The way I see it – Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal

Last updated : 12 January 2007 By Jason Hogan
And, if someone said to me that we would take two trips to Anfield in the space of four days, gain two victories and score nine goals in the process I would said that person was barking. But that's exactly what the Arsenal did in what has turned out to be highly momentous week.

I would be lying if I didn't say that the results were as surreal as they were fantastic. Last Saturday's FA Cup for example reminded me of a league game we played at Anfield just before Christmas in 2000 – only in reverse.

I remember that game really well. For the first 45 minutes, Liverpool hardly had a kick. In fact at half time we had enjoyed nearly 70% of the possession – the trouble was that we were already one-nil down by then thanks to a strike from Steven Gerrard.

The second half started off in the same vein with the Arsenal hogging all of the possession and around the hour mark, I remember the Anfield crowd getting really agitated by it all. The problem we had was that we didn't turn all the possession we had into chances and on 65 minutes we were two-nil down.

A long hopeful ball was pumped down the inside left channel. Martin Keown, who was actually partnered in central defence that day by Oleg Luzhny that day, looked to have things under control. But, almost in the way Henry mugged Carragher on Saturday, Emile Heskey mugged Keown as the ball seemed to be running out of play.

Heskey ran unopposed towards goal and when his shot was parried by our goalie on the day, Alex Manninger, Michael Owen was on hand to slide home the loose ball.

There we were 2-0 down and for the life of me I couldn't believe it. I remember sitting in the living room watching the game and wearing an Arsenal cap. When Owen scored, I was so exasperated I wrenched it off my head and threw it on the floor in disgust.

The Arsenal lads were obviously in a state of shock as well. Liverpool suddenly looked like a different side altogether from that point onward and we ended up losing 4-0 in the end as Robbie Fowler and Nicky Barmby (jeez, remember him) helped themselves to further goals.

It was one of those games that I look back on and think that I must have been in a parallel universe for 90 odd minutes. I bet that's how the Liverpool fans felt on Saturday night. Little did they know what was going to happen the following Tuesday when Arsenal's kids paid them a visit.

If I was pleasantly surprised by what went on at Anfield on Saturday, I was nothing short of gobsmacked by what went happened on Tuesday. I have never ever seen a visiting side score four goals at the Kop end before for a start.

But Tuesday night was incredible on so many fronts. We saw Julio Baptista announce himself to the nation in a manner that no Gooner could ever have envisaged. But what perhaps made me prouder than anything was the performance of Jeremie Aliadiere.

Anyone who has read my articles over the years will know that I have always had a strong belief in the ability of this kid. In my last article however, I did reluctantly admit that I thought his days were finally numbered – and then he goes and produces a performance like that on Tuesday.

It was such a crazy night, even young Alexandre Song not only looked like a bit of a player but he got in on the scoring act as well – though how much he knew about it I honestly couldn't say.

As well as being delighted for Aladiere on Tuesday, I was beside myself with happiness for Tomas Rosicky on Saturday. There hasn't been an Arsenal player this season that has put in more sweat and ran more yards than that boy this season. He has often been so unlucky in front of goal it's precious wonder that he was developing a complex.

Thankfully, in terms of actually scoring in this country, he has got the monkey off his back and, being a genuine fan of his, I hope this is the start of a deluge for the boy. He has the ability and hopefully now it will really start to come out.

With Rosicky's star now appearing to be on the rise, then if reports in the press are to be believed, Freddie Ljungberg looks like he is being jettisoned out of The Grove.

I know you have to take paper gossip with a pinch of salt but I have been absolutely appalled by the suggestions that Freddie was going to be bombed out of Arsenal in January just like that after eight and a half years at the club. In fact, I'm bloody furious about it all.

I know the score where Freddie is concerned just like every Gooner. The lad is not quite what he was but there is no way that I would entertain the idea of him departing at least for another 18 months.

I know there's little room for sentiment in football but when you really think about it, there are not many players that have worn the Arsenal colours with as much pride and distinction as this boy in my opinion. I would love to see him remain at the cub for another 18 months and qualify for a testimonial.

We may have had the likes of Vieira, Petit, Pires and Bergkamp amongst others at the club and we all know what these lads did for us. But, I'll never ever forget what Freddie did for us back in 2002. At the business end of that season, he was the major inspiration behind us winning The Double.

