Arsenal 3 Blackburn Rovers 0: The outright record, and another 3 points

Last updated : 26 August 2004 By Brian Dawes
Gresko is bamboozled by Pennant
There are thousands of football fans across North London who could have chosen either of their local teams to support at some point in the past, those who chose the one true path to happiness now don’t even rate the other mob as rivals. So yet again one half of North London celebrated last night as another milestone fell to the mighty red and white machine. Machine is the wrong word perhaps because this team are no automatons, sure they’re efficient and the various parts come together in a well-oiled motion, sometimes perpetual motion, but they are so much more than that. I’ve been singing along to a chant for years now… ‘And its Arsenal, Arsenal FC, they’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen’… and right now, for the first time ever, that chant could almost be described as a factual statement.

Meanwhile back at Wednesday’s record clinching game. I, like I imagine most Gooners, was only ever concerned about gaining another three points, the record was just an added bonus. Blackburn came to spoil the party and happily pooped away for a while. An ankle tap here, an off the ball obstruction there, a foot left in now and again, a nudge here, a shove there, the odd niggle, a lot of lip to the ref and they even had one shot on target in the first half. Absolutely what you’d expect from a team playing the champions away from home in a match that everyone was expecting them to lose. Blackburn survived the first half and could even claim to have been in with a shout.

Our line-up was maybe not one you’d choose for trench warfare or a battle against one of Souness’ teams but it did have loads of pace and class. Pennant on the right, Pires on the left, Dennis in the hole, Cesc and Gilberto in midfield and the rest as you’d expect. Henry was the first to test Friedel as he waltzed in and shot but the save was straightforward for their keeper. Gilberto was taken down by Short on the edge of their box but Henry’s free kick lacked the vicious power required. Fabregas found Henry who had another run and a low shot that was saved. More pressure on Blackburn when the ball broke for Pires whose first time lobbed shot went over.

Gresko hit the upper tier, 5th. row at a guess, following a short spell of Rovers pressure. Dickov was caught miles offside. Pennant had a run, Cole had a run but all too often we had players finding their runs deliberately obstructed, something to which referee Neil Barry was totally oblivious. Not so Le Boss who was on his feet a few times to voice an opinion. Blackburn are an unexciting team and frustrating to watch, they relied in the main on set pieces and long balls but they did press us back for a spell and they do work hard. Henry’s frustration led him to tackle back waist high and he quite reasonably picked up a booking. Rovers predictably pushed their tall players forward and punted it in. Come to think of it most of their players are tall and against the likes of Cesc, Ashley and Jermaine might have done better in the air. A great save by Lehmann low at his near post was their best chance. I’m not sure why but Jens raced out after this to have words with Barry.

Two fouls on Pires earned Emerton a deserved booking. Kolo covered well against Stead from a long ball. We hadn’t got into gear and the match was a spoiling, patchy, bitty sort of game, typical Blackburn really. Neil hacked down Cole to stop a fast break. Cole and Pires did work it down their left on occasion but our build-up play seemed a tad slow compared to our normal fast-forward stuff. ‘We love you Arsenal we do’ as the crowd attempted to lift the tempo, but to no real effect. I was bored and yawning as Cygan did well at the back, purely coincidental I assure you. Our French slap-head was solid and made no major mistakes. Kolo appeared to be hurt after clearing an attack but he recovered after treatment. It just wasn’t happening and thankfully the next Rovers attack ended with a poor cross. A blatant body check on Cole went unseen by Barry. Two fouls on Dennis followed.

Henry found Jermaine with a clever ball and his tidy cross set up Cesc with maybe our best chance of the half, but his left-footed effort went zipping past the post on the wrong side. Cole was upended by Stead, their forwards were an important part of their defence, especially in their prime role of not letting fast breaks develop. Pires had a chance following some great play. Cole headed away an awkward cross to concede a corner. Rob and Thierry combined well, don’t they always, but although Rob got it past the keeper his shot was still cleared thanks to the numbers they had back. A Bergkamp free kick saw Henry with a half chance but he was held all the way into the box. Halftime and our most tedious half of the season to date was over.

Pires shields the ball from Brett Emerton
Half time, so one or two mentions: The REDaction group have put together an excellent Arsenal history montage which was shown pre-match and at half time. I know that a hell of a lot of work went into this and although in my opinion the edited shorter version is not quite as good as the full-length version I saw a few weeks back, it is still quite superb. So make a point of having a look at our next home game. Could someone at the Club please note however that the moral raising effect of such a screening is totally lost unless the sound is notched up to full volume and they don’t have someone droning on over the top of it. Also well done to Andy Kelly and a small band of quiz winners delightfully named ‘Nigel’s right foot’ (I think). They received a presentation at half time, but as ever the PA system is still too naff to hear the full details of any announcements, at least where I sit it is, so I can’t give you further details.

