September 17, 2011 (Tim Hales / AP)
It’s safe to say that the honeymoon period is over for Arsène Wenger’s new signings, almost before it even began. Sure the Gunners only put one on the board against newly-promoted Swansea last week, but they kept a clean sheet and all 3 points. Perhaps the long North London defensive nightmare was coming to an end! Granted, it wasn’t always pretty against Swansea, and it’s not like our new boy Per Mertesacker got full marks from all who watched, but it was nice to not concede for once!
Whatever optimistic warm and fuzzy feelings that Arsenal supporters may have been harboring since Arsène’s signing day splash have surely dissipated now, after this. Arsenal practically had to cross picket lines to get into Ewood Park on Saturday, as disgruntled Blackburn supporters had staged a march outside the grounds to call for the head of manager Steve Kean. Setting aside the possible merits of calling for a manager’s sacking this early in the season (ridiculous if you ask me), Blackburn were surely a team near crisis, if not in it, as they set bottom of the table after 4 games in the Premier League. In fact, Steve Kean may have been the only manager in the EPL who was under more fire coming into the match than was Wenger. Surely this was a day tailor-made for Arsenal to show it’s quality with nearly the full squad available. Unfortunately, if there is one thing we as Arsenal supporters know from the last year, it is that the most favorable circumstances are often the ones to yield the greatest disappointments.
Now, while the ultimate result was discouraging, that does not mean the the game was devoid of positives. We may have seen the beginning of a fruitful partnership between Gervinho and Sagna on the right side, who linked up well in the first half. Gervinho got his first competitive goal (10′) for the club with a cool finish on the end of a beautiful through-pass by Alex Song. Gervinho again looked dangerous on the ball in the attacking third, bringing a much-needed ability to take on defenders one-on-one. With Cesc & Nasri gone, Arsenal haven’t seen much in the way of breaking down defenders on the ball, so it was nice to see that Gervinho has that ability. While I like Gervinho’s aggressiveness in always going towards the goal, he seems to suffer a bit from tunnel vision when attacking. The instance that comes to mind is of course when he shot instead of making an easy pass to RvP in the box for what would have been a sure goal, but I get the feeling that once he has it in his mind to attack, he does not even look for anyone else.
On the other side, André Santos was eager to push forward and attack in his first appearance for the Gunners. His attacking style differs from Sagna’s, in that Santos seems to favor cutting inside and attacking towards the box, rather than looking to receive the ball out on the wing and cross into the box, as Sagna is oft to do.
Alex Song was a sight for sore eyes in the first half. His physicality was welcome against Blackburn, and his passing set up both first half goals. In addition to assisting on Gervinho’s goal, it was Song’s beautiful ball to Ramsey that started the attack which Arteta finished clinically (34′). Going into half time I had Song as my leader in the clubhouse for man-of-the-match honors, but we all know how that ended so I don’t need to talk about it, right?
Even though we conceded right through the middle of our back line, it was against the run of play in the first half, so I felt good going into the break. Unfortunately, old defensive deficiencies resurfaced in the second half, ultimately leading to a complete collapse and leaving Arsenal on only 4 points after 5 games. Set pieces were a nightmare all day, with Blackburn looking capable of scoring each time they took a free kick in the Arsenal half. Koscielny, who had a nightmare of a day overall, looked especially lost on set pieces, often losing his mark. It was his misjudged header that allowed the pass to (an offside) Yakubu for his second goal, and who can forget the own goal. The back line never looked together, seeming incapable of holding a line, often putting each other in bad positions, and failing to pick up Blackburn players making attacking runs. I don’t want to belabor the point, suffice to say that the back line was not good enough. They were not helped by Sagna having to go off, as Djourou is not a right back and it showed, but the largest problem was still through the middle. Though Mertesacker is a much talked-about 6’6”, it was the 6’4” Samba who was the dominant player in the air. Samba’s strength and power was the difference, and he could have easily netted two headers off set pieces that ended up wide of the mark.
To say Arsenal were unlucky at Blackburn would be true, as a single own goal is uncommon and Yakubu’s second goal was clearly offside, but the truer statement would be that Arsenal weren’t good enough to deserve any better luck than they got. After Koscielny’s own goal (68′) made it 4-2 in favor of the home side, Arsenal looked shell-shocked and played uninspired football for the next fifteen minutes, which they could not afford to do. Chamakh got off the schnide by scoring his first Premier League goal since last November (85′) on a wicked cross from van Persie, and honestly looked the best I have seen him in quite some time, but Paul Robinson was better than was the Gunners’ last flourish and Blackburn hung on to the game and the three points that may have saved their manager’s job for now.
It was a bad result, to put it lightly, but I am not among those who are going to call for Arsène’s head, as it is still early and I think he rightfully enjoys a pretty long rope due to his track record. This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge he has faced as the manager of Arsenal, but I believe he and the team will respond. That being said, this is the Premier League and everyone will be lining up to kick us while we’re down, so the bounce-back needs to be swift or else even the dreams of a 4th place finish will evaporate as quickly as a second half lead. Let’s get well against Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday.
On to the awards:
Man of the Match – Paul Robinson (Yakubu lost points for being offside)
Brian Wilson Best Beard Award – Gaël Givet
Worst Neck Tattoo On A Debut – André Santos
Hard Luck Chuck Award – Wojciech Szczęsny (2 own goals is the definition of hard luck)