If you think of Rovers, which I'd really rather not, then you think of Shearer kicking Lennon in the head, Van Persie being elbowed in the head by Andy Todd, Morton Gamst Pedersen's outrageous dive when Toure was three yards away and that dirty cheating bar steward Chris Sutton. Add into the mix their detestable Walrus-headed manager and I can't recall ever associating their club with the beautiful game. I wasn't anticipating anything other than more grim Allardyce anti-football today which made what followed somewhat surprising.
This was as open a game as I've ever seen from an Allardyce side. Granted Arsenal invited Rovers to play open football by gifting them the lead, twice, but this was no ordinary Allardyce team. There were attempts every now and then, especially Dunn to play football even though they failed fairly miserably. Rovers of course stuck the foot in, obstructed when they could, hacked away, tugged shirts and shoved or pushed in every single aerial challenge. Encouragingly so did Arsenal, we matched them eye for eye and tooth for tooth. Which is just as well because referee Walton's failure to spot illegal challenges by both teams was quite remarkable. Just two yellow cards and nineteen fouls given in a match were both sides were at it for most of the ninety minutes. It made for outstanding entertainment.
Robin set the ball rolling, so to speak, by axing Dunn for the first foul. After just four minutes Nzonzi who looks very similar to a lamp post beat Tomas to a header which he flicked back in a loop over Mannone who couldn't decide whether to come or stay and was thus caught off his line. 0-1 Blackburn and not the best of starts. What followed in the next phase was all Arsenal. Thomas fired one over before an Arshavin cross picked out Cesc who's header hit the bar. Piss poor use of 'advantage rule' by Walton as Di Santo was carded for a foul with Arsenal on the charge and with men over.
Dunn did Song as play was waved on, and was followed by some Arshavin magic which won a corner. Cesc's ball in was headed clear for another, which was sent in by Robin from the other side of the pitch but headed wide by Cesc who might have done better. Diouf backing in - free kick. The Verminator was on a driving run through midfield when taken down, play was waved on and Thomas picked the move up again in time to smack a powerful shot past Robinson from range. Another Verminator top corner job. 1-1 with 17 minutes gone. The Verminator received screams of 'shoot ' whenever he got the ball for the remainder of the match, even when in his own half.
Robin took out Chimbonda and Walton had words with the Dutchman. Mannone took a high ball under pressure. We were looking good especially when playing through Andrey or Robin, but Cesc and Alex were also on song. The only worry for me was the sight of Silvestre warming up. Fabregas had a shot which was saved, as Robin went in hard on Robinson. The game was edgy, fast and tough. Not quite brutal but it could have gone that way. Dunn with a bad tackle on Mannone who was out to clear, not as bad as Diouf on Almunia but similar. Whipped cross from Gael. Shot saved from Fabregas. Rovers broke against the run of play and a hopeful cross by Emerton found Dunn who saw his shot deflected off Gallas past Vito. 1-2 31 minutes gone, was it going to be one of those games?
Seemingly not, because within two minutes Cesc found Robin who was steaming into the box to hit a low hard shot past Robinson. 2-2 and we were all square again. Another four minutes before a van Persie aerial challenge saw the ball break for Fab. Arshavin pointed to where he wanted Cesc to slide in the killer ball. Fabregas obliged and because Andrey is just so good on either foot you just knew this would make it 3-2. And it did
The Verminator took out Diouf with a fairly obvious foul not spotted by Walton. Diouf then rather obviously jumped into Sagna, which was also missed. Cesc went down in their box but Walton was never going to give a pen given how much else he'd missed. A great headed clearance by Song. Rosicky to Fabregas who had his third header at goal, this one was saved. Nzonzi used Sagna's back as a step ladder, but Walton thought that was quite ok. Annoyingly Robin was then carded for a foul that from the other side of the pitch looked to be the other way, but probably wasn't. Walton indicated that this had been one free kick too many against Robin and gave him a yellow on countback.