I any case, whilst Freddie may not quite be as quick and elusive as he once was, he's a winner nonetheless and a winner with experience. With Arsenal generally having a young squad these days should we really be discarding experience such as his so readily? Personally, I don't think so.

Oh, by the way, the same view applies to Lauren as well.

Going back to the events at Anfield over the last few days, I was stunned by the audacity of Benitez and his suggestions that he has to work with insufficient funds while Arsenal can afford to spend millions on buying youngsters.

I found those comments amazing, I really did. This is a man who has spent the best part of £80 million in barely two and half years and he's going around pleading poverty! It honestly beggars belief!

I have no sympathy full stop for either Benitez or Liverpool as a club in the wake of what happened to them this week. Not because of all the warped assertions by Benitez or indeed sections of the press who have also pedalled similar nonsense on his behalf.

It's because I know that if Arsenal had so much as lost narrowly in either of those cup ties with Liverpool, we would have simply been considered as not being good enough. It wouldn't have mattered how much money we had spent or whether we had a dodgy goalkeeping under study. And it wouldn't have mattered whether we played with a team full of teenagers or a team full of seasoned thirtysomethings with 100 international caps apiece. We would have been slaughtered by the press and the media – period.

If we have proved anything beyond any reasonable doubt it is that we have underlined the potential that exists within the Arsenal squad right now. Not many teams go to Anfield and do a number on them once in a season. The fact we did that twice in the space of four days is something that will stay with as long as I live.

Now it time to look forward to our early evening assignment at Ewood Park on Saturday.

It has been a decidedly mixed season for Blackburn so far. They have made solid progress through the UEFA Cup but they have had a fairly indifferent time of it in the league overall.

Over the last month however, Rovers have been showing signs of a definite revival. I was really impressed with the way that they turned things around to win at Reading. The Royals had been beaten at home up until then only by the PRF and Arsenal in 15 months.

Whilst they came unstuck against us at The Grove I think even most Gooners would agree that the margin of victory slightly flattered us a bit. And it's to the credit of Rovers that they appear not to have allowed the happenings at The Grove to affect them because they proceeded to go out and their last four games on the spin.

In fact, the Arsenal are not the only ones who have gone a little goal crazy in recent times. Whilst we scored nine in our last two, Rovers have showed themselves to be no slouches having scored seven themselves in their last two matches.

Four of those came at Goodison Park last week in the cup where Mark Hughes surprised a lot of people by pitching in youngsters Matt Derbyshire and Paul Gallagher to play up front. It worked a treat as both of them helped themselves to a goal apiece as they blew a stunned Everton side away.

I was particularly pleased for the boy Gallagher. When he first burst on the scene I thought he was a real star in the making. He lost his way a little bit for one reason or another but having returned from a loan spell at Stoke, he looks to have rediscovered his zest for the game. He's got potential this boy and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he went on to become a household name one day.

Mind you, the two main men up front for Rovers have to be Shabani Nonda and Benni McCarthy. Funnily enough, these two men were actually direct opponents having helped Monaco and Porto respectively to qualify for the 2004 Champions League final.

That in itself tells you the class that these boys possess. Of the two, McCarthy is the one that has impressed more regularly but both of them, in their own slightly different way, will offer up a major threat to the Arsenal defence.

David Bentley will be up for this game for obvious reasons but I think we will need to keep an eye on both Morten Gamst Pedersen and Tugay. Pedersen has really impressed me since he came over here and Tugay is as wily a player as you can get. If he plays well the Rovers tend to play well.

I have to give Mark Hughes a little credit. He got rid of one or two aggro merchants in the shape of Bellamy and Dickov. Lucas Neill is probably going to be on his way fairly soon as well. But Hughes still has a side that are highly competitive and he also has a side that can play and I firmly believe that they are a side that should be in the top 10 at the very least.

It's a tricky game for us. But whilst there will be a lot of people waiting for us to be muscled out of things, the good news for us is that unlike the game at Bramall Lane, Arsene will have far more options available to him. Henry and Adebayor should be available as well as the returning Diaby and if Wenger feels the need to give Fabregas a rest maybe even young Denilson will be given another run out in the middle of the park.

Ultimately though, Arsenal need to go into this game wary of falling into the same trap they did at Sheffield United. We went up to Bramall Lane on the back of a couple of solid results over Christmas only to undo all that good work with a sloppy performance. After the week we've had so far, I hope that history doesn't repeat itself.