated to a side issue since the final whistle. It should not be and the outcome should have been so much different. Gervinho’s early opener hinted at an enjoyable afternoon. Song strode through the centre of the pitch, releasing Gervinho to twist and trickle his shot into the net. Ten minutes gone and things were right with the world, just reward for the opening dominance.
Arshavin might have doubled the lead with his rising shot, Gervinho missed following Bacary Sagna’s purposeful endeavours on the right flank. Ascendency assured, Arsenal promptly relaxed and were punished. A Rovers attack was broken down, the ball intercepted on the edge of the area by Song. The attempt to counter was swiftly broken down and the ragged Arsenal back four played Yakubu onside, his finish unerring into the corner.
Back to square one. Arsenal rocked and rolled with the punches, gradually recovering their composure and ten minutes later, Song released Ramsey on the right. The Welshman had other options in the centre, choosing to wait for the right moment to tee Arteta with the perfect pass for a powerful and accurate finish into the roof of the net.
The moment had arrived, dominance to be turned into points, Gervinho at the centre of all of the attacking goodness, unable to convert his own chances whilst unable to spot the unmarked van Persie yards from him as the Rovers back four tried to keep Arsenal at bay. The second half brought a change in fortune for Rovers, the change in their line-up crucial. Arsenal were content with the position they were in but by the midpoint were chasing the game, vainly but almost valiantly.
Song’s own goal from the corner started the rot, Sagna’s departure meant Djourou came in on the right and Rovers exposed the lack of familiarity with the position. Szczesny saved Formica’s manufactured effort, Yakubu scored from an offside position with Santos not providing enough daylight between himself and the Rovers forward to create the necessary doubt in the officials minds. The lunacy was capped with the fourth, Rovers hitting Arsenal with the counterpunch that we have perfected over the years.
The frenzied finish materialised. van Persie came close, Chamakh scored a peach of a header following the Dutchman’s excellent cross, might have scored a brace in the finale, guiding his header wide. Mertesacker lifted his over the bar when from the comfort of the armchair that seemed the harder option. His and Chamakh’s appearance in the front line at least nailed the lie that Arsenal do not have a Plan B.
And to top it off, on an afternoon of poor decision making by the officials – phantom corners given, dubious and obvious free kicks awarded on a hit and miss basis – a clear penalty denied with time running out, Walcott flattened by Robinson in front of the referee.
The team’s confidence has been bludgeoned, vapourised and twisting in the ether, absent at back, middle and front in the team. The crux of the matter is leadership. There are enough experienced internationals, players whose number of games in their careers register in 200 or more, yet none are taking a grip at the back or in the middle. Why is that? Robin van Persie has been made captain yet that should not stop someone in midfield taking responsibility, or a defender organising.
Problems exist that Arsène has to resolve, solutions which must be found quickly. Not least of which is the formation, one that emphasises the attacking nature of the game but requires solidity in midfield. It needs the players to pursue their opponents when in possession, to hunt in packs as Dortmund showed in midweek, as Barcelona have ruthlessly done in European fields. Arsenal have never got to grips with that on a consistent basis, this season must be the time for the manager to look at a more orthodox formation, changing the personnel appropriately to gain stability in the side.
Post-match, Arsène summed the situation succinctly,
It’s just not good enough and, of course, we are very frustrated. The spirit in the team is quite willing but if you look at the number of goals we have conceded it is just not good enough. You cannot come here and concede four goals the way we did today. On the other hand I believe that the group will take off but it is important that we can get results.
This is the biggest challenge of his Arsenal career. Previous squads have had a natural confidence which has returned during dips in form but this is sustained. This run of form started at Wembley and has not abated. The new arrivals are still gelling into the team and this is where the hope comes from and with four included in the starting line-up at Blackburn, perhaps a brighter future is on the horizon. That seems a distant future right now.
Questions are naturally being asked of the manager. This is a problem entirely within his remit to resolve and answers have been previously found. It seems that more help on the green pitches of Colney, in the dressing room. Something, someone. The status quo cannot remain, the players have the fragility of matchstick men. There is a real danger that continued poor form will lead to mediocrity this season being accepted as the norm, for Arsenal that cannot be the case nor should it be.
Grey skies over the country, grey skies over the club. The looming threat of a Winter of Discontent hangs over the country, there will be a more immediate arrival at Arsenal. Time for the manager to prove his doubters wrong, to recuperate the team. Whatever the solutions are, they need to be found. And quickly.