Arsenal 6 (Vermaelen 17, Van Persie 33, Arshavin 37, Fabregas 57, Walcott 75, Bendtner 89) Blackburn 2 (Nzonzi 4, Dunn 30)
Arsene Wenger’s time in charge has been characterised by some fantastic flowing football, spectacular goals, crisp passing, the coming of age of outrageously talented youngsters, and the odd bit of defensive frailty. All were evident in a match that provided the most fitting of tributes to his thirteen years in charge.
One of his greatest signings, if not his greatest, was in attendance, Henry looking delighted to be back and every bit the fan he claims to be. But it was his successor as club talisman who ran the show – Cesc becoming only the second player to get four assists in a Premiership match (the first being Reyes in a Boro demolition), scoring a terrific volley, and managing a complete midfield performance. Even his defensive play was impressive.
For such a stunning team performance, it didn’t start well, Blackburn opening the scoring with the most Bolton-esque goal you will see all season – Robinson punted a free kick into our box, Mannone was caught between coming for it and staying on his line, Vermaelen seemed to lose the flight of the ball and the giant Nzonzi looped a header in.
For the first fifteen minutes, we struggled to string three passes together, but when we clicked, we switched into a mode Blackburn simply couldn’t handle. Vermaelen continued his goalscoring run with a cracker from 25 yards, turning away as if it was a routine finish. It wasn’t. After making possibly his first defensive mistake of the season, it was a response typical of a man who is becoming quite the signing.
That goal forced Blackburn out – so often sides are happy to play with two banks of four, the back line sitting on the edge of the area challenging us to play through them. But we were calling Robinson into action from range, and with Blackburn realising they had to close us down further out, space was created in behind them.
But before we could exploit it, the visitors retook the lead – we overcommitted upfield, and a decent counter attack ended with Dunn deflecting a shot off the retreating Gallas, wrong footing Mannone.
It was comprehensively against the run of play by that point, and didn’t seem to shake us – seven minutes later we were ahead. Cesc slipped the perfect ball through to Van Persie, who lashed in another – his goals have certainly begun to flow – and then the captain laid another on a plate for Arshavin.
We started the second half as we had the first, with some shaky moments at the back. Dunn should’ve had a penalty when Vermaelen brought him down, and later the Belgian would make up for a poor defensive header by deflecting another effort on to Mannone’s post. But by then, we were 4-2 up, and it was Cesc himself who finally got the goal his outstanding play deserved, placing a controlled volley into the top corner after Rosicky’s flick.
There was time for two more – a stunning counter attack started by Cesc saw him lay on the final pass for Walcott, who belied the fact that he’d only just come on for his first few minutes of the season by placing the ball perfectly in the far corner. Finally, Bendtner, also on as a sub, scored his first league goal of the campaign with another long distance effort that gave Robinson no chance.
It said everything about out atacking performance that Robinson had an excellent game in goal and still picked the ball out of his net six times. Obviously we had our defensive lapses but it seems churlish to focus on those instead of the positives. And seeing Sam Allardyce stony-faced at the end is certainly one of those.
Of course, Allardyce wouldn’t be Allardyce without coming out with some nonsense after the game, suggesting Vermaelen should’ve been sent off in the penalty incident. I suggest a rulebook for Christmas, since it was a simple trip and he wasn’t the last man. And although they should’ve had that spot kick, it was highly unlikely they were going to stop us scoring at will anyway.
I do want to touch on a couple of things, one negative and one positive. The negative is the way Blackburn repeatedly took out our men while they jumped for headers. The first culprit was Diouf, running deliberately into Sagna as he leapt for a high ball, sending him flying, and at the time I figured it was just Diouf being Diouf, in other words an odious little runt. But the tactic continued from the whole team, and given that it is something Bolton used to do, it clearly comes from the manager. A dangerous tactic, it needs to be stamped out.
The positive is Rosicky. While Cesc obviously gets the plaudits for a stunning performance, the little Czech is adding speed and precision to our movements. He has the happy knack of increasing the tempo of any attack, spraying intelligent first time passes forward and giving us momentum. And when he needs to, he can also deliver the killer ball, as shown by his outrageous outside of the boot cross for Cesc. It really is fantastic to see him back.
And that’s about that. It is certainly a spectacular way to enter another international break. Let’s hope the two weeks away doesn’t kill the momentum, because right now we’re flying.