EPL, Day 28: Blackburn 0 – Arsenal 2

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
March 13th, 2004 • 6:24 am

Another job well done by Arsène Wenger’s men. Playing Blackburn on their turf was never going to be easy, as the recent record between the two teams indicates. Blackburn are a tough side, and never really give up, especially against top teams such as Arsenal. They also have an excellent goal keeper.

The game was not a classic, far from it. Arsenal started rather slowly and Blackburn looked menacing. After a while, Arsenal regained control and enjoyed most of the possession. They also had the clearest chances in the first half, but were unable to transform them.

Vieira looked a bit tired and made some unusual mistakes. The chemistry between Reyes and Henry isn’t quite there yet, and the Spanish boy still has to complete his adaptation to the tougher aspect of the English game. It was also a bit unusual to see both Gilberto and Edu on the pitch, with Edu in his traditional role and Gilberto as a right winger, which didn’t look like a very comfortable position for him. (Gilberto still worked rather well as a defensive mid-fielder, but he was far from able to match Ljunberg’s style on the attacking side of things.)

But all this was made somewhat irrelevant by Thierry Henry’s superbly taken free-kick early in the second half. The awarding of the free-kick itself was somewhat controversial — but Henry was definitely pushed by Blackburn player Short. Whether the push was worthy of a free-kick was, well, debatable. But then, so was the goal denied to Thierry Henry in the first half when he astutely caught the Blackburn keeper off guard and robbed the ball from him and went on to score in an empty net. At half-time, we were told that the goal was invalidated because, while Friedel’s hands had indeed released the ball, it hadn’t bounced on the pitch yet. Is there a rule that say that this needs to happen before the opposition can attack the ball? I guess there is… But it’s the first time I hear of it. (In fairness, if there isn’t such a rule, they need to invent it, because otherwise lots of players are going to try and emulate Thierry and it’s going to be a nightmare for keepers.)

Anyway, the goal was magnificent, bringing Thierry’s EPL tally to 21 (that’s not counting his goals in the FA Cup and the Champions’ League). Is he ever going to stop?

Blackburn did try to push for an equalizer for a while, but only half-convincingly. Then Arsenal regained control over the possession, and had several half-chances where players such as Vieira and Lauren should have tried to shoot themselves instead of playing one too many passes.

The second goal was designed just to counter my criticism of Gilberto’s role on the right wing. Vieira slotted the ball to the advancing Gilberto on the right, and his shot was headed for goal. Blackburn’s keeper deflected it, only to see his deflection hit the far post and rebound in the direction of Pires. The Frenchman had to stretch a bit, but made no mistake, and added yet another goal to his impressive tally.

After that, the game was over and done, and the remaining tension in Arsenal fans evaporated. All in all, a professional performance, even if several aspects of their game clearly need improvement still.

Now, whether Manchester United can keep pace (albeit at a distance) with the Gunners tomorrow, as Chelsea did earlier in the day by beating Bolton, remains to be seen. By playing tomorrow against local rivals Manchester City, they certainly do not have the psychological advantage. It should be an interesting encounter. (Southampton – Liverpool, on the other hand, is almost certain to be a snore fest.)

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