Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blackburn vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Ten-man Arsenal defeated Blackburn 3-2 in extra time, after a tense 120 minutes at Ewood Park. The Gunners gained an early lead thanks to Abou Diaby and Eduardo, but Blackburn came back through a Roque Santa Cruz brace. Neves Denilson was sent off during second half stoppage time, but Arsenal's youngsters showed great character as Eduardo bagged his second during the first half of extra time to propel the Gunners to victory after a titanic clash.

Arsenal will now have to face either Tottenham, Everton, or the winner of Chelsea and Liverpool as Arsene Wenger's fringe players try to reach the finals of the competition for the second year running.

Blackburn: Brad Friedel; Ryan Nelsen, Christopher Samba, Steven Warnock, Steven Reid; David Bentley, David Dunn, Morten Gamst Pederson, Robbie Savage; Matt Derbyshire, Roque Santa Cruz

Arsenal: Lukasz Fabianski; Justin Hoyte, Alex Song, Philippe Senderos, Armand Traore; Neves Denilson, Lassana Diarra, Abou Diaby, Mark Randall ;Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo

The away team looked like a full senior squad, rather than a group of youngsters. A brilliant interplay of passes saw Arsenal on top after only 6 minutes when Abou Diaby's first-touch shot beat Brad Friedel at close range.

The traveling fans almost had more to cheer for only 3 minutes later when Nicklas Bendtner, who made a good case for his inclusion in Arsenal's senior side today, saw a shot rattle off the crossbar after a neat one-two with Diaby.

After a long period of Arsenal domination, Blackburn rallied back and twice tested 22 year-old Lukasz Fabianski in goal. The Pole made two good looking saves before Arsenal doubled their lead in the 29th minute.

Christopher Samba should have cleared away Neves Denilson's smart pass, but completely missed the ball instead. The Blackburn defender could only watch on in horror as Eduardo latched on to the pass and calmly slotted home to give Arsenal a two goal lead.

Blackburn rallied back though, giving Arsenal a tough time towards the end of the first half, and grabbed their first goal through Roque Santa Cruz in the 42nd minute, when the Paraguayan striker met Matt Derbyshire's cross in the penalty box.

The strike set the tone for the second half, which saw some desperate Arsenal defending.

With Blackburn on the ascendancy, it looked to be only a matter of time before the Rovers came up with an equalizer.

Mark Randall was booked for a tackle on Stephen Warnock around the hour mark, as David Bentley set up a free kick. The former Arsenal boy's ball was once again met by Santa Cruz who scored his second of the night with his head.

With half an hour left to play, the game could have gone either way, but despite a large number of chances on both sides, neither could break the deadlock, and to the pleasure of the onlookers the game looked destined for extra time.

Neves Denilson was sent off on the stroke of full time after a two-footed tackle on David Dunn, leaving a dejected Arsenal squad happy to hear the whistle.

Extra time started badly for Arsenal as substitute Nacer Barazite fell awkwardly and had to be taken off in a stretcher with a dislocated shoulder. The Dutchman was replaced by the much-hyped Fran Merida in the 100th minute.

Arsenal's luck got better soon after.

In the 104th minute of extra time a brilliant pass from an unlikely source reached Eduardo in the penalty box. Despite being fatigued, the Croatian striker beat Brad Friedel from 16 yards out, giving Arsenal scapegoat Alex Song an unlikely assist to top off an excellent performance from the center back.

Soon after Eduardo's goal, the former Dinamo Zagreb man was taken off after both of his legs cramped up at once. It was a good move, as he was so tired he could barely celebrate after his goal.

Kieran Gibbs played the last 20 minutes of the match, but nothing mattered any more, as Arsenal once again weathered a flurry of Blackburn attacks before finally hearing the final whistle.

The match was one of the most entertaining games I've seen in quite a while, and bodes well for Arsenal's future. These kids could well beat Chelsea or Liverpool to the Carling Cup title.