Rovers Claim Massive Point at the Emirates
Blackburn Rovers, fighting for their Premiership survival, fought out to hold Arsenal goalless in what was a rather entertaining match, with both sides ruing chances gone by.
Steve Kean sent out a counter-attacking line up, with Roque Santa Cruz the man up top, whilst recent signing, Ruben Rochina, watched from the bench.
Roque Santa Cruz
As expected by the pundits, Blackburn attempted to sit back the opening quarter, with Arsenal applying the early pressure. Theo Walcott looked lively down the flank, whilst Nasri looked the threat down the middle. And it was the two who linked up early, Walcott darting down the wing, his cross narrowly over the head of Nasri. Walcott was again in the thick off it, this time his cut back finding Sagna, his shot deflected out for a corner. The 'Jones Brothers', Phil and Jermaine, played immense roles early, nullifying the pace of the Arsenal midfield, shutting them down at every opportunity.
However, Arsenal did manage to sneak the odd opportunity through, the best coming a quarter of the game in as Walcott found his way through the Rovers defence, denied by the onrushing Paul Robinson who stayed big and parried it out for a corner.
Things looked bad for Martin Olsson, after a tough challenge with Sagna, the Swede left worse off in the collision. However he did return to the pitch, and returned with style. The formidable partnership of Hoillet and Olsson down the left flank was always going to be the threat, and a threat was an understatement. The two dazzled and tormented, with throughballs, flick ons and overlapping runs the feature. The problem was though, with only Santa Cruz up front, it was always going to be tricky to find the Paraguayan's head. Rovers did have a good chance midway through the half, a darting run by Hoillet ended when he was brought down 20 yards out, but Emerton could only slice it over the bar.
Rovers almost recieved a slice of fortune 30 minutes in. Martin Olsson decided to try his luck from distance, with erratic keeper Almunia almost having another howler, is fingertip save tipping it just wide of the near post. Hoillet again continued to threaten, however his shot on goal almost went for a throw in.
It was Arsenal though who dominated possession in the first half, but Nasri, Walcott and Wilshire all were wastefull upfront. Rovers almost snuck in a goal before the break. Paul Robinson sent it into the box, Nzonzi climbing highest, but his header drifted wide.
0-0 half time.
Strong words must have been said to both teams at the break, with Arsenal pushing higher up the pitch, whilst Blackburn becoming more enforsing in midfield. Phil Jones and Jermaine Jones locked horns with everybody, whilst their French relative, Steve 'Jones' Nzonzi, didnt want to be left out, using all off his lanky frame to steal the ball at every opportunity. Samba and Nelsen were in fine form, first to every header, and if not first, then enough pressure was placed on the Arsenal dangermen. Whilst we are at it, lets not forget our wily veterans on the right side of the pitch, Salgado and Emerton tracked well, defended solidly and shut down the flank. Unfortunately though, they offered little in attack, but hey, if you can shut down Arsenal on one side, a third of the job is done...
Wilshire wasted a glorious opportunity, possibly being too generous. After being threaded through into the box, Wilshire had the opportunity to bend it into the far post, however he cut the ball back, and Rovers pounced, clearing to safety. Santa Cruz came off, with Roberts coming on. Arsenal made changes of their own, Fabregas on for Arshavin.
Rovers were reduced to 10 men with 20 minutes to go. A soft dismissal the commentators agreed to, Nzonzi showing a touch of studs,Koscielny making a meal of it, with a performance that could earn England if he decided to take up citizenship one of their only Gold medals in the London Olympics.
So that really made Rovers park the bus, with any chance of a goal on the counter immediately removed. Arsenal upped the tempo yet again, but just couldnt crack a brilliant Rovers defence. Salgado fired up at Samba and Nelsen for leaving Fabregas unmarked, and rightly so. Samba almost put the ball in the back of the net, fortunately Robinson pulled off a stunning save.
But what really highlighted the desperation and significance of this point, was Martin Olsson, the tiny Swede, launching his body groundwards at a powerful drive, blocking the shot, and clinching the most important of points for Blackburn
Paul Robinson 9
Martin Olsson 9
Chris Samba 9
Ryan Nelsen 9
Michel Salgado 9
Phil Jones 9
Jermaine Jones 9
Steve Nzonzi 8
Brett Emerton 7
Junior Hoillet 9
Roque Santa Cruz 7