Preamble: Good day, all. Let's talk stereotypes, shall we? Blackburn: Huffing, puffing long-ball merchants; set-piece loving anti-footballers; more Brutalist than a 1960s multi-storey car park; as grittily northern as pies, chips, gravy and the word t' (as in "I'm just putting on t'kettle, love"). Arsenal: Frustratingly ineffectual aesthetes; softer than Fairy liquid; pass-pass-pass-stop-to-admire-the-fragile-beauty-of-a-passing butterfly-pass-pass-pass; more southern (France) than vins de pays d'Oc. Me: Cynical, seen-it-all-before MBM-type; rage-fuelled pseudo-wordsmith; passive aggressive. You: Boorish; tribal; anorak-like football obsessives.
Let's do this.
The matter at hand. This sort of game is teed up nicely to provide more evidence – if any were needed – that Arsenal don't like it up 'em. Last season Arsene Wenger's young Guns came here with their title dreams, like so much a teenage crush, freshly dashed and who would be surprised to see the ogre-like posse of Chris Samba, Ryan Nelson and, er, Nikola Kalinic have Arsenal for breakfast early lunch today?
Ewood Park is not yet, however, the Reebok Stadium, no matter how much Sam Allardyce tries to make it like his old alma mater's home ground. Arsenal won here 4-0 in 2008-09 – also the game in which Fisher Price's Jack Wilshere became the club's youngest league player – and before the 2-1 defeat in May, the Londoners had gone seven games unbeaten against Rovers in the Premier League, with two 6-2 drubbings (admittedly both at the Emirates) and two four-nothings. I'm not predicting that order of goal-scoring today but we can at least hope for a good'un.
Arsenal's comedy goalkeeping dept: Oh for the days of David Seaman, eh? Oh.
Teams:Blackburn: Robinson, Salgado, Nelsen, Samba, Givet, El-Hadji Diouf, Jones, Pedersen, Grella, Mame Diouf, Kalinic.Subs: Bunn, Olsson, Emerton, Dunn, Nzonzi, Hoilett, Chimbonda.Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy, Diaby, Song, Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin.Subs: Fabianski, Rosicky, Vela, Wilshere, Eboue, Gibbs, Chamakh.Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
Arsenal recall their World Cup finalists, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, while Alex Song moves back into his regular holding midfield role with Laurent Koscielny's return from suspension. Theo Walcott continues in his wing-forward role after sparkling against Blackpool last week. Rovers have Vince Grella back in place of Martin Olsson, while Steven Nzonzi drops out for Mame Biram Diouf, on loan from Manchester United. Good to see Blackburn will go out and attack ... I'm also looking forward to seeing Phil Jones, the 18-year-old Englishman playing in midfield.
12.40pm: Some managers' words: "You face commitment, challenge here a Blackburn. We want to show we can deal with that." Arsene Wenger, there. Meanwhile Sam Allardyce, who is unbeaten in seven home games against Arsenal, thinks: "Tactically we'll have to be outstanding today. I think the conditions are perfect, the surface is a bit a slicker so it should be a good game."
12.42pm: An example of the kind of email I don't want to receive this afternoon, Margit Flaherty: "Sent from my iPad." (Really, that was it).
Much better from Amir Adhamy: "I'm sorry but you've got it wrong already. This game is not tee'ed up, as you say, to provide further evidence that Arsenal can't abide being hassled- rather it should be the first proper opportunity since the World Cup final for the press to get it's head screwed on right. Those same commentators who decried The Netherland's psychical game as 'anti football, and stifling of football geniuses- laud the "Arsenal don't like it up 'em" approach as 'the way to play them'. Even Allardyce validates it as such in the pre game interview, saying how this Arsenal team have a flaw, and that's how you exploit it. Does Allardyce have a point? Should the Netherlands have attempted to justify their approach to the World Cup Final?"
Peep! Today's rugby match gets under way ...
1 min: First foul of the game is given against Arsenal, Andrey Arshavin challenging Chris Samba late as the defender cleared. Blackburn immediately launch it forward via goalkeeper Paul Robinson, the ball being allowed to drop in the Arsenal area before Laurent Koscielny, I think, gets it away.
2 min: And we've had a Rory Delap-effect long throw-in already too! Morten Gamst Pedersen launched that delivery from the right but Manuel Almunia claimed it comfortably despite the attentions of Samba.
