Arsenal vs Blackburn Rovers, Emirates Stadium, Premier League
Kickoff – 13:00 PM (06:30 PM IST), 4 February 2012
Another weekend. And another match? Or should I say another crunch must-win match for Arsenal.
As they lie 7th in the table, 5 points adrift of 4th placed Chelsea, and with a struggling Blackburn visiting; plus tough games like Sunderland, Tottenham and Liverpool coming up in the league, Arsene Wenger knows there is no room for a slipup in this match.
After having temporarily gained 4th spot towards the end of 2011, Arsenal slipped up with 3 consecutive defeats. A draw at Bolton offered some respite, but everyone at the club knows it was 2 points dropped again.
There have been rumours about disgruntled fans protesting in the Emirates Stadium, with bin bag liners to mark empty seats, a signal of dwindling attendances. I am not sure where that comes from, considering the club recently revealed, all Premier League matches have attracted attendances in excess of 60000; and just short of the full capacity, i.e 60432.
The centre of this outburst is manager Arsene Wenger, who has been criticised for his recent decision during games, more particularly the Chamberlain-Arshavin fiasco in the Manchester United game. He, however, insists, he will rise above all the negativity.
“I feel we have to be above that and show our quality on the football pitch and not respond to every individual provocation”
In his pre-match interview, Wenger also expressed how he wished the next 16 years at the club would turn out be so good.
The fact that we have never been in this position is rather a credit to me in 16 years so I do not take that as blame,I take that as fantastic consistency, and that is the most difficult thing at the top level.
I believe we played 15 years on the trot in the Champions League and we play in 10 days in the last 16 of the Champions League. We want to come back in the Champions League position in the league, we want to prepare properly for the next round of the FA Cup and I wish that in the next 16 years it will be exactly the same for the club and that the fans will be happy.
I am here to make all of the fans happy and when I do not manage to do it I am, of course, not happy. But what is most important is that we have our fans happy at the end of the season.
We lost three games and then the confidence drops a little bit,” added Wenger. “But overall we have shown a great response against Aston Villa where we came back with a fantastic 3-2 win and I feel that on Wednesday night we deserved to win the game.
Overall I feel this team is strong mentally with a good spirit and attitude. We are ready for a fight and that is the most important thing.”
He agreed there is immense scrutiny on him, this season, as the club have performed poorly in the league. However, Wenger was quick to point out that Arsenal was one of only two English teams in the Champions League and still 15 games to play in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, new signings Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta, too were on hand to express their dissapointments. Both attribute it to small details and not taking vital chances in all games.
Team news, then. Arsene Wenger hinted in the press conference at resting key players like Robin van Persie and Aaron Ramsey. Both have amassed 30 games this season, and with key fixtures coming up, may be relegated to the bench, and called upon if required. This would, of course mean a start for either Thierry Henry, or Park Chu-Young, or even both, based on what formation the manager chooses.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a doubt for the game, having picked up a knee injury. And with Gervinho out in the Africa Cup of Nations, it could mean a place in the starting line-up for Russia captain Andriy Arshavin. Tomas Rosicky will be called in place, should Wenger decide to rest Ramsey.
Meanwhile, Blackburn are having injury problems of their own. Strikers David Goodwillie will be handed a late fitness test, while Aiyegbeni Yakubu is still serving a suspension. Defenders Michel Salgado and Vince Grella are still out injured. Want-away captain Christopher Samba, is supposedly not in the right frame of mind to start, and won’t feature, while Blackburn sold New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen to Tottenham.
Blackburn surely can’t be taken lightly. Last time, these two teams met, Blackburn trounced the Gunners 4-3 at Ewood Park, in what was a strange encounter. Laurent Koscielny and Alex Song scored own-goals, in the process of trying to apply the new zonal marking policy. Last season, Blackburn came away with a 0-0 draw from the Emirates. Such a result, while fruitful for Blackburn, will be disastrous for Arsenal.
Disastrous because, it will be 2 more points dropped. Sunday’s fixtures, which are Chelsea v Manchester United and Liverpool v Tottenham, means someone is bound to drop points, and if the Gunners cannot capitalize in this situation, it will heap immense pressure on the team.
I end here on a poignant note. 74 fans died as a result of a clash between rival supporters of Al-Masry and Al-Ahly in the Egyptian town of Port Said. This is a stark reminder to the authorities, how fanaticism can get out of hand. Lets hope the poor souls rest in peace.
Hoping for a Gunners’ win today.
Jai Arsenal 🙂