Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn; Sam Allardyce Comes Up Craps

Hey Sam, got any gum?

Preamble

Lovely start to the morning. Sure, I had to drive 70 miles round trip, at 4:30am, and brave the gauntlet of cops who have lined up along the freeway to catch speeders and keep Washington state from going bankrupt, but it was well worth it.

I can’t say enough nice things about Fado. Lovely little pub, with all the nooks and crannies you’d expect from a traditional English or Irish pub, including more than one room for more than one sports fan to watch their own game in relative silence. To give you an idea of what it was like, three Arsenal supporters were in one room, while 15 or so Celtic and Rangers supporters watched the Old Firm match in the other room and aside from the occasionally comical scream of “THAT WAS A FOOKEN’ PEEANALTIE!” we were rarely bothered by each other. Lovely pub, lovely details, lovely staff, and they even had blood pudding on the menu for their “Full Irish” breakfast — which at $20 after tax and tip was a bit steep and my only complaint.

Great start to the morning, and I didn’t even get stabbed by the Celtic supporters for wearing my Eduardo shirt. That and two other Arsenal fans showed up, one, a reader of the blog who knew me by name and the other some fellow I never met before. That’s not a bad turnout for 5:30 am!

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Fabregas dismantles rovers.

Telegraph: Arsenal underlined their status as the Premier League’s great entertainers this afternoon by recovering from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to ultimately inflict a resounding 6-2 defeat on Blackburn Rovers.

Match Video

The Arsenalist gets stuck in early today and has all 8 goals, plus Wenger’s post match interview, all hot and ready for you to view. Remember, click one of his sponsors!

The Good

There’s so much good to say about a match in which we see Arsenal score 6 goals from 6 different goal scorers, each of which was special in its own way, we got to see the triumphant return of  Theo Walcott, no one was injured despite David Dunn’s best efforts, and even Thierry Henry returned to the club.

Vermaelen, van Persie, Arshavin, Fabregas, Walcott, and Bendtner; those are the 6 names who put goals past this supposedly defensive-minded Blackburn side. But it’s not just the incredible fact that Arsenal had 6 goals from 6 different players, because when you look at it, Arsenal have now had 15 different goal-scorers on the season. It’s the fact that Arsenal are top of the league in goals scored (24 in 7 matches) and top of the league in goal differential (+14). I know a lot of you will point out that we are middle of the table in goals allowed and that we have a tendency to leak goals and you’d be dead right to do so. But, clearly the philosophy of this third generation Arsene Wenger team is to attack from all parts of the pitch and love it or hate it, that’s what this team is going to serve up as entertainment this year. Personally, I don’t know how you could hate it, we just put 6 past a “park the bus team.” A team who had they taken an early 1-0 or 2-1 lead last year we would have really struggled to get even a single point, much less all three plus a 6 goal lashing.

From Vermaelen’s left-footed angry lash to bring us level to Walcott’s special finish just minutes after being re-introduced from a long injury layoff, each of these goals today were really special. I don’t want to talk too much about them, you really just need to go over to the Arsenalist and watch them. Cesc’s left footed, half-volley, perfectly placed finish was probably my favorite goal of the day, but I’ll let you all battle that one out, I’m sure you all have a fave.

And finally, it was really special to see Thierry Henry at the Emirates, with his daughter, enjoying the show. He said that one day he’d be back, little did we know that he meant this Sunday.

Man of the Match

With 4 assists, the best goal of the match, and a box-to-box solid performance, man of the match has to go to Cesc Fabregas.  It was just Friday when Wenger called on the team captain to lead this club to the promised land, and if this performance was his response, the league better beware because he was simply brilliant. Pulling the strings from all over the pitch, his passes were incisive, slicing apart Blackburn’s defense easily time and again.  More importantly, I never once failed to see him track back.

There are lots of honorable mentions here, van Persie was brilliant and Thomas Vermaelen was outstanding on both ends of the pitch, at one point making two headed saves over a few seconds time, but surely on the back of that performance today, Cesc has to win man of the match.

The Bad

I don’t like lazy play. A Sunday 5 a side pick up match, sure, have a breather, who cares, but when you are paid millions of dollars to play football you should pitch in at all times. Andrei Arshavin has publicly admitted that he is lazy and of course, I don’t want to get down on any player at all this season, much less after a 6-2 win but there were times when Arshavin wasn’t just lazy, he was downright quiescent. For all the brilliant things he does I’d hate to see his reputation tarnished by lazy plays like the pass he refused to move for and let David Dunn nip in and nearly get a goal. It’s a team sport and that’s even more true in the 4-3-3 which requires players like him to get back and defend. Get back, Andrei, and stop glowering at your teammates.