4 min: Arsenal, reverting so quickly to type, start to pass it around. A Bacary Sagna cross is turned out for a corner and after a short routine orchestrated by Cesc Fabregas the ball is fired across the Blackburn box. It deflects out to the edge of the area where Abou Diaby thumps a volley that is flying into the bottom corner until it hits Vince Grellla, cannons into Robinson and flies clear. Breathless stuff!
6 min: A superb crossfield ball from Arshavin allows Arsenal to change the play to Sagna on the right but his cross doesn't beat the man. It's looking a bit wet and wild at Ewood, the rain slanting down.
7 min: Alex Song seems to have been using the sun-in over the summer, such is his bleached, beach-bum look. Chris Samba, who already appears to be playing as a striker, wins a ball into the box but Arsenal clear.
9 min: From the right, Arsenal again come under pressure from an aerial bombardment and their defending is as confidence-inspiring as ever until Thomas Vermaelen heads the ball out for a corner. From the set-piece, Arsenal half clear only for Big Ryan Nelsen to send it flying back towards the top corner with his bonce. Fabregas, on the line, prevents a goal!
10 min: Blackburn's system again trumps Arsenal's from the corner but Almunia does really well to claw the ball away from MB Diouf on the line.
12 min: We're rapidly back up the other end as Arsenal attempt to pick the home side's defence apart. Both Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin are vitally denied space and the Gunners have to settle for a corner.
13 min: [Whistles through teeth] Blackburn, through EH Diouf, spurn a glorious chance on the counterattack, Nikola Kalinic unable to stay onside as Diouf slipped him through on goal. It was tight – but the other Diouf was completely unmarked over on the far side, if the Senegalese had spotted him.
15 min: Alex Song's blonde do, Bacary Sagna's braids, Marouane Chamakh's wet-look lid. Do Arsenal have some of the worst haircuts in the Premier League? Blackburn win a corner after some good defending from Koscielny.
16 min: Samba nods over from the resultant delivery. So it goes ... "Given your email address, are you a journalist/hooligan?," ask Nick Donovan. It's actually because I only wear sportswear, rather than me being a member of a firm, Nick.
18 min: Blackburn are probably having the better of this so far but Arsenal look typically elastic and punchy on the break. Arshavin has a sight of goal but Nelsen, I think, throws himself in the way.
GOAL! Blackburn 0-1 Arsenal (Theo Walcott 20) That is a sumptious finish from the England winger and Arsenal have counterpunched and counterpunched hard! It was threaded forward by Arshavin to Van Persie who slipped the ball in behind Gael Givet. Walcott andele-arriba-d his way on to the through pass, took one touch before drilling the ball past Robinson from a tight-ish angle on the right. A lovely, lovely goal.
22 min: MB Diouf is clean through on the right, in a not dissimilar position to Walcott ... but he's offside. By the way, I've just been told that Arsenal and Tottenham have been drawn together in the Carling Cup third round. Tottenham's third match against young boys already this season.
25 min: This has been really lively, though sadly I can't say that Arsenal are crunching into the challenges while Blackburn spin intricate passing webs. Both teams are doing what that do best but there's nothing wrong with that, spectacle-wise. Walcott skins Givet again and Arsenal are happy, midway through the half.
26 min: Gary Naylor has sent in some 'back atcha' for Amir: "Do the likes of Amir (12.42) really believe that a team adopting Holland's approach in the Premier League would have finished the first half with eleven men? Eight more like it. Howard Webb, like the referee in the Tottenham vs Nottingham Forest Cup final when Gazza went bonkers. reffed the occasion not the players. You never see anything like that in the Premier League, but you do see a physical approach - and why not? If football was ice skating, we'd have judges marking for artistic interpretation - no crowds though."
GOAL! Blackburn 1-1 Arsenal (Mame Biram Diouf 27) Arsenal won't be so happy any more and that was not exceptional defending (by which I mean it was rubbish) from the visitors. Samba's pass down the left put EH Diouf up against Koscielny, who wasn't strong enough to shepherd the Rovers forward out. Once past Koscielny, EH cut in, drew Almunia from his goal, looked up and put the ball on a plate for his namesake, who had nipped in between Vermaelen and Clichy. The man who scored a hat-trick in the Carling Cup midweek has bagged on his first ever Premier League start.
