Monday, February 11, 2008

Arsenal vs. Blackburn: Match Review

Arsenal went five points clear of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table after defeating a hard working Blackburn Rovers side. The win also ensured that the Gunners have goal differential equal to that of Manchester United. Mark Hughes' Rovers failure to win any points saw them slip down to 9th falling behind Portsmouth, who beat Bolton on Saturday.

Arsenal won an early lead through Phillipe Senderos after a corner from Eduardo, but an inspired performance from Blackburn keeper Brad Friedel kept the Rovers in the game for the majority of 90 minutes. However, Blackburn could not grab a goal back. A late strike from in-form forward Emmanuel Adebayor guaranteed three points for the Gunners in second half stoppage time.

Arsenal: Jens Lehman; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy; Alex Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Gilberto Silva; Eduardo, Emmanuel Adebayor

Blackburn: Brad Friedel; Stephen Warnock, Andre Ooijer, Bruno Berner, Zurab Khizanishvili; David Bentley, Brett Emerton, Tugay Kerimoglu, Steven Reid, Benni McCarthy; Roque Santa Cruz

Arsenal rushed out of the gates with a flurry of early forays, eventually resulting in a corner kick. An unmarked Philippe Senderos easily headed home after a good corner from Eduardo.

The opening was just what Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger wanted, and the Gunners could have doubled their lead only a few minutes later when Emmanuel Adebayor headed wide after a free-kick from Eduardo.

Mathieu Flamini should have added another for Arsenal after 22 minutes, but the defensive midfielder could only shoot straight into the legs of American goalkeeper Brad Friedel after some impressive buildup play from Cesc Fabregas and Adebayor.

Blackburn took note of Arsenal's inability to kill them off though, and it soon looked as though the Gunners would be in for a long night, with former Gunner David Bentley spraying crosses into the box. None of Bentley's good work could lead to a clear-cut chance for his team though.

Rovers had their best chance of the first half when both Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz failed to get any meaningful contact on a cross from Brett Emerton. The South African striker seemed to take the ball off of the head of the incoming Santa Cruz.

The half ended with Blackburn on the ascendancy, as Santa Cruz skied a shot well over the bar after a cross from Stephen Warnock.

The second half began much the way the first had ended, with Blackburn on the offensive. David Bentley nearly embarrassed Jens Lehman when he sent a free-kick around Arsenal's defensive wall. The German keeper managed to get down just in time to clear the ball instead of making yet another defensive blunder.

As the Arsenal fans cheered for a second goal, the Arsenal squad regained their footing, soon coming close when Alex Hleb hit Friedel's post. Adebayor nearly grabbed a second for Arsenal minutes later, but once again shot straight into the legs of Friedel.

Fabregas came close after a pass from Adebayor, but drilled his shot just wide in the 67th minute.

Adebayor kept Friedel busy though, twice forcing him to save at his feet. Hleb then came close with a fine dipping effort which was well-read by the American. The deadly combination of Hleb and Adebayor could not be held off forever though, and Arsenal's second breakthrough finally came in stoppage time when a pass from Hleb put Adebayor in pole position to rifle a shot into the bottom corner of Friedel's net.

The win put Arsenal on a good track to win their first title since the 'invincibles' of 2004. United now need to make up five points in twelve games to catch up with Arsene Wenger's young Gunners.