Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh Dear

Another interesting weekend in the Premiership.
Yet another painful one for Arsenal.

Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal

The seriousness of Arsenal's problems was underlined. The defence, despite the presence of new boys Santos and Mertesacker, was its old shambolic self. The lack of belief among the players was clear in the manner in which they folded after Blackburn's second equaliser, and allowed the game to slip away. A late rally produced a goal, a grandstand finish, and a flurry of chances to level the game, but the damage had been done, and a salvaged result of any kind would only serve to paper over the widening cracks. Arsenal are in big, big trouble this season.

The first half was, in some senses, a reminder of the kind of football Arsenal are still sometimes capable of. Song, Ramsey and Arteta were impressive in midfield, and the two Arsenal goals were the result of some fluid, incisive attacking. Gervinho opened his Arsenal account from a clever, slide rule pass by Song. The shot took a slight deflection and beat Paul Robinson on its way to the far bottom corner.

Blackburn were not really in the game, but Yakubu punished Arsenal's defensive frailty with a smart finish when the worst offside trap in football malfunctioned again. The striker confounded the onrushing Szczesny with an early, audacious flick of his right boot, sending the ball rolling slowly but unstoppably into the corner of the net. A throwback to the kind of player he once was.

Arsenal responded some minutes later with the goal of the game. The midfield trio linked well again. Song released Ramsey down the right with another incisive ball, and the Welshman ignored the obvious option of firing across the six yard box, instead cutting back cutely for Arteta, who swept the ball high into Robinson's net.

Arsenal might have extended the lead before half time, when Arshavin forged an opportunity for Gervinho, but he saw his selfish attempt blocked, much to the ire of the better-placed Van Persie. Blackburn were granted a reprieve; Arsenal were to gift them a whole lot more in the second half.

The difference between the Alex Song of the first half and the one who emerged after the interval is symbolic of the brittle mentality of this Arsenal team, their violent mood swings. Song started the collapse with an own goal, although the fault was not all his. Rocha chipped in a free kick from Blackburn's right, and despite the lack of pace on the ball, nobody in red took decisive action. The ball struck Song and dribbled past Szczesny.

Rovers were pressing more effectively and Arsenal had lost the control they seemed to exert in the first period. More set piece mayhem saw the home side hit the front. A deep, driven corner left Koscielny butting at thin air and the ball dropped at the feet of Nzonzi. He blasted a cross-shot that was turned home by Yakubu, lurking marginally offside. No flag, another soft goal for Arsenal's extensive collection.

Arsenal mustered some pressure in response, and Van Persie dithered too long when presented with a decent chance, but the awful defence succumbed again, this time to a breakaway sucker punch. Blackburn countered at roaring pace and Djourou, on in place of the injured Sagna, was roasted by Olsson. The winger entered the area, beat Alex Song and turned the ball into the goalmouth where the increasingly inept Koscielny failed to sort his feet out in time and turned the ball comically into his own net. Two own goals, a two goal deficit, was there any fight left?

To be fair, there was, and Arsenal spurned enough chances to win the game. Chamakh scored a powerful, towering header from a wicked Van Persie cross, but the Moroccan was also guilty of a weak effort in stoppage time; Van Persie was denied on a couple of occasions by Robinson; Mertesacker headed over in the dying seconds; Walcott was denied a penalty shout. It was more frantic and desperate than it ever should have had to be. Going to a mediocre Blackburn side, you expect that if ou score three goals, it's job done. But this is the New Arsenal, and another ridiculous result has been added to the roll of dishonour.

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