The way I see it - Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers

Last updated : 25 August 2004 By Jason Hogan

It would be fair to say that we haven't had too bad a start to the season. Seeing off ManUre in the Community Shield in the manner that we did was highly satisfying regardless of what people chose or chose not to read into it. And, when things started "for real" as it were for us at Goodison Park the other day, we definitely looked like a team that had hit the ground running at a fair old rate of knots.

Then of course, we came to Sunday. Middlesbrough, complete with new signing and legendary Arsenal warrior, Ray Parlour, stood between us, three points and a place in the record books on what proved to be a truly memorable afternoon.

I have to say I was fairly impressed with Boro and although lax defending by us played a big part ultimately in two of the three goals they scored, the fact is they now have the players that are truly capable of punishing teams that take any liberties with them.

And, on that basis, the fact that we managed to come back from 3-1 down with such devastating conviction laid testament not only to our obvious ability but the fact that we have a little bit of bottle as well.

Central to our victory on Sunday were the same three men that have shone the brightest for us both at Everton and in the Community Shield in Cardiff - Jose Antonio Reyes, Cesc Fabregas and Dennis Bergkamp.

Reyes was the butt of everyone's jokes when he scored unfortunate own goal on his debut in the Carling Cup against Boro last season but it would take a pretty brave or stupid man to laugh at him now. I remember saying at the time that he will definitely have far better days as an Arsenal player and boy is he proving me right.

In fact I tell you what, without tempting providence here, watching this lad reminds me so much of watching Real Madrid's Raul when he was a little younger. To me, the boy just seems to have similar instincts to him in and around the box. Plus, Jose has the extra yard or two of pace and a work rate that Raul never really had. We ain't seen nothing yet from this lad believe me.

As for young Fabregas, well all I can say is that if anyone didn't know why Barcelona were so furious at losing this lad to us a couple of years ago, they bloody well do now! What strikes me most about him - other than the fact that he can pass and run all day and get stuck in - is that he is deceptively quick once he gets going over a few yards running with the ball. The way he rode two challenges in the build up to Pires' goal was an example of what I mean. The boy is already an established member of the Spanish Under-21 team at 17. If he continues to progress at the rate he is going he will be a full international long before he is 20. Who needs Vieira, huh?

Last, but not least, I have to offer up a mention to Dennis Bergkamp. I don't know whether it's the new influx of youth coming through or acquiring the captain's armband in Vieira's absence that has inspired him but the last time he started a season like this was back in our double season of 1997/1998 - and we all know how THAT season turned out both for him and the Arsenal. Whether his form lasts indefinitely or not, there is still nothing quite like watching Bergkamp strutting his stuff like the true Dutch master he is.

And so, as a result of the influence of these three amongst others on Sunday, the Arsenal equalled Nottingham Forest's all time record of 42 matches unbeaten in spectacular fashion.

After the game, Thierry Henry, as is his want, put a rather humble spin on things when he said that equalling or breaking records mean nothing if you don't have anything to show for it in terms of trophies.

Henry's sentiments were commendable and highly understandable but, speaking personally, I am seriously proud of this achievement. Why? Well, I haven't forgiven or forgotten all the derogatory things that the press and the media were saying about us just over a year ago in the wake of Abramovich and all that and it will be a damn long time before I ever will.

And, whilst we had the last laugh in the end last term having won the league without losing a game, I believe we Arsenal fans have the right to cherish every record we break or equal and every major thing we possibly manage to win in the near future because it will all be a nasty poke in the eye to all of those who made crass and crude attempts to undermine our team and assassinate our very existence as a football club in the first place.

Now let's have a look at the team that stand in the way of us breaking yet another record - Blackburn Rovers.

The men from Ewood Park have not got off to the best of starts in this year's campaign having been held at home by Premiership newcomers West Brom and beaten down on the South Coast by Southampton.

Having said that, I thought that they were very unlucky to lose to the Saints who won the game thanks to a pretty dubious penalty they were given right at the death.

To add insult to injury their skipper Barry Ferguson landed himself (somewhat belatedly) in hot water. He was actually shown two yellow cards but due to an oversight by the ever hopeless referee Andy D'Urso he was not formally dismissed with the mandatory red card.

However in the end the officialdom spotted the faux-pas, Ferguson's two yellows were officially turned into a red by the powers that be and he will be suspended for tonight's game.

His suspension could possibly open up a window of opportunity for former skipper Gary Flitcroft who, strangely for me, has been very much out of favour in recent times.

Assuming that Flitcroft does come into the team he is likely to partner Tugay in the middle of the park and for me, the Turkish lad is definitely one of the players we will have to watch closely tonight.

Up front, Souness is not short of striking options. He elected to go with Jon Stead and new boy Paul Dickov on Saturday and whilst I have been impressed with Stead like everyone else, I have to admit that young Paul Gallacher has always impressed me a lot too when I have seen him play and I believe he has a very big future ahead of him.

And, lurking in the background is our old nemesis, Dwight Yorke. I thought that he was going to be shown the door at Ewood just like Andy Cole but nonetheless, I was surprised that of the two it was Yorke that Souness elected to keep rather than Cole.

Mind you, there is precious little doubt that Yorke and indeed Blackburn have tended to enjoy their trips to Highbury a lot more than most down the years. Wenger once said that he didn't believe in bogey teams but this lot certainly fit into that category where we are concerned.

So, as Henry himself suggested, it's the bigger picture that counts and, whilst I'll be very proud if we go on break another record, I know that we cannot afford to lose sight of that and three points are more important than anything else.

Historically the games we have had against this lot at Highbury are often very tight and not very easy on the eye but with Lorenzo Amoruso in their backline and the oh so hapless Pascal Cygan in ours, anything could happen tonight! Let's hope our weakest link happens to be stronger than theirs, eh?