Arsenal 0 – 1 Blackburn Rovers
0 – 1 Kazim-Richards (72)
The span through air, traversing it’s course toward the net. Bodies arced upwards, as their emotions erupted. Save for one, the one that mattered and in an instant, fingertips deflected the ball as words contorted and events changed. Twenty-three minutes had been played and the first telling moment of the match happened, Diaby almost made the telling impact. But he failed to do so as did his team-mates for the next hour.
It was a performance borne of the starting line-up. No player was awful, none was outstanding and therein was the problem; everyone was just average. Actually that’s harsh, some played well and in that I would point to Rosicky and Monreal but that is definitely it.
Arsène said afterwards that the preparation for this game was the same as the previous sixteen seasons; why wouldn’t it be? Plenty of lower division teams have come to The Emirates or Highbury and been beaten by the second string. Yesterday should have followed that lead, there was nothing to indicate it would not. The starting line-up was strong, a healthy mixture of those eager to prove their worth and others returning from injury.
So why was this performance so ordinary?
The most significant indicator of this was Abou Diaby. I am not singling him out for criticism, just that his performance encapsulated what was wrong. The passing was for the most part accurate but there was too much of it and too much of it was ponderous and pedestrian. The surging runs that were needed, were noticeable by their absence.
This was highlighted even more when Wilshere and Cazorla entered the fray with Theo Walcott.
Until that point, Arsenal could not penetrate the visitors well-drilled banks for five and four. Suddenly there was an energy, a dynamism which had previously been noticeable by its absence. Of course, chasing a goal safe in the knowledge that failure meant elimination, was a key motivation. When Wenger made his changes, he wanted to make an impact but not the one he got. Barely had the players entered the pitch than Olsson exploited space behind Coquelin and rifled his shot at Szczesny whose parry fell kindly to Kazim-Richards, the returning shot bounced into the ground onto the post and into the net. It was a ‘nothing’ goal, entirely in fitting with the game.
Arsenal had their chances before that but too often a cross was met by the Blackburn defence. The original post title was Dare To Achieve. Arsenal did not do that, the ball from the flank was too often not anticipated by the forwards and more tellingly, the midfield running in to meet it. They did not do that and as a consequence, Blackburn sat back comfortably, rarely troubled. When they were, wayward finishing from Gervinho as the first half drew to it’s close or the woodwork denying Rosicky. Diaby shot at Kean but that was more of a wake-up call, a tester to see if he was paying attention as opposed to being numbed by the indolent Arsenal attack.
Chasing the game sparked life into the Arsenal performance but it was not enough. Monreal is a dependable full back in the Winterburn mould. Sadly his shooting is as well, powerful but wayward. Walcott was denied by a good save from Kean whilst as the dying embers of Arsenal’s domestic silverware chase flickered, Arteta fired into the side-netting. The flame was truly extinguished by Mike Dean’s shrill blast on the whistle moments later.
It is a huge disappointment to lose this match, not just the result but the manner of surrender. To field a good line-up and be served with such fare would be at once saddening, maddening and baffling to the manager. Where was the leader on the pitch to take the game by the scruff of the neck, to drive the game forward. In truth he was sat deep in front of the back four as he has been all season. Arteta floated, prompted and with Rosicky, tried to raise the standard but two on their own could not do it.
The FA Cup, as with the League Cup, ended in meek surrender.