Arsenal took on Blackburn yesterday in a Premier League game that they quite simply had to win.They had taken only one point in their previous four games, and their chances of finishing in the top four were looking bleak. There was no more time for hard luck stories, or tales of how close Arsenal were to getting it right.
Arsene Wenger decided Bacary Sagna needed a rest after he played on Wednesday night, and Francis Coquelin played at right back. Sagna is only just back from a leg break, and it was probably a wise decision. The only other change from the 0-0 draw with Bolton on Wednesday night was the inclusion of Tomas Rosicky for Aaron Ramsey in midfield.
It was an Arsenal team that was more than capable of taking all three points, and scoring a few goals too. Blackburn had scored in every single away game so far this season, and Arsenal had to be careful not to underestimate them. A win would take Arsenal into fifth ahead of both Newcastle and Liverpool, and within two points of fourth placed Chelsea.
The game couldn't have started much better for Arsenal when Theo Walcott got free on the right hand side and reached the end line. He cut the ball back for Robin van Persie, and the Premier League's leading scorer made no mistake from close range. Arsenal had finally managed to get an early goal, and their fans waited for them to add to that total.
Arsenal kept pressing forward and creating reasonable chances, but they couldn't add a second goal. Their intensity dropped off just a little, and Blackburn came into the game. Just after the half hour mark they got the break they wanted, and got the goal they needed.
Laurent Koscielny pulled Anthony Modeste down 25 yards from the Arsenal goal, and Morten Gamst Pedersen stepped up to take the free kick. He placed the ball perfectly in the top corner of the Arsenal goal, and Wojciech Szczesny failed to keep it out despite getting a hand to it. It was Blackburn's first attempt at goal in the game, and Pedersen took it excellently well.
It looked like it was the same old story all over again for arsenal, as the opposition scored with their first attempt despite Arsenal having loads of chances. The players had to pick themselves up, and turn things around very quickly before their season fell to pieces. It didn't take too long for them to do just that, as RVP got his name on the scoresheet yet again after 38 minutes.
Alex Song played a great defence splitting ball to Walcott, and he again cut it back across the goalmouth for the onrushing RVP to stroke home. Arsenal had regained their lead, and now they really had to build on it rather than sit back. The players kept going forward, and they got their reward only two minutes later.
RVP was the creator this time, as he was the one who played the defence splitting pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox took the ball and went around the goalkeeper before stroking it into an empty net. Half-time was approaching, and the game was looking very good for Arsenal.
Only a couple of minutes later things got even better for them when Gael Givet was given a straight red card for a two-footed lunge on RVP. It was a stupid tackle to make, and the referee had no choice other than to send him off. Givet apologised to RVP before leaving the pitch, but thankfully the Arsenal captain was able to continue after some treatment.
Arsenal started the second half in much the same fashion as they had finished the first, and the goals kept flowing. The fourth one came after 51 minutes when a RVP corner was cleared to Mikael Arteta, and he smashed the ball home from the edge of the box. It was 4-1 to Arsenal now, and it only looked like a matter of how many they would score.
Only three minutes later Arsenal got their fifth goal of the day, and Walcott was again the creator. He ran across the penalty area with the ball, and eventually fed it to The Ox who crashed it into the net for his second goal of the game. RVP and The Ox both had two gaols to their name, and it was only a matter of time before one of them got a hat-trick.
RVP was the man to win that race after 62 minutes when some excellent work on the right by Coquelin set him up at the near post. He finished with his right foot in a fashion that any striker would have been proud of. There was almost half an hour left, and it looked like Arsenal could score as many goals as they wanted at that stage.
Wenger decided it was time to ring the changes, and he brought Sagna and Thierry Henry on for Koscielny and The Ox. I'm sure The Ox would have liked the opportunity to score a hat trick, but he carried a knock on his knee into the game and it was probably a wise move to take him off. Only five minutes later Alex Song was withdrawn, and he was replaced by Yossi Benayoun.
The changes seemed to take the tempo out of the Arsenal team, as they cruised towards a very comfortable win. There were a few more chances, but as the game entered added time it looked like Arsenal would have to settle for a 6-1 win.
In the very last minute of added time Henry closed down a Blackburn defender in the centre circle, and he won the ball. As he raced towards the goal RVP exchanged passes with him, and Henry then stroked the ball home to make it 7-1. The shot took a massive deflection on the way in, but it was Henry's goal.
The final whistle arrived soon afterwards and Arsenal had not only managed to win, but they had hugely increased their goal difference too. Newcastle and Liverpool will have to win their games to go ahead of Arsenal in the table, and Chelsea will feel Arsenal are breathing down their necks too. All too often recently things had gone wrong for Arsenal, but against Blackburn almost everything went right.
Walcott has got a lot of stick recently and most of it has been deserved, but he had a very good game against Blackburn. He made three of the goals, and he looked like he was enjoying his football again. Hopefully that performance will be what he needs to help kick on and perform like that on a more regular basis.
The Ox was excellent too and I'm sure there will be a host of people calling for him to be included in the England squad for Euro 2012. He looks like he is going to be a superstar of the future, and Arsenal can look forward to some great contributions from him over the coming years.
RVP is quite simply the best player in the Premier League at the moment, and it's crucial for Arsenal that he stays fit. He has 22 goals in 23 starts in the Premier League this season, and there isn't a striker that can get anywhere near him. It's also crucial for Arsenal that they convince him to sign a new contract this summer.
RVP is the team captain and star player, and Arsenal cannot afford to lose him to another club. The best way to convince him to sign an extension to his contract is for Arsenal to sign some genuinely quality players to play alongside him. At the moment the squad just isn't strong enough for RVP to feel he has a chance of winning trophies at Arsenal, and a player of his undoubted quality must want to win some trophies.
Arsenal don't play for another week, and the players will have a chance to get some much needed rest. They travel to Sunderland in the Premier League next Saturday for what could be a very tough game. For a change though it's Arsenal's opponents who will have to face a midweek game before they play Arsenal.
Sunderland have an FA Cup replay away to Middlesbrough on Wednesday night, and with any luck it will go to extra time too. It may not be a long journey for Sunderland, but I'm sure it will be a sapping experience for their players. Hopefully a fresh Arsenal team can take advantage of any fatigue shown by Sunderland.
Yesterday was a good day to be an Arsenal fan, and hopefully there can be quite a few more this season.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
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See you tomorrow.