Rovers 1.v.1 Arsenal
Sunday 19th August 2007. 15:00
There was drama throughout at Ewood Park on Sunday as Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal battled out a fiercely competitive draw.
In a pulsating encounter that was always on the verge of exploding both sides will feel they could have won an open game.
Mark Hughes made two changes to the side that started in Finland. Matt Derbyshire and Brett Emerton came in for Jason Roberts and Andre Ooijer respectively.
Rovers kicked proceedings off with an opening flurry of attacking football. Although no serious efforts were mounted it did serve as an indication of Rovers` approach to the game.
Arsenal seemed content to mount the occasional counter attack but eased themselves into the game. However, they took the lead following a howler by Brad Friedel, presenting prolific Robin van Persie with a tap-in.
It was a frustrating case of watching Rovers fail with great hilarity to clear their lines. A nonchalant header into the area by Theo Walcott presented Arsenal debutant Eduardo with a chance. However, he was put off at the last minute leaving Friedel with a comfortable catch. Alas, he spilled the ball and despite the valiant attempts of David Dunn and Ryan Nelsen to clear the ball tricked invitingly into the path of van Persie, who smashed a crisp finish into the bottom corner from six yards.
Rovers looked to respond but were visibly irritated by Arsenal`s away tactics, holding onto the ball, casually taking time out to nurse a knock. The boys in blue and white were letting it get to them and all structure was lost. In this period a number of Rovers players were booked and chances were becoming few and far between, often resorting to Chelsea style long ball tactics.
Set plays were Rovers` only obvious avenue back into this fixture and from a David Bentley free kick, which was whipped in from the right, Nelsen rose but his well guided header came back off the post.
The half came to a conclusion with Rovers looking disjointed and uninspiring with Arsenal demonstrate all the qualities of a sound away performance.
However, a rousing start to the second half was to be a sign of things to come. Rovers charged at their opponents in search of the equaliser using good football and a high tempo that not even the incessant whistling from referee Alan Wiley could stop.
More balls were being thrashed across the Arsenal penalty area seemingly edging Rovers closer each time. Bentley tried from distance in the 53rd minute and Roque Santa Cruz went close with a header.
Then came a moment of controversy. All afternoon the referee had been very quick to blow his whistle and it would appear the consistency of his decisions was lacking. Rovers were feeling a little hard done by due to some of the decisions and were doubly aggrieved just after the hour mark.
An excellent corner swung across by Morten Gamst Pedersen flashed across the area before being diverted goalwards by the stretching Chris Samba. The ball struck the arm of Cesc Fabregas who was the acting sentry on the post. However, Mr. Wiley had blown seconds earlier for an infringement. Replays suggested no-one in Rovers shirt was doing anything wrong so where this decision came from was quite baffling, and proved to be a huge slice of luck for Arsenal.
Rovers rallied though and the equaliser was forthcoming on 72 minutes when the inspirational David Dunn made a surge towards the Arsenal box, exchanged a one-two with Santa Cruz before unleashing a venomous strike at goal.
Despite being very well hit it was straight at goalkeeper, Jens Lehamn, however, he kindly returned the favour Friedel had afforded Arsenal by letting the ball squirm through his fingers and into the back of the net via the post.
What ensued was an open, end to end frenzy littered by numerous instances of bad blood between the sides that saw the youthful immaturities and petulance of some of the Arsenal players shine through. Yellow cards were being issued freely and there was a sense that the game could explode into a brawl at any moment.
In between all this both sides had chances to win, the best of which fell to Nickolas Bendtnar. He nicked the ball around Friedel after the American charged off his line but heroic last ditch defending thwarted the Arsenal attackers on three occasions. A sensational tackle in the area by Stephen Warnock and a tremendous block from Dunn, were standout moments!
However, the controversy wasn`t finished there and a red card was duly issued. It went to Rovers` captain Nelsen after he hauled down van Persie following a smart turn from the wily Dutchman.
A thoroughly entertaining game was once again testament to the strong attitude and quality of Rovers. Arsenal came with a game plan and in some respects were unlucky to see it not quite work. A draw was perhaps a fair result in the end.
His performace was inspirational. He was a driving force going forward and showed his creative eye on a number of occasions as well as his attacking instinct. He also demonstarted a passion to block, intercept and disrupt everything Arsenal did. He was everywhere.
Santa Cruz 7