Early Saturday morning blog due to an early Saturday afternoon kick-off.
It’s quite funny that so much of the build-up to this game has focussed on the fact that Blackburn are the kind of team that pose a physical threat Arsenal find it tough to cope with. Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce has chipped in to remind everyone that Arsenal used to get some red cards back in the day, as if it has some kind of relevance to today’s game.
What’s not being really spoken about is that this is a game of football and not some late-night cage fighting extravanganza. Yes, Arsenal will have to cope with the physical side of Blackburn’s game, we know this is an area in which they’re particularly strong. They’re a big, tall team who like to use that to their advantage and like all of Allardyce’s teams down the years their first job is to stop the opposition playing.
He was the same at Bolton, for a very brief period at Newcastle (haha) and now at Blackburn. They set out, especially against the bigger teams, to prevent them from getting into any kind of rhythm. They are the masters of the tactical foul, disrupting the flow of the game, and I think it’s that, more than anything, that makes life difficult for us.
Last weekend Blackpool sat off us. Blackburn will not. They’ll be in our faces from the start, putting us under pressure when we have possession. To cope with that we need to be at our sharpest. It means our movement and passing has to be perfect. If we do that well then they’ll tire. When they have it we have to prepare ourselves for an aerial bombardment. Free kicks from their half will be launched long towards our box by Paul Robinson, corners and free kicks will be a threat because they have players who are good with the dead ball, and we know all about their size.
Arsene Wenger’s very pointed comments in his press conference regarding protection for goalkeepers were interesting. Chris Foy was the ref who did Stoke v Sp*rs and Stoke got away with murder at set-pieces. Of course you should be able to challenge a goalkeeper, you should not be allowed foul him. If your sole intention is to impede the keeper then that’s a free kick. Whether Foy takes that on board and pays closer attention remains to be seen – he might well react to the implied criticism by choosing to look the other way.
Blackburn will try to impede Almunia today. They did it last season to Fabianski and the bloke was rattled all day long. We need the ref to be fair, we need Almunia to be strong, and we need our team to offer our keeper the protection he needs. As ‘holic points out we know what’s going to be dished up today, it’s unthinkable that we haven’t prepared for this during the week.
Leaving aside the physical aspect of the game though the manager has some difficult choices to make in terms of his team. Two players who were excellent last week, Theo and Tomas Rosicky, might well find themselves ‘rewarded’ with a place on the bench. The return of Laurent Koscielny means Alex Song can move back into midfield. I think we’ll see Cesc’s first start of the season today so a midfield trio of Song and Diaby as the two deeper-lying players with Cesc in front of them might well mean a place on the bench for Rosicky.
In the forward three I think Chamakh will keep his place as the centre-forward with Arshavin on one side of him. Then the boss has to decide if Theo can do to ‘burn what he did to ‘pool. His sheer pace would give them plenty to worry about, the new found Billy’s Boots in front of goal too, but should the game become a physical battle then Theo is a little lightweight. Robin van Persie is itching for his first start of the season too and has a brilliant scoring record against Blackburn while Emmanuel Eboue might be considered for a bit of defensive solidity and muscle.
He’s got plenty to think about, that’s for sure and he wants his players to stand-up and be counted today, saying:
We have more steel because a few years ago we were a bit too immature for this kind of game. I don’t feel any more that we are
It is important that we are strong away from home and deal with their strengths. We have put more steel in our game and I will tell my players to be committed.
It’s not as if we don’t have players who can’t ‘mix it’. Song, Vermaelen, Cesc, van Persie, Sagna, none of them shirk a physical game. We’ve yet to see new boy Laurent Koscielny in a game like this but he’s talking the talk. I don’t see Chamakh being bullied, Clichy’s experienced enough to cope, and then you want to see Diaby get stuck in, Arshavin not stroll through the game, and if we really give it everything we’ve got then we’ll win this game.
Last season at Blackburn was depressing, it was a sad performance from a team who had the stuffing knocked out of them in the weeks previous. Perhaps it was self-inflicted to an extent but there’s a chance today to put it right. Arshavin and Rosicky both referenced last season’s game, hopefully it still hurts and we see a reaction today. As Rosicky said we have to go there and win if we want to win the league title.
I don’t think a draw would be a bad result but it’ll be interesting to see if this team has kicked on from last season. Have they learned their lesson? Were they suitably shamed by the defeat last time around A good performance and three points today might go some way to dispel the idea that Arsenal are a team that can kicked around – and that’s an important barrier to break down early in the season. Regardless of how you view the kind of football Allardyce’s teams play we have to be able to stand up to it.
It’s a big test but one I think we can pass.
In other news the signing of Sebastien Squillaci was finally confirmed. There’s the usual guff on the official site about him but it looks, on paper at least, like a very good deal. A fee of just £3m for an experienced international centre-half is good business. He’ll wear the number 18. It really doesn’t matter who wore it before him, it’s just a number.
The Sun reckons Mark Schwarzer will leave Fulham on a free next summer if they don’t let him join Arsenal. I’m sure they’re quaking in their boots at the thought of a 37 year old moving on when his contract expires. Of course that doesn’t do us any good whatsoever. However, the article does mention something that a couple of Aussie fans have mentioned to me in the wake of our interesting in Schwarzer – the Asia Cup in January.
If we sign him is he really going to bugger off for the month of January? I do wonder if there’s anything in our potential deal with him which requires him to stay in England instead of going to play in some meaningless international tournament.
Beyond that not a lot else happening. Here’s hoping for a performance that will make FatSam the glummest Walrus in all the world. He deserves it.