A half time lead against a team who were using Chimbonda as a centre back was really no big deal, but our willingness to go toe to toe with Rovers was a revelation. I was loving it.
The second half saw Arsenal kicking towards the North Bank and was very different. Blackburn were simply played off the park in a rising crescendo of football that saw personnel changes but no alterations to the quality, style, speed, our spin on scintillating football and often quite brilliant teamwork.
Emerton body-checked Cesc for what should have been the first foul of the game but with Walton still in charge wasn't. Dunn looked to be tripped in our box, which was also missed by Walton. Arshavin was almost in from a van Persie pass. Rovers won a free kick for Song being whacked in the head. Cesc headed clear from the free kick. Brilliant save by Vito, now currently known as Gigi (after Gigi Buffon) by his very impressed team mates. Cesc to Robin who forced another fine save from Robinson. Followed by an easier save from Robin's next shot on target.
The number of unseen fouls perpetrated by both teams continued to rise. Cesc just wide with a drive following another great move. Essentially most of the second half was one great piece of skill or interplay following by another. Pretty well all Arsenal dominance. The crowd were enjoying this as was one would presume was Thierry Henry watching from a box and presented to the crowd prior to kick off. The Thierry Henry chant preceded a medley of chants in homage to past legends.
Great shot from range by Rosicky. Emerton replaced by Morton Gamst the diver Pedersen. Dunn on Song from behind as Arsenal broke yet again. Arshavin to Cesc to Rosicky back to Cesc and a left-footed crack by our Spaniard rocketed into the top corner. Ace stuff. 4-2 and nothing less than we deserved. Pedersen fired a hopeful free kick over before Dunn had a shot saved in a rare spell that went Blackburn's way.
'Arsene, Arsene give us a wave', and he did. Dunn was replaced by McCarthy, I can only assume he was injured. Rosicky cut in from the left and drilled one not too far over the bar. 'Super, super Tom, super Tom Rosicky'. Fabregas to Sagna who's fine cross was headed past the post by a defender. From the corner Vermaelen had a header blocked before Arshavin took the ball off Rosicky's foot with Tomas better placed. Brilliant ball Arshavin to Sagna, he is just so superbly two-footed. We were playing brilliantly but also pressing well when required. Tomas replaced and off to a standing ovation, Theo came on to a standing ovation (69 minutes). Hoilett replaced the injured McCarthy.
Great cross from Robin was headed behind for yet another corner. We won the game 8-1 on corners by the way, and 24-7 on goal attempts. Arsenal then had their 'how the hell did we keep that one out moment'. I've no idea how.
More one-twos ended with a stinging shot from Diaby that was just wide of the far post. Diaby started slow but quite possibly had his best game of the season. Then again the second half was just so full of good stuff from all the men in red shirts that picking out great games by our players today offered multiple choices. Gallas to the rescue at the back.
Theo was six minutes into his comeback and looking pretty sharp. He proved just how sharp by speeding onto an Arshavin-Fabregas move and firing past Robinson to make it 5-2 with fifteen minutes still to play. Fabregas was replaced, to a standing ovation, by Ramsey who slotted right in and looked the part. Arshavin, cue standing ovation, was replaced by Bendtner who crashed right into things immediately. Robin netted but was well offside. Diouf screwed up a play to massive jeers. Ramsey almost got Bendtner in. Brilliant stuff from Robin who put Nick through but he was stopped by yet more fine keeping by the ex-Tott lard-bucket.
Theo then beat the keeper again, only to see his dribbly effort cleared of the line. Ramsey to Walcott but Robinson out to hoof. Bendtner, van Persie, Bendtner almost there but just another corner. Gallas was tripped in the box but Walton remained in white stick mode. Nick cut in from the left, set himself up and fired the hardest shot I've seen him hit past Robinson. 6-2 and it could have been far more. Another shot saved from Theo in the three added minutes of Fergie time. While the majority of the 59,431 (cough) crowd chanted 'Boring, boring Arsenal'.
Don't you just love it when Arsenal humiliate northern cloggers and fat Sam into the bargain.