Similarly, I don’t think we’re a poor defensive squad. Certainly not as poor as our 10 goals against tally suggests. But I do think that we are a club who lose focus at times and that tendency was fully on display today. Even against a team like Blackburn where we are dominating them offensively, you cannot let your mind wander off to what you and the missus are going to have for dinner tonight or they will score on you. I think that happened more than once, and honestly, I think Blackburn had a legitimate penalty call when both Gallas and Vermaelen took leave of their senses and instead of playing defense gambled on a silly stab at the ball in the box.

We’re better than that. They’re better than that! These are experienced defenders for gods’ sake, lets not make silly mistakes!

The Ugly

David Dunn was a lucky boy he wasn’t sent off for his rash challenge on Mannone. He saw Mannone coming for the ball and instead of playing the ball, chose to leap up, leading with a knee and the only reason he wasn’t sent off was because Mannone came up a bit groggy but not too terribly injured.

Ugly bit of football, but no less than I’ve come to expect from David Dunn. The only surprise was that it wasn’t El Hadji Diouf pulling the ugly challenge.

Conclusions

Like I said, wonderful day, wonderful win and now we head into international week, and endure non-stop coverage of Cesc Fabregas’ supposedly impending move to Barcelona in January.

Oh joy.

See you tomorrow!

A Children’s Treasury of Football Facts Before Arsenal Play Blackburn

In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king

All the following “facts” have been checked by my editor and are true, to the best of my knowledge.

1. Wenger started his career at Arsenal against Blackburn and now on the 13th anniversary of his joining the club, he plays Blackburn again. This is proof that the universe has a sense of humor.

2. Arsenal won 2-0 on that night in 1996, Ian Wright scored both goals.

3. Cesc Fabregas’ first league goal, making him the youngest ever Arsenal goal scorer in the league, came against Blackburn.

4. He repeated that goal in the same fixture the very next season.

5. I got to see Philippe Senderos score on Blackburn, in person, on a crisp Monday night in February, 2008. Senderos scoring on Blackburn proves that, like Lindsay Lohan, everyone scores on Blackburn.

6. Arsene Wenger’s work ethic is legendary, he is the first person at the training ground every day and the last person to leave.  This is because Arsenal are so skint that Wenger has to do everything, including clean the tea cart every night.

7. He’s never satisfied with anything, and claims that he questions himself every day. “Shall I have chicken for dinner? No, Pasta! No wait, CHICKEN!” When waitresses see him coming into their restaurant they groan.

8. If this team and the team from 1996 were to get in a knife fight, Wenger thinks that neither team would win but that they should beat it because no one wants to be defeated. Also, that Michael Jackson would make a great video of the event.

9. There have been only 4 red cards given out in all 66 matches played so far in the EPL. Predictably, one of those 4 red cards went to Blackburn.

10. Equally as predictably, the league is hailing this lack of cards as the result of their incredibly successful “Respect” campaign.  I agree, that one sending off of Javier Mascherano has clearly reigned in players like Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole.

11. To be fair, it was either the “Respect” campaign, or referees are just giving fewer cards.

12. Only two teams play the “deeply flawed” zonal marking system during corners and free kicks; Arsenal and Liverpool. Just look at this chartoon,Or maybe, just maybe, whther you use zonal or man marking doesn't really matter?clearly it’s the zonal system that’s causing Pompey, Sunderland, Hull, and Wigan to give up more goals from set plays than Arsenal. If zonal systems are to blame for conceding off set plays what’s to blame for the fact that Hull have conceded 19 goals this season?

13. I am watching bass fishing before the Tottenham v. Bolton game this morning. I knew a guy who had a personalized license plate which said “bassace” I thought he was a great fisherman, but it turns out that he liked to play bass guitar.

Right, that’s it for today, we’re stopping at 13 facts in honor of Arsene Wenger’s 13 years at Arsenal. There won’t be an early blog tomorrow because I am heading to Fadó Seattle to watch the game live. If you live in the Seattle/Tacoma area it’s the only place I know of that is showing the game live. It’s an hour drive each way for me, so there won’t be a blog until around 10am PST. See you then!

Arsenal v. Blackburn; return of the pantomime villains

Pascal Chimbonda counts his IQ. Hey Sam, got any gum? How many roads must a man walk down?

