Saturday, 4 February 2012

Arsenal's Premier League Game With Blackburn Rovers Previewed

Arsenal are on an awful run at the moment and they need to get some points on the board very quickly. They have taken only one point in their last four Premier League games, and that came on Wednesday night when they drew 0-0 away to Bolton. It was a match that could have gone either way, and Arsenal were a little unlucky to see Robin van Persie hit the woodwork twice.

The only consolation during that run for them has been their progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Realistically the FA Cup is Arsenal's best chance of a trophy this season despite the fact that they are also in the last 16 of the Champions League. In the next two weeks Arsenal will play in both of those competitions, as well as playing twice in the Premier League.

The first of those games is against Blackburn Rovers, and it's a game Arsenal quite simply have to win. Blackburn are in the relegation and they have only won once away from home so far this season in 11 Premier League games. They have managed to draw six of those games, and they have scored in every one of their away games too.

Blackburn lost at home to Newcastle on Wednesday night despite having 23 attempts at goal. They managed 12 attempts on target, and that included a missed penalty from David Dunn. They are more than capable of making chances, but thankfully Yakubu is suspended for them at the moment.

In the reverse fixture in September Arsenal lost 4-3 at Blackburn, and Yakubu got two of their goals. The other two goals were own goals from Alex Song and Laurent Koscielny, and it was an awful day for Arsenal. They had led 2-1 at half-time, but they were 4-2 down by the middle of the second half.

Arsenal did throw everything they had at Blackburn for the last 20 minutes, but they could only manage a goal from Marouane Chamakh. In that game Arsenal had 16 shots on target to Blackburn's five, but somehow they managed to lose the game. For a 20 minute spell in the second half Arsenal fell apart and lost all of their control on the pitch.

Things got a little better after that, as Arsenal put together a decent run and looked capable of taking a place in the top four. When the transfer dealings were over at the end of August I hoped Arsenal could manage a top four finish, as well as having a chance of winning the FA Cup. At the moment it seems that top four finish is disappearing very quickly despite the fact that they're only five points off fourth placed Chelsea.

It's very hard to stay positive about Arsenal at the moment, as they seemingly lurch from one crisis to another. Their defence is letting in far too many goals this season, but at the same time Arsenal are missing far too many excellent scoring chances. It's a combination which will hurt any team, and it is certainly hurting Arsenal at the moment.

The point against Bolton wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't have come after three successive defeats. The first two of those defeats were really bad from Arsenal's perspective, as they led both games and ended up losing to Fulham and Swansea. Wins in those games would have left Arsenal level with Chelsea and ahead of Liverpool and Newcastle, but they seventh in the league instead.

There's still plenty of time for them to turn things around and finish in the top four, but that turnaround has to start very soon. Chelsea aren't exactly setting the league alight either, but Liverpool seem to be improving thanks to their cup exploits. There are 15 games to go still, and enough points to be won for Arsenal to comfortably qualify for next season's Champions League.

There has been far too much talk from the players and management this season about how Arsenal are going to step up and perform at their best. I couldn't care less if I never heard another word from any of the Arsenal players this season, as long as they start doing the business on the pitch. It doesn't matter how good a game the players can talk if they can't back it up with performances.

Much has been made of the injury situation at Arsenal, and it has certainly affected the performances of the team at times over the last two months. It's great to see Bacary Sagna back in the team, and hopefully Kieran Gibbs will follow him very soon. Arsene Wenger has said he probably needs to give him a reserve outing before including him in the first team panel. 

Thomas Vermaelen hasn't done too badly at left back, but he's areal loss to the team when he isn't playing in the centre of defence. He is not only a very good defender in that role, but he also offers an awful lot going forward from the centre of defence. Neither Per Mertesacker or Koscielny get themselves involved in attacking as much as Vermaelen does, but Koscielny has tried to get involved recently.

Even when Gibbs is back the majority of Arsenal fans will feel it's only a matter of time before he gets injured again. He hasn't been around as long as Abu Diaby, but he seems to be just as injury prone. Hopefully he will put all of those problems behind him, and prove all the doubters wrong.

I expect Arsenal to open Blackburn up and make plenty of chances yet again. It would be magnificent if they could put away a decent percentage of those chances, and give Blackburn a little payback for that dreadful day in September. With Yakubu suspended and Christopher Samba out of favour Arsenal should be capable of winning well.

There is a chance Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may miss out on the game with a jarred knee, but hopefully he will be fit to play. He has looked Arsenal's most potent attacking force besides RVP over the last few weeks, and I'm sure the goals will start to flow for him soon. I'd love to see him paired with Gervinho on either side of RVP when the Ivorian returns from the African Cup of Nations.

Wenger has said there's a possibility he will rest RVP for this game, but I would be very surprised if he did. Arsenal don't play again until the trip to Sunderland next Saturday, and they need their star player and captain against Blackburn. There will be plenty of time for RVP to rest before things get really hectic next week.

If anybody is to be rested I think Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song look like they need a rest. That would probably mean Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin get to play from the start, but there is always a possibility that Yossi Benayoun could play. I would be very surprised if Thierry Henry started, as he doesn't look particularly sharp despite his goal against Leeds in the FA Cup.

I'm predicting a win for Arsenal, and I think RVP will play from the start and get a couple of goals too. The Blackburn defence is weak, and if Arsenal take their chances they can run up a very good scare. I'm going for 4-1 to Arsenal, but I would settle for a 1-0 win as long as Arsenal get the three points.

Blackburn have only won four games in the league this season, and they have scored at least three goals in each of their wins. It seems they need to score a few to win a game, and they're more likely to concede a few against Arsenal.

In my preview of the Bolton game I wanted Arsenal to play with tempo and attitude, and they did that at times. They couldn't keep it up for the whole game though, and in the end Bolton nearly managed to sneak all three points. There can be no place for anything like that against Blackburn.

As long as Arsenal get the three points I'm not too concerned about how they play, as they simply need to get back to winning ways. Four of the teams above Arsenal are playing each other this weekend, and an Arsenal win will see them make up ground on at least two teams. It's too good an opportunity for Arsenal to turn down, and failure to take all three points will be nothing short of a disaster.

If they can take the three points it will help to boost the players' confidence, and help them to rediscover some good form. Despite the injuries and the players that were sold Arsenal still have a good enough team to finish in the top four. It's about time that they showed how good they can be.

That's it for today. 

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See you tomorrow.

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