It doesn’t seem to matter when we go up to Blackburn, the heavens open regardless and the conditions conspire against us. Yesterday was no exception as the rain poured down in the middle of August. We fielded a very strong looking team going with the usual back 4, sticking Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park and going with Robin in the middle relegating Chamakh to the bench.
Blackburn started off as we expected them to, firing long balls into the box. Almunia came and claimed the first one with confidence, you could almost hear the sigh of relief from the away crowd. This was going to be a long day for the beleaguered Spaniard, he needed to impress.
Song was back in his favoured position sporting a new blonde hair cut, he was helping the midfield tick along with his short passing and physical presence. Not long into the game, Diaby lashed a shot at the Blackburn goal after some penalty box ping pong. Shortly after that, Theo was adjudged to be offside after he stylishly chipped the keeper from 20 yards.
The game was surprisingly open considering who we were playing, it was real end to end stuff. Blackburn’s tactics were long balls powered into the box from set plays and throw ins, but they were really focusing in on hitting our flanks and whipping dangerous balls into the box. Something they were having frightening success with… especially down the left.
Cesc had to clear a powerful header off our line and moments later Almunia had to scramble across his goal to tip a floated header wide. A super save, very worrying that the Northerners were able to beat us to many of these balls.
Our defending was nothing short of shambolic, we were positionally naive and there was clearly no leadership at the back.
Our first chance came when Song found some space in the middle of the park, he made a short pass to Arshavin who tapped through to RvP who laid off a superb pass into the feet of Theo… who absolutely buried it into the bottom corner. He hit it so hard he literally pierced the net! A great finish reminiscent of Mark Overmars.
Our advantage was short lived. A speculative long ball was played out wide, Kozzer just needed to shepherd Diouf outwide, instead, he was muscled out the way then he didn’t have the pace to recover… the Blackburn wide man powered into the box, picked out Diouf MKII and we were level again. A very poor piece of defending and a reminder that I was right when I told you weight and experience matter when you’re a top class defender.
Robin went off with an injury. We now know it not to be serious, but it’s still a shame that we know yet again, we’re probably not going to be able to rely on his services for anymore than 30 games this season. He’s a walking crockbomb and we’ve just got to get used to it. When you throw in the news that Nik B might be out for 2010, all of a sudden, we’ve got a striking crisis at the club! Lets hope Chamakh is made of the same stuff Vermaelen is!
I was confident we’d win the game in the second half but our lack of directness worried me in the second half. For all our possession, we really didn’t seem to work Paul Robinson. We fear the shot, which seems to be something that’s crept into our game over the past few years.
Our second came when Sagna worked hard to keep the ball in play, he flew into the box , picked out Cesc who smashed his ball into a crowd of players rebounding off Theo I think. Arshavin was there to pick up the pieces and he slotted it expertly into the bottom corner. We were winning now… could we hold onto the lead?
Well, our full backs weren’t helping us, Blackburn continued to get the ball in from out wide and sloppy mistakes were creaping in. Vermaelen played Kalinic in with a poor clearance and Sagna had to put his body on the line to block a Diouf shot. Dunn was also given a chance to level the score after more shoddy defending…
Theo managed to have a second goal disallowed for a handball, we weren’t getting luck of the draw going forward. Jack Wilshere nearly scored down the other end, it wasn’t to be, the ref blew up, it was a super win for the boys in red and white!
Almunia: Under the circumstances, I’d say he did very well. He was assertive and he was a safe pair of hands today. I’m going to grade him a point higher than I normally would because of the added pressure. However, I’m not changing my opinion. People forget he’s there to play like that week in week out and we know that over the past 3 years, he hasn’t been able to do that. It’s time for a change, time for some quality, time to accept he’ll never be any more than a 2nd string keeper for us. 8
Clichy: I wasn’t impressed with our left back today. He let Blackburn in far too many times for my liking and I thought he was sloppy. It’s not going to be long before Gibbs is taking his place in the team because his performances have been weak for the best part of a year now! He wasn’t in position for the first goal, but you’ve got to expect that when you want your left back to attack. 5
Sagna: A more solid performance than Clichy and a super assist. He seems to have worked hard on his crossing in the preseason because they’re certainly a lot better than they were last year! He’s a good defender, I’d just like to see a bit more discipline in game when the tactic of the opposition is to hit wide positions. 6.5
Vermaelen: I can’t work out what the problem is here… is it that 23 year old Vermaelen isn’t experienced enough to lead the line and his performances are going to be erratic next to less experienced players, or was it just a one off? He made some poor errors today and he didn’t lead particularly well. 6
Kozzer: I felt sorry for him. It’s not his fault is it? He’s not ready for first team in the Premiership. He isn’t up to speed and he isn’t used to playing in our defence. His weakness is clearly aerial balls and strikers are going to take advantage of his slight frame. If he’s getting into this much of a mess against Blackburn, how is he expected to deal with the Drogba test? He was at fault for the first goal and he was responsible for a host of other errors. Still, why should we expect him to come in and be a world beater? He’s come in from a weak club and he’s only had one year of semi decent football. He’s got something about him… but it’ll take time to adjust and bed in. Keep them crossed Squillaci can be the answer… Kozzer isn’t at the moment. 5
Song: Well, we certainly weren’t opened up down the middle today and there was no bully boy tactics going on from Blackburns side of things. I thought he passed well and he pushed danger down the channels. Hopefully he can maintain last seasons consistency and keep his fitness up to standard. 7
Diaby: Not good enough for me. I don’t care what his passing stats were, he doesn’t do enough for me. He makes wrong decision after wrong decision and he doesn’t really add too much to our game defensively or attacking wise. He’s the type of player who if he were to make the jump, could be immense… it just seems that jump is taking an age to happen. I’d prefer 6.5 in there… sorry, I mean Rosicky! 6
Cesc: Looked pretty moody yesterday. Who wouldn’t after a coach ride to Blackburn? He’s still a cut above anyone else in the Premiership for speed of thought and ability to find space. I thought he looked uncomfortable on the pitch, whether that was fitness or not being in Spain… hopefully he’ll perk up as the season progresses. 6.5
Robin Van Persie: Created the first goal for Theo with a super pass, bar that, I can’t remember him doing too much else bar fall to the ground in a typical crumpled heap. Thankfully it’s only ten days out and he’ll miss international duty. 6.5
Theo: The man is on a mission to become the player we all hoped he would. He had fire in his belly, he has Premiership swagger about his game and his finishing has transformed. He scored a great goal and he had two disallowed. I’m hoping he can score 15 goals this season, if he does, I reckon we could be in with a shout come the end of the season. 8.5
Arshavin: I thought he had a solid game today. For one so short, he sure packs some power. He’s creative and he has that selfish streak our team sometimes lacks. He finished well this afternoon and he worked hard down his wing. A good showing. 7
Chamakh: I’m not sure why Wenger didn’t have our aerial supremo on from the start. He would have done a better job defending corners than Diaby and he’d give us a physical presence up top. He came on, linked in well and was unlucky with a few chances. 7
Rosicky: I’ll just give him a 9 and leave it at that. I know how you sensitive souls get about player ratings. I appreciate he was probably on the bench this week because of last weeks score! 9
Jack Wilshere: Only on for 8 minutes. 6