Just when we asked for a little more consistency and building on recent improvements to go on a little positive run of matches, this happened. Abysmal, is the only word I can find to fully explain this defeat at Ewood Park. From having a 2-1 lead going into half time and seemingly in full control of the game, we wilted in the second half.
There were minimal changes from the last time we played. Kieran Gibbs, Yossi Benayoun and Theo Walcott were replaced by Andre Santos, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin respectively. The kind of change that you’ll expect a top team to be able to cope. Hence, it is baffling to me how a team that can show such defensive solidarity in an away Champions League tie to the current Borussia Dortmund side and can be this shambolic in the next.
The saying that this is a game of two halves cannot be more apt to describe this match. As good as we were in the first half, we were horrible in the second half. With the lead, complacency sets in. If we were first to the second balls in the first half, no one was even near to any second balls in the second half. Not those in the red and white shirt anyway.
It was a disappointing result not least because this was by far our best offensive display of the season. A week of rest/injury for Ramsey seemed to have rejuvenated him. He was running the midfield and becoming the link man to our attacks. 45 minutes looks to have drained his energy and just like the rest of his team mates, producing a listless display in the next 45 minutes.
Gervinho starting the scoreboard rolling for the day with a good finish after being put through by Alex Song. Paul Robinson had no chance with that and in all honesty, neither did he for the other 2 goals that we scored. But Blackburn pegged us back just 15 minutes later. Defence were sucked in by Junior Hoilett and that left Yakubu running free. The Nigerian’s quick finish caught Wojciech Szczesny off guard and the home side found their equaliser. Must be said, had Santos stayed on-line with his centre backs, Yakubu might have been called offside.
It only took us 10 minutes to regain the lead. Song once again the instigator of a goal as his quick pass down the channel had Ramsey running on to it. The Welsh captain cut the ball back perfectly into the path of the onrushing Mikel Arteta. The finish was calm, precise and purposely taken by our new Spaniard midfielder. As it turns out, he and Gervinho will not be remembering their first ever goal for Arsenal fondly.
My only hope for the second half was that we maintained the intensity, perhaps being less adventurous and try to find the third goal on the break. It’s not as if Blackburn looked like they have much inventiveness going forward. Yakubu scored from the only real chance that they created in the first half. All that hope went out the window as soon as the half restarted. The home side came out with real intent and dominated play.
5 minutes was how long we managed to held on to the lead. The equaliser was the first of the own goals for Arsenal today. Having had his hand in the ones we scored in the correct net, Song was the culprit this time, putting one past his own keeper. This is from a set piece but not by a header. The ones who attacked the ball made no contact with it and our defensive midfielder was not anticipating the ball. It easily bounced off his thigh and into the back of the net. Worse was to come.
Another set piece undone us again, albeit via the ensuing play this time. As we failed to clear a corner properly and the ball fell to Steven Nzonzi who fired a fierce drive back across goal. Who was there to finish but Yakubu again. Again, Santos is guilty of staying behind the defensive line and thus giving the linesman the option of not flagging for offside. Marginal decision but even with Santos there, the Blackburn striker was quite possibly just offside.
From 2-1 down, the home side then went 4-2 ahead. From us having attacking a corner, Blackburn scored on the counter. It was the type of goals we normally get in the past. It’s a bit depressing to see other teams do it to us. Johan Djourou (a substitute for the injured Bacary Sagna) made a wild attempt to clear the ball but wasn’t strong enough in the challenge. Martin Olsson speeded away and was heading straight towards Szczesny. His attempted cross was deflected straight into goal by Laurent Koscielny. That’s the second own goal we conceded today. Again, the problem is anticipation.
Marouane Chamakh came on and it was positive to see him getting on the scoresheet. That’s what we all wanted for him to rediscover his form. Whether getting that in this match will have any impact on him, is still unknown. It was a perfectly placed header, rifled into the top corner. I hope individually, this goal will help him because at the moment, there might be a real need for a second option.
Per Mertesacker and Theo Walcott had chances late on to grab us a point from this game but it was all too late. The first just shading the top crossbar while the second was woefully short in pace. That though is not the reason why we lost the game. Not when we scored three very good goals only to be let down by lax defending.
This time we had a big tall centre back in defence. Did it helped matters? Not particularly in my honest judgement. All the calls for a lumbering presence at the back was way off the mark. Physical attributes solves nothing. Defending is about organisation, without it, we are lost. Work will have to be done in the training ground. Guidance needs to be given to our defence on what to do, where to position themselves, how to cover for their team mates who are out of position and how to lead a defence.
The manager has done his job on the transfer part of things. New players have been brought in. Now, Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff will have their hands full in trying to reinvigorate the team and build that defensive nous. Tough tough season ahead. Will we be ever out of the woods?