Arsenal .v. Rovers
The Emirates Stadium
23rd December 2006
For the second time in a week Rovers travel into the relative unknown when they embark on a fixture against Arsenal at the impressive new Emirates Stadium.
Just like last week when Rovers travelled to the Madjeski Stadium, Mark Hughes will be looking for a debut win.
Arsenal`s form has fluctuated in their new stadium, they are either emphatically brilliant or miserably average; Hughes will be hoping to face the latter. Last weeks display against Portsmouth highlighted just how much of a Jekel and Hyde anomaly Arsene Wenger`s young guns are.
They certainly miss the dynamic cutting edge of the talismanic Thierry Henry in attack but they are beginning to cope in his absence.
Mark Hughes will be looking for more of the same having seen Rovers claw their way back from a goal behind last week at Reading. Although they are without Benni McCarthy, it could prove to be the chance that Matt Derbyshire needs.
David Bentley: "Teams are going there and believing they can get a result and we are going to go there on Saturday believing we can do the same."
Mark Hughes on Arsenal: "They seem to have had a little bit of a problem initially in the first few months of the move to the new stadium. They've had some good results, but others where they have had to come back on level terms. So there is a little bit of encouragement for us, but you have to accept they're a team of high quality."
Arsene Wenger of form: "We should have won more games because we created so many chances, but have just not been able to put the ball in the net. In fact we have been doing everything but score in some games. Often we have given away silly goals and then it becomes difficult when the opponents sit behind the ball. We have to concentrate better, and of course take our own chances."
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal have had a bitter sweet week regarding injuries. They have been boosted by the return to full fitness of Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini but one of their stars of the season, Emmanuel Eboue, has now joined the likes of William Gallas and Thierry Henry on the sidelines.
Arsenal from: Lehmann, Hoyte, Toure, Djourou, Clichy, Walcott, Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb, Adebayor, van Persie, Almunia, Rosicky, Senderos, Baptista, Flamini, Aliadiere, Song
Player to watch: Emmanuel Adebayor
It was clear for all to see last week just what impact the gangly Togo international can have on games. His virtuoso substitute performance ensured that Arsenal maintained their unbeaten record at home.
Having initially struggled following his £6million transfer last season, Adebayor seems to have acclimatized to the English game. He is deceptively skilful for a man of his height and slender figure and has a direct approach to the game that worries defenders.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
For once it can be reported that Rovers` injury situation hasn`t deteriorated, in fact it has improved, with a number of first team players possibly back in contention.
This does leave Mark Hughes with a selection headache in the defence again. Rumours suggest outcast Andy Todd may keep his place at the back, despite the return of Zurab Khizanishvili and Stephane Henchoz.
Additionally Brett Emerton is back in the squad after being absent through a hamstring strain. Benni McCarthy will be absent though due to his over zealous celebration last week. He earned himself a fifth yellow card of the season and is therefore suspended.
Rovers from: Freidel, Neill, Todd, Ooijer, Henchoz, Khizanishvili, Gray, McEveley, Emerton, Bentley, Tugay, Savage, Mokoena, Pedersen, Nonda, Derbyshire, Gallagher, Brown, Peter.
Player to watch: David Bentley
After his sensational and emphatic winner last week, the former Arsenal protégé will be hoping to out-gun his former side in their new fortress. His performances have picked up again of late and he will be ebullient at the prospect of playing against the team who felt he wasn`t quite good enough.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal go into this game undefeated in five in League and Cup and are one of three remaining clubs with an unbeaten home Premiership record. The others are Chelsea and Liverpool.
Arsenal have not lost in 23 League and Cup matches on home soil - 16 of which were top flight games. Won nine and drawn seven in front of their home fans since losing 2-3 to West Ham at Highbury on 1 February.
On the Premiership's longest run since a goalless draw of 36 games.
The current tally of 30 points from 18 games is Arsenal's lowest return to this same stage in eight Premiership seasons.
Holding a 100% Premiership record when keeping clean sheets (won seven of seven).
Scored in each of the last eight League games and failed to score in one of 16. Missed the target in only two Premiership matches this season.
Gained eight Premiership points from losing positions. Only Aston Villa can match that. The Gunners showed their resilience by trailing, then winning at Charlton. and drawing home to Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Everton, Newcastle and Portsmouth.
Arsenal have scored 18 home League goals - only Manchester United can beat that with 20.
Rovers have won the last two in League and Cup but have not managed successive top tier victories since 1 October, when they completed three wins on the bounce against Manchester City (h), Middlesbrough (a) and Wigan (h).
Lost six of nine Premiership matches, included two of the last three.
Kept just one clean sheet in 11 League outings (2-0, home to Fulham on 2 February).
Kept only three clean sheets in this Premiership campaign. All other clubs have managed more, with the exception of Fulham and West Ham, who've also kept three each.
Beaten only Middlesbrough and Reading on the road so far in this League season.
Won one of the last five matches on their Premiership travels.
Failed to score in half their away League games this term (four of eight).
Howard Webb takes charge of this fixture. He has produced 56 yellows and three reds this season in 14 matches and it will be the third time he has officiated a Rovers game.
This won`t be an easy game for Rovers. Things are starting to come together for Arsenal and having displayed their ugly side in the first half against Portsmouth, Arsenal won`t be repeating that for a while. Rovers do come into this game on the back of two consecutive victories and with players returning from injury and morale increasing, anything is possible. The loss of McCarthy through suspension is a big blow but it could once again be the chance that Matt Derbyshire needs. This game will be won and lost depending on who comes out on top between Rovers` mercurial Turkish maestro and Arsenal`s provincial young Spaniard. Tugay and Fabregas hold all the keys to unlock defences and they will be central to the outcome of this game. An Arsenal win will ensue.
Liverpool at Ewood on 26th December 2006. 15:00 kick off