The way I see it ? Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal

Last updated : 24 February 2006 By Jason Hogan
This time last week, after our dismal showing at Anfield, I was a tortured soul wrestling with my conscience and trying (but failing) to console myself with the fact I had actually seen the Arsenal in a lot worse state than we are now.

Even whilst I was writing my article as part of a preview to the Real game (an article I never quite managed to finish in time for the game) I was trying to remind myself that it was almost 11 years ago to this very day when the bung scandal at Arsenal came to a head, George Graham was sacked and the Arsenal team he had left behind were only a handful of points clear of the relegation zone. But somehow even a point as pertinent as that did very little to lift the gloomy feeling I had.

But, for all the problems we have and all the things that have been written or said about us, I told every one of my Gooner mates on the eve of the Real game (most of whom, somewhat understandably, were absolutely dreading our meeting with Real in the Bernabeu and fearing the worst) that I was always reasonably optimistic.

The reason for my optimism before the Real game stemmed from one simple thing – I have a fairly long memory. After all, we went to Juventus way back in 1980 and beat them in their own back yard against all the odds to reach the Cup Winners Cup final that year. We also beat a highly rated Parma side in 1994 complete with the talents of a younger (and considerably leaner) Tomas Brolin, Faustino Asprilla and Franco Zola to actually win the Cup Winners Cup – despite the fact that nobody but NOBODY outside of Highbury gave us a prayer.

I just kept asking myself the same questions over and over again; how many times have I seen the Arsenal given no chance of winning certain match or a certain trophy over the years only to see us defy all the odds and ram all the assertions of our dissenters back down their ignorant, disrespectful throats? Plenty – so I then thought "Well, given that I know all of this, why should I not have faith in the Arsenal doing it again in the Bernabeu?"

In other words, I had simply remembered the main reason as to why I have never totally written us off or dismissed our chances of winning any game in any situation – because history has always told me that the Arsenal tend to be at their best when they are really, really up against it.

Having said that, I would be lying if I said to you that we would go to the Bernabeu and not only win there but play Real virtually off their own pitch while we were at it. Whilst I always thought that we would have a chance given that Real Madrid were unlikely to be "in our faces" if you like, even I was gobsmacked at the way we tore into them in the first 15 minutes or so.

Still, although we should have been at least 2-0 up after just a quarter of an hour, the tone for the match was invariably set and Thierry Henry scored a goal that underlined that. Leaving three or four players floundering in his wake after running virtually from the half way line before dispatching a cross shot past Cassillas was not too bad for a guy universally known outside of Highbury as a "flat track bully, a bottler and a choker".

I have to say that I am so pleased for EVERBODY that is remotely connected with Arsenal. Senior players such as Lehmann, Gilberto, Ljungberg and of course Henry really came up big for us and there are not enough words I can say about the younger lads such as Eboue, Flamini, Senderos and in particular Reyes, Fabregas and Hleb who all were outstanding.

More than though there was one particular bunch amongst the legions of Gooners who I was pleased for more than most - and that was the 3,000 or so that went up to Anfield the week before. They would have all paid damn good money to go all that way in the middle of the week to see such an inept display and if anybody deserves to savour what happened at the Bernabeu perhaps even more than the rest of us, it's them.

Of course, the tie is still far from over and any Arsenal fan worth his (or her) salt will know better than to think otherwise. But nevertheless, in a season where Gooners everywhere have had to endure all manner of frustrations and indignities, I think that everyone connected with the Arsenal is entitled to feel ten feet tall right now. Because once again the Arsenal have triumphed against the odds, once again the Arsenal have carved themselves out another unique piece of history – and guess what, the Arsenal bloody well did it in style too – and no matter what anyone outside of Highbury says, NOBODY can take any of that away from us. God, I don't half feel a lot better today than I did this time last week!

Still, come this Saturday, we will be faced with a match that couldn't be much more of a stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of a trip to the Bernabeu. Instead, the Arsenal, having lived it up in the land of tapas, paella and sangria will head off next to a part of the world where meat pies and a pint of warm bitter is about as exotic as things get.

Let's look forward to our trip to Ewood Park where we will face Blackburn.

I'm not sure that most Arsenal fans would agree with me but I do think that Rovers have come a fairly long way as a footballing side since we met them in last year's FA Cup semis. This is in spite of the fact that they have some of the most notorious aggro merchants in the game today. The likes of Dickov, Bellamy, Andy Todd and Lucas Neill all fit into quite comfortably into that category and that's before we even begin to start talking about Robbie Savage!

But hand on heart, I can honestly say that Blackburn have genuinely impressed me with some of their play this season. This may be a funny way of illustrating my point but I remember watching them play Newcastle in a Pay per view match at Ewood earlier on in the season. True, Rovers did actually lose the game 3-0 but the final score didn't come anywhere near telling the real story of the game.

For 75 minutes, Rovers played some really great stuff and totally dominated the game only to be hit by not one but two genuine sucker punches. The second of those, a goal by Michael Owen, pretty much knocked the stuffing out of Rovers that day and Charles N'Zogbia helped himself to a third thus giving the final scoreline an almost absurd ring to it. Funnily enough they did get their own back on the Magpies a couple of weeks ago when they turned them over at St James's Park a couple of weeks ago with a highly controversial goal from Morten Gamst Pedersen. What goes around, comes around is the phrase that instantly springs to mind.

Another team that had to pay a price recently for denying Blackburn glory were ManUre. Having been agonisingly close to making the Carling Cup Final by United, Blackburn got their own back once again on their opponents by beating United at Ewood in the league and securing a home and away league double over them to boot.

Whatever we Gooners may say in mocking jest about ManUre, beating them home and away is no mean achievement and interestingly enough, the catalyst of the win over United was a lad called David Bentley who scored a hat-trick against them barely 24 hours after making his move from Arsenal to Blackburn permanent.

Obviously Bentley will be itching to do well against us but for me, one of the men we have to watch out for has to be Bellamy. He may be a right royal pain in the arse to get along with – and that's if you happen to be his team mate! But the boy is a decent player, has pace to burn and if his head is right, he could be a right royal pain in the arse to us as well.

Aside from him, Pedersen has shown that he has a great eye for goal and don't be surprised to see Mark Hughes opts for someone like Shefqi Kuqi up front in order to test our mettle at the back.

It's safe to say that Blackburn's form of late has been patchy to say the least but then the Arsenal have not really been much better and that, in a nutshell, is the reason why there is only ONE point between the two teams going into the game.

I know that I have said that Rovers are capable of really playing some decent stuff these days when they put their minds to it but I'll bet that Hughes sends his team out to get stuck into us tomorrow and just give Arsenal a far from gentle reminder that they are quite some way away from the Bernabeu.

I suppose the key to this game for Arsenal is very simple. They have to decide whether go to Ewood determined to build on what they did in the Bernabeu and finally show that they are just as capable of going up north on a cold afternoon as they are in more exotic surroundings.

There is still a race to be won for a fourth place but given the proximity of some of the teams around us, the margin we have for error has quite simply disappeared. It's getting to crunch time now and if we fail to make the top four, then Gooners all have a fair idea what the consequences could well be.