13th January 2007. 17:15
In dismal conditions, Rovers` recent good form came to end against an irresistible Arsenal side.
Mark Hughes made four changes to the side that comprehensively beat Everton in the F. A. Cup last weekend, the only surprise being the inclusion of Matt Derbyshire from the start.
Rovers kicked off in blustery conditions made worse by a constant downpour of torrential rain. On a boggy pitch both sides eased their way into the game, with Rovers retaining the majority of the possession and Arsenal seemingly content to sit back.
The first chance of note should really have made an impression on the scoreline. Rovers` second corner was whipped in by Morten Gamst Pedersen from the right and Derbyshire evaded his marker inside the six yard box. However, despite making a solid connection he sent his header zipping wide of Jen Lehman`s post with the 'keeper unmoved.
Rovers were trying to unsettle Arsenal with an aggressive approach and it certainly bothered Gilberto. In the 13th minute Robbie Savage and Gilberto contested for the ball but referee, Rob Styles, blew his whistle because Savage was being over-physical. That was a view shared with Arsenal`s Brazilian midfielder, who promptly lashed out and kicked Savage.
Mr Styles had little hesitation in issuing a red card to the Brazilian. This snap decision completely changed the dynamic of the game.
With both sides seemingly stunned by such a decision early on, the game continued at a snails pace. Conditions were getting worse as thin blankets of rain covered Ewood Park making the pitch heavy and arduous on the legs.
Rovers held the majority of the possession with Arsenal showing glimpses of counter-attacking potential. Brett Emerton tried to inject some life into the contest midway through the half. He picked the ball up wide right and proceeded to maraud across the pitch evading a number of challenges before picking out an unmarked Gamst on the far left of the penalty area.
His thunderous drive towards the near post was expertly tipped over for a corner.
That charge and shot seemed to stir the crowd and, to the beat of the drums and chants of the home fans, Benni McCarthy also went on a charge. He eventually made his way to the edge of the penalty area but his effort on goal was tame and easily blocked.
With Rovers lifting their game Arsenal were aiming to match the home side. They were awarded a free-kick just inside the Rovers half in the 36th minute.
As players ambled into position Thierry Henry produced a moment of brilliance. He elegantly lifted the ball into the area perfectly timed for the run of Kolo Toure, the only Arsenal player in the penalty area, who powerfully headed the ball on target and into the net off the post.
Rovers were visibly stunned and 10-man Arsenal were now content to sit back and absorb an expected onslaught. Rovers struggled to muster anything worthy of note as the half petered away.
Rovers were decidedly lacking in the creative department in the first half so it came as no surprise that Aaron Mokoena was replaced at half-time by Tugay.
The Rovers fans were expecting a determined and aggressive second half display in a bid to restore parity but it never materialised.
Despite the conditions easing in the second period Rovers continued to look lethargic, making heavy work of trying to muster an equaliser. A succession of corners came and went without too much threat to the Arsenal goal.
Shabani Nonda was introduced in place of Andre Ooijer to give Rovers added potency in attack. He should have made an immediate impact following an excellent cross from Gamst.
He picked out Nonda in the area unmarked by the hit-man couldn`t direct his header on target. Moments later and Rovers were cursing their luck again following another dangerous ball from the left by Gamst. This tie Derbyshire was sniffing around for a goal but he couldn`t apply a telling finish to the cross.
Rovers were punished for their profligacy when Thierry Henry confirmed victory in emphatic and mesmerising style.
A rapid break from inside the Arsenal penalty area saw Henry take the ball well into opposition territory before picking out Fabregas. The young Spaniard immediately rolled the ball into Henry`s path and his instantaneous shot fizzed past Friedel and crashed into the net via the underneath of the crossbar.
It was the kind of break and goal Arsenal had been threatening all afternoon. Both Fabregas and Henry had been like snipers choosing their passes and executing them with deadly precision. They had picked Rovers off as they stood their exposed in the monsoon like conditions.
It wasn`t an afternoon to remember for Rovers fans. Rovers were as bad as Arsenal were great.
After such a nondescript season to date he is now taking all the accolades. His performances stood out against an average team display.
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