Arsenal 6.v.2 Rovers
The Emirates Stadium
23rd December 2006
We knew it was coming in all honesty. Traditionally Rovers have a terrible record at Arsenal and it was extended further on a torrid afternoon for the blue and white halves.
Arsenal were simply breath-taking, but the score-line isn`t a true reflection of the game and Rovers` performance.
The game got underway at a rapid pace. Before the dust could settle a fired-up David Bentley went charging into the Arsenal penalty area and was up-ended in the 2nd minute. Referee, Howard Webb had little hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot and Rovers had an early opportunity to steel ahead.
Having missed all three previous penalties in the league this season, Rovers fans had every reason to be dubious, especially considering the taker. At first it appeared that Morten Gamst Pedersen would take it but Shabani Nonda insisted. The Congo international hasn`t exactly taken the Premiership by storm and so he wouldn`t have seemed the obvious choice.
However, he calmly stepped up and slotted the ball home to silence the cacophony of whistles.
A visibly stunned Arsenal side pulled themselves together and went about their business of finding an equalizer.
They didn`t have long to wait and just as they had presented Rovers with the chance to score, Rovers, obligingly, returned the favour. A floated ball into the area found Gilberto Silva, totally unmarked, to head home at the back post. Rovers had had a warning just 60 seconds earlier when Toure hit the bar with a header.
Arsenal started to take control of proceedings and could have had a second through Gilberto again. He went haring through on goal but was thwarted by a sensationally brave dive from Brad Friedel. The giant American punched the ball away at the feet of Gilberto to produce howls of discontent from the vociferous home support.
A second though wasn`t too far away for Arsenal. Aleksander Hleb`s delicate flick in the 23rd minute gave Arsenal the lead for the first time in the game.
Arsenal were flying. The poetic, free-flowing football, that has become the rubber-stamp of Arsenal under Wenger was being displayed leaving the viewers in awe.
Arsenal were then assisted by the referee as he awarded a dubious penalty for another Oscar winning display from Robin van Persie. His dive gave Emmanuel Adebayor the chance to make it three-one and he duly obliged.
Rovers rallied and were unlucky not to pull themselves back into the game following a couple of long range fizzing drives from David Bentley. He was in a particularly aggressive mood, shooting on sight, which could have had something to do with Arsene Wenger`s programme notes.
The first half drew to a close with Arsenal firmly in the ascendancy. They were good value for their lead but Rovers were playing their part in making this an enthralling encounter.
Arsenal had been threatening the kind of performance they were putting on today.
The second half began with Arsenal pouring through the Rovers defence in a bid to create the picturesque goal. Chance after chance was squandered and it looked as though Arsenal may be punished for their second profligacy.
A ball into the Arsenal penalty area in the sixty-ninth minute area was acrobatically converted by Shabani Nonda for his second of the game. He was virtually on the ground when he connected with the ball for an unconventional over-head kick after Matt Derbyshire was denied by the cross-bar.
Rovers rallied and bravely went in search of an equaliser. Then came a moment when the game changed.
Morten Gamst Pedersen went close to drawing Rovers level but he was denied by a tremendous stop from Jens Lehman. Almost instantaneously Arsenal went up field and re-established their two goal lead. An excellent solo goal from van Persie, who danced his way through the Rovers defence before producing a sublime finish, seemed to have put the icing on the cake.
However, Arsenal weren`t finished yet. As Rovers committed men forward, a rapid break from the home side tore Hughes` team to shreds. Van Persie coolly slotted home his second and Arsenal`s fifth. Rovers continued to attack valiantly but were left short again as Mathieu Flamini added a sixth.
The scoreline is a harsh reflection on Rovers, who played their part in making this an entertaining game. It is the biggest defeat Rovers have suffered in the history of the Premiership and will serve as a huge blow to a squad who were only recently re-discovering their confidence.
Worked hard through out and looked creative.