It was once said that Fat Sam had Arsenal’s number. That any Sam Allardyce led team knew exactly where and when to kick every one of Arsenal’s “princesses” and disrupt their game. There was a time when that was true but not any more.

Last season Arsenal dismantled Sam Allardyce’s “defensive” teams 4-0, twice.  The year before that, when Allardyce was manager of relegation bound Newcastle, it was a 2-0 win. In fact, you have to go back to November 2006 to find the last time that any Sam Allardyce led team beat Arsenal, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of an Anelka brace. Look at that match report and you’ll see some strange names like “Lehmann” and “Ljungberg” and some cat named “Gilberto” but there’s one name who has been a constant for any Sam Allardyce led team and his name is there too: El Hadji Douche.

I wrote about this last season, after we beat them 4-0, and given his latest outrages it stands as much today as it ever has, how much longer must the EPL suffer this insufferable prick? If you remember, Diouf tried to break Almunia’s ankle (video link) last year and only gathered a yellow. The year before, Diouf tried to break Arbeloa’s leg, with the same result, a mere yellow card. And of course, Diouf is a convicted spitter and an admitted cheat in pretty much every aspect of the game. What does this guy have to do to get banned from the league?

Given his history with Arsenal, Diouf will get a lot of stick from the home supporters on Sunday and will almost certainly react in the way that he always has: by cheating. My hope is that Sunday’s referee, Peter Walton, who has doled out 12 yellows and no reds in his 4 matches so far, takes a grim view of Diouf and the rest of Blackburn’s antics and gets the cards out early and often.  Lest we forget, Morten Gamst Pederson isn’t above an absolutely disgraceful dive (video) when playing against Arsenal either.

I am taking pains to highlight Blackburn’s disgraceful, cheating, conduct but only in hopes that the word gets back to Peter Walton and he does something about it. The reality is that Arsenal will need to rise above these antics and simply play their game. We all know that a Sam Allardyce led team means a team that will “park the bus.”

The bad news is that this will be the second time in a week that we get to watch a football match where as soon as the ball is kicked off, you can expect all 11 opponents to drop back into their half and start kicking at Arsenal’s ankles. The good news is that Blackburn tried that last year and lost 4-0 and that Arsenal just overcame Olympiacos 2-0 on Tuesday and they did pretty much the exact same thing.

Oddly, last season’s 4-0 win saw the return to Premier League action of young Theo Walcott after a 4 1/2 month absence and he was a terror on the Blackburn defense. The boss is reporting that Theo will be fit (along with Bendtner) for Sunday’s match though I would be very surprised if Theo starts. No, I suspect that we’ll see our “usual” lineup of Arshavin, van Persie, Bendtner up front — Diaby, Cesc, and Song in the middle — and Clichy, Vermaelen, Gallas, and Sagna at the back — with Mannone in goal because Manny Pickledickle is still infected with a chest or something. Maybe it’s the alien from Alien and they are trying to figure out whether to cut it out or let in incubate and turn into a truly terrifying Arsenal keeper.

Arshavin was the key last season and he will once again be the key this season, I suspect. The boss praised him after Tuesday’s win for his close control and thus ability to unlock defensive teams like Olympiacos and Rovers. Many of you similarly praised him after his “Goal of the Year” candidate last season unlocked Rovers (you’ll need to download the video from his file sharing service to watch it). I agree, Arshavin will be the key tomorrow.

As for the rest of the team Arsenal are on a mini streak of 5 wins with 4 consecutive clean sheets and I don’t think it’s uncalled for to expect that both streaks will continue. Blackburn’s leading scorer is David Dunn (another Pantomime villain) and he will need to be closely watched as he has a penchant for long shots. But with this team playing team football the way that they have been over the last two weeks, I expect them to work hard and give as much as they get.

As for viewing options, if you live in London the tickets actually went on general sale (no membership required) and the match is currently sold out. Elsewhere, the match is being carried by Sky Sports 1. Here on the West Coast of the United States, owing to the unusual 1:30 GMT kickoff, the match is being shown live on Setanta USA, but for us it’s a 5:30am kickoff and since bars don’t open that early, the only viewing we get is a replay. Locally, Doyle’s will be replaying the match at 10am (PST) which means no Sunday kickaround for me. Oh well, the things I sacrifice for my team.

Anyway, that’s about it for today. We’ll see you all tomorrow for, erm, well, I don’t actually know yet, but rest assured, there will be something! See you then.