Arsenal started the second half both quicker and sharper. Henry found Cole whose cross, or just maybe a clever shot, was not far away from the far post. A big foul by Neill Henry off the ball, again not spotted by Barry or the lino who had a far better view but failed to raise his white stick. Dennis was clearly shoved in the back, again not spotted. Pennant cut in from the right and then cut in some more, went on a bit further then shot but the save was fairly easy. We were doing the business now though. A ball was played back to Cesc who’d made space for himself, he recovered after the ball caught under his feet and then played a peach of a pass to Dennis. The Iceman clipped it first time from the right behind the defenders, Thierry accelerated between two static blue and white lampposts and fired a controlled shot home from close range. 1-0 Arsenal and Blackburn’s brief hopes were seemingly dashed.

A great save by Lehmann in a near post scramble of bodies showed that Blackburn had not rolled over, but they had to have a go now and that always means more space for the good guys. Tugay fired over. Lehmann required treatment. A Pennant cross was met by Henry’s head and we won a corner, the ref was met by some lippy players in white and blue shirts who disagreed. Neil is just one of their many mouthy gobshites you could learn to hate with ease. Henry took the corner, Gilberto timed his run, met the ball with power but headed over. Close. Blinding ball from Fabregas to Lauren wide right. Fabregas is the future, in this game he started with a good closing down tackle and looks like he’s been in the first team as long as Parlour had. He’s gutsy, seriously skilful, plays off both feet with speed, is always looking around which helps explain his apparent telepathy, is always capable of making space, happy on either foot and confident enough already to have his say. We have a world class winner in the making here, the only thing he needs is time and patience the rest is all there or not too far away, last night his confidence was so high he nearly overdid things a couple of times late on. But to be fair he does have the ability to overdo things and that can’t be said of many.

Back at the match, Lauren’s ball in won a corner on our left. In a serious case of déjà vu Henry took the corner, Gilberto timed his run, met the ball with power and headed down towards the far post. I thought he’d scored but the replays showed that Cesc got a touch from all of a yard out. 2-0 Arsenal and Souness wouldn’t have enjoyed that one. ‘That’s why we’re the Champions’ Henry broke away again soon after and Arsenal then became inflicted with a severe case of total football. Pires breaks, Henry tried a cheeky back heel that didn’t quite come off but we were in the groove. Stead kicked Kolo Toure before Henry played keepie-upsie on the half way line. Stead was replaced by Yorke.

‘We are unbeatable’ Dennis hit a great diagonal ball and Gilberto, running hard, shot wide of the far post. Francesc won the ball and got booked, which I figure could make him both our youngest League goalscorer and our youngest yellow card, both in same match. Cesc was hauled down but Barry waved play on. A free kick on the edge of their box saw Henry hit the wall and Cole blast over. Substitutions were made with 14 minutes to go as Dennis and Jermaine were replaced by Freddie and Jose. There was a thunderous ovation for Dennis. Dickov went down in our box or he may have been standing up, hard to tell really. ‘Are you Tottenham in disguise?’ Matteo messed up a pass that put his team in deep dodahs because Henry latched onto it and sped away, his early shot was saved but Thierry picked up the rebound and waited till Jose steamed into the box, the pass was perfect and Reyes fired home from close range. It was his first touch. 3-0 to the Arsenal, definitely game, set, match and new record. Sorted!

A free kick against Reyes wide on Rovers’ left had our defence badly beaten but Yorke headed wide with the goal gaping. ‘There’s only one Arsene Wenger’ Henry conned Emerton into conceding another corner which he took and saw the keeper just manage to save from Cygan for yet another corner. Blackburn broke but Cesc was back to stop them. ‘Fabregas wo-oa, Fabregas wo-oa, he’s only seventeen, he’s better than Roy Keane’ this chant seemed to start in the west side of the North Bank lower and spread. The beaming Wenger gave four minutes to Flamini who replaced our latest sensation wearing the 15 shirt. Young Cesc deserved every last clap of the massive ovation he received.

Matteo was booked when he slipped over and grabbed the ball in order to stop anyone breaking away for our fourth. There were three minutes of added time during which there was a fine break by Pires, plus a fantastic cross in from the right by Thierry that saw Rob just inches away from nicking it in. Twelve goals and nine points from three games seems a reasonable start for a team with their eyes on another Championship.

One minor fact that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere is that an increasing number of our goals this season have been taps ins and all three against Blackburn came from very close range. So look out Premiership: we’ve got foxes in the boxes now, loads of them. And just for the record here’s what our 43-match sequence looks like: w w w w w w d d w w w d w w w d d w d w w d w w w w w w w w w d w d w d d d w w w w w