A Blackburn side without their two main pillars of attack and defence (Yakubu and Samba respectively) where dismantled by an Arsenal attack that were unrecognisable as the one that failed to score at Bolton earlier in the week.
Having kept an eye out for legions of spectators making their way to Ashburton Grove with bin bags and seen none the atmosphere before kick-off was subdued due to the near freezing temperature and the early kick off.
Your humble scribe even omitted his pre match Peroni’s as necking lager at noon didn’t feel quite right, in any case a hot drink would have been more in order to stop the teeth chattering.
The only surprises in the starting XI were the omission of Sagna (perhaps due to his comeback being managed with caution) and the continued starting of Robin, although to be fair he would have a week’s rest before the next fixture; the resting of Ramsey was less of a surprise as he had looked tired towards the end of his last few games.
Viewing from behind the clock end goal the away support seemed, like the home crowd, filled their quota to around 80% and seemed a respectable turn out especially considering their relegation battle and the supporter-Board of the club struggle.
Barely had we taken our seats then Theo rampaged towards my line of sight to the left of “Chunky” Robinson’s goal and slid in a straight forward cross which Robin ran onto and slotted in, easy as you like.
One nil down inside 90 seconds and the away support became even quieter.
The Blackburn midfield had offered no protection for the back line and the early attack cut through the defence with ease.
From thereon in some jolly jokesters in the Clock End decided to heckle Chunky with (in a parody of Robin’s song):
“He eats when he wants,
He eats when he waaaaants,
That Paul Robinson,
He eats when he wants……you fat bast**d”
Sitting behind him for the first half I noticed Chunky’s nervous tic of kicking his right foot against the post and looking at the sole of his boot to ensure there was no mud on his studs, before he would take a goal kick that always landed near the right touchline, level with the centre circle.
Arsenal continued to probe away at a Blackburn side that struggled to gain any meaningful possession of the ball so it was against the run of play when a rare Rovers foray up field resulted in a free kick following a Kozzer pull back on Modeste, I think it was.
Those around me muttered their expectation of an equalizer, which Pedersen duly supplied.
Now the press may have been rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of another half time booing of the home team off the pitch, but 5 or so minutes later another Theo surge down our right flank resulted in another assist for Robin and the lead was restored, much to the chagrin of the hacks ready to paint the Arsenal support as fickle and petulant.
I saw no dissent or protests of any sort, trash/bin bag related or otherwise; however with the way the game panned out perhaps that is not surprising.
While Theo did not score he was creating almost as much havoc on his wing as Oxo was on the left – the twin wing menaces were giving the Blackburn full backs an unnerving time all through the game – and two assists will have done his self-confidence wonders.
Almost straight after we had started goading the away end with “You’re not singing anymore” then Oxo crowned a stand out first half performance with a debut premier league goal after he rounded Chunky, following a Robin through ball, and showed composure beyond his years to slot the ball home.
3-1 nearing half time and Rovers already looked a shattered side although to be fair their supporters still tried to keep their spirits up with a near constant refrain of “Barmy army”
However all spirit seemed to drain from them when a few minutes after Oxo’s goal Givet was off for an early bath, as Eddy Waring may have said, for a crude lunge on Robin, one which Robin took some of the sting out of by managing to hurdle some of the flailing legs of the Frenchman.
The red card and all the yellows were fully deserved as Rovers were a fairly cynical side, giving our players a nudge whenever they were following the flight of the ball onto their head; however referee Mariner spotted most of these offences and had a fairly decent match.
Note, we were 3-1 up BEFORE the sending off so don’t believe any pony (pony and trap, crap) about the red card being a pivotal moment.
It was still an anxious wait for Robin to recover and prove there was no lasting damage done and the first half ended with the Gooner faithful very happy, if rather frozen.
The second half started with a spell of dainty possession for Blackburn, with which they produced no significant attacking intent and soon enough we increased our lead thanks to a rare long range shot from Arteta after a half clearance following one of our endless number of corners.
Theo then produced his third assist of the game to set up Oxo for his second of the game and confirmation that he had arrived – are we seeing a legend in the making? Too early to say but the possibility is mouth-watering.
A present day legend however sealed his hat trick after receiving a cross from the willing Coquelin and slotting in effortlessly for his third of the game and the cue for the Rovers fans to start drifting away at 6-1.
Those that remained did show a sense of humour in “Oleing” whenever their team could string a few passes together as Arsenal inevitably eased off in the intensity of their attacks after the 6th goal.
Some more action in the Rovers penalty area led to what, even from my view at the opposite end of the ground, looked like a decent shout for a penalty however at 6-1 we could afford some largesse to the referee and his linesman and lineswoman.
Oxo and Kozzer were taken off so there was time for the re-introduction of another legend (and for Sagna to continue his comeback) and with the sense of theatre we expect from the great man Thierry Henry duly obliged with the 7th goal in front of his beloved North Bank.
His upward twisting, pirouetting goal celebration shows that his 228th goal for Arsenal is as cherished as his first. As he left the pitch and the sky darkened and looked ready to start sleeting at full time one could sense the NY Red Bulls player was savouring every moment he could in his second chance to play for the club he loves.