Blackburn 2 Arsenal 0: An insult to the travelling Gooners

Last updated : 16 March 2003 By Chris Parry
Taylor, one great save, but beaten twice.
Brian wasn't at the game today - I was, but frankly I don't have the inclination to write a long blow-by-blow account of a game that had very few redeeming moments from an Arsenal point of view, save for one spectacular save from Stuart Taylor.

We looked tired and jaded, and frankly the players gave the impression that they weren't trying. Moreover, this game was confirmation - for me at any rate - that we simply don't have the quality in depth at the back that a team with our lofty aspirations should have. I confess that I actually found myself wishing that Luzhny had been fit to deputise at centre back when Keown went off. Gilberto do a reasonable job in the end, but he must have rued the fact that he had to play alongside the hapless Cygan.

Cygan's display today was as poor as that of Stepanovs at Old Trafford on that infamous day, and unfortunately it is likely to have a similar effect of his confidence.

On the way home we caught a distant glimpse of the "Theatre of Prawn Sandwiches" - a trip up there in May (or even April for the F.A. Cup semi) is but a distant dream on our showing at Ewood. Quite simply, we have more chance of flying to the moon at this present moment especially as Martin Keown is likely to be out for a month.

Here's what the Telegraph had to say:

Blackburn answered Sir Alex Ferguson's prayers yesterday and inflicted on Arsenal the rare defeat that puts them well within catching distance of Manchester United at the top of the Premiership.

After United had narrowed the gap to two points with their lunchtime victory over Aston Villa, Rovers did Ferguson the favour he had hoped for by becoming the first team in 21 games to beat the leaders.

The Lancastrians fully deserved, too, to complete their first double over the Gunners for 10 years with goals by Damien Duff, just back after six weeks out with hamstring trouble, and Tugay. On a bumpy pitch and windy day, they were much the better side against opponents who looked, at last, to be wilting under the strain of competing in three major tournaments.

Although Arsenal went into the game with the advantage of knowing United's result at Villa Park earlier in the day, Blackburn enjoyed the benefits of the fortnight's rest the fixture list had given them. Arsenal had endured a long journey north, too, following tough matches in the FA Cup and Champions League against Chelsea and Roma.

Not surprisingly, then, Arsene Wenger used the depth of his squad to make changes other than those forced upon him by the unfitness of David Seaman, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira. Gilberto Silva and Sylvain Wiltord were rested in preparation for the decisive Champions League game away to Valencia on Wednesday, their places going to Edu and Freddie Ljungberg.

With Vieira missing, Ray Parlour joined Edu in central midfield and Stuart Taylor took over in goal from Seaman. That was a bit of risk, since Taylor was likely to be Arsenal's only fit or eligible goalkeeper, other than Craig Holloway, 19, for the trip to Valencia. But Wenger felt Taylor had played so well in the last away game, at Manchester City, that he had to be given his chance.

For a variety of reasons, among them a training-pitch spat between Andy Cole and manager Graeme Souness, Blackburn made even more changes. Cole was dropped, Hakan Sukur taking his place, and the return to fitness of Dwight Yorke, Duff and Craig Short helped to make up for the loss of David Dunn, David Thompson and Egil Ostenstad because of injury and of Lucas Neill through suspension.

From the way Keith Gillespie took on Giovanni van Bronckhorst at the earliest opportunity, Blackburn had obviously watched the way Roma's Cafu had terrorised Arsenal's makeshift left-back a few days earlier. The home side ought certainly to have taken the lead after five minutes from the centre Gillespie put over after beating Van Bronckhorst, but Sukur mistimed his header from in front of goal.

The next time Gillespie delivered from the right, though, Rovers did go ahead after 21 minutes with something of a comical goal. Duff, in the inside-right position, completely miskicked Gillespie's cut-back, but recovered his poise to drive the ball into the far corner after Tugay's follow-up shot had hit Yorke and rebounded to him.

Arsenal might have been two up themselves by then. Brad Friedel had had to make very good saves to keep out free-kicks from Thierry Henry and Van Bronckhorst. Van Bronckhorst struck his shot after Martin Keown had run over the ball and, in the process, Keown appeared to pull a hamstring and had to go off.

With no recognised defender on the bench, Wenger sent on Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva to replace Keown in a rearguard already showing signs of fallibity through the obvious lack of understanding between Pascal Cygan and Taylor. Yet Arsenal could easily have been level at the interval, Robert Pires having failed to apply the finishing touch after a Van Bronckhorst corner had hit Friedel and spun up in the air.

It did not take Blackburn long in the second half to go further ahead. Six minutes after the restart, Duff sent a long, square, speculative ball into the middle, where Tugay picked it up without serious challenge from an opponent. Then, as the Arsenal defence backed off him, the Turkish midfielder slammed a right-footed shot into the far corner from just outside the penalty area.

Neither side really looked like adding to the scoreline after that. In point of fact, the second 45 minutes degenerated into a messy succession of bookings and substitutions as Blackburn decided they had nothing more to prove and Arsenal proved powerless to do anything about it.

"Are you Burnley in disguise?" sang the Blackburn fans cheekily as Arsenal finished the game little short of a rabble.