29 min: Pedersen is down in the Arsenal box after running into Abou Diaby and falling over. I thought that's what the Arsenal players were supposed to do? Here's the light-fingered Mac Millings: "Further to 12.42pm, is this the kind of email you want? Oh, and I nicked your iPhone, by the way.
*** Sent from your stolen iPhone ***"
31 min: Song is penalised for doing his enforcer bit in the middle of the park. He was a bit late on Jones – and that means another chance for Robinson to pump the ball forward into the Arsenal box. Oh football, the beautiful game!
32 min: Strong punch from Almunia, who has done pretty well so far today. Robin van Persie is down holding his ankle after a collision with Jones, and that looks like he's not going to continue ...
34 min: Marouane Chamakh is off the bench early to replace the injured Van Persie. Perhaps not a bad thing to have a more robust target man up top for the visitors? He can always job swap like Samba to play centre-half on Blackburn corners.
37 min: There's a bit of handbags in the area and the football, such as it was, seems to have sidled off to be replaced by niggly fouls. Arsenal are given a free-kick in their own box, enabling them to put a foot on the ball for a bit ... and 'breathe'.
39 min: Walcott skips up the wing but his centre to Fabregas is a little behind the Barça Spain midfielder. Hasn't really been able to dictate play much so far today, Fabregas. Arsenal are beginning to control possession for an extended period for the first time, though.
41 min: "Song's hair is less beach-bleached, and more very-old-woman-whose-wig-has-flown-off-revealing- the-trimmed-balding-mess-underneath." So says Ben Dunn and I'm not going to disagree.
43 min: Walcott again gallops into space, playing in Sagna down the right. His cross finds Fabregas on the edge of the box, who finds another good run from Walcott. He shows good strength to prevent himself being barged into touch but Blackburn then close him down to prevent the pullback finding a red shirt. Corner ... from which comes zippo.
45 min: Back down the other end, Blackburn again get a glimpse of the try line after Sagna and Diaby play silly buggers (as defending is called at Arsenal) near the edge of their box. EH Diouf booms an effort over and out for a goal kick.
46 min: "Same old Arsenal, always cheating!" chant the home support as Vermaelen is penalised for climbing on Kalinic. Football fans, blinkered? Not a word of it. Pedersen whups his shot into the wall.
Peep! Peep! Arsenal try to launch themselves forward once again first through the spidery Diaby then the more scuttling Arshavin but Michel Salgado puts in a good challenge and Chris Foy blows to bring an end to a very entertaining first half.
Half-time emails (Yes, this could be you!)
"Re: Tottenham's third match against young boys already this season. I was already wavering after your intro using the tedious "don't like it up 'em" idea but this has done it. What is it that makes you think this is in any sense interesting or clever? As for MBM groupie Gary Naylor, most people outside England take it as a given that you can get away with pretty much anything in the first half hour of a Premier League match, because the referees, like you, don't have the confidence to just call the match." Patrick Groden seems to have missed the bit about stereotypes, the mention of Arsenal's good results against Blackburn and the general – at least attempted – tenor of the commentary and gone charging straight at the red rag.
As ever, the MBM revolves around Gary Naylor. Should we stop publishing him, I wonder? Here's Amir Adhamy: "In response to the seemingly omnipresent Gary Naylor- pfft, sigh, meh. This game is like watching two opposite sides of a coin, both teams with flaws that the other's strength can capitalise on. Or it's further evidence that Arsenal don't like it up 'em- I don't know anymore. Why can't we defend? Why!?
"To Ben Dunn, I like to think Song's new mop is in homage to Wesley Snipes' character in the ludicrous, but underrated Demolition Man. That, or Song's tapped up a lucrative sponsorship deal with Guinness. Is that racist? I'm mixed race myself, sod it." I think even thinking it was probably rascist, so we can't do any worse by publishing it. Demolition Man – what a film! Don't you know how to use the three seashells?
"Re: Alex Song's hair," says Samir Mathur. "It's a tribute to Tom Berenger in Inception." Now Inception I wasn't so down with. Visually knocks Demolition Man into a cocked hat but a bit too clever-clever, methought. We likes fings simple, 'ere.
Peep! Peep! After a problem with the net is dealt with (apparently there was a hole in it, which surely speak volumes for the level of deprivation the north has descended into under the Conservatives) we're back underway at Ewood Park. Actually, to tell the full story, it was Walcott's goal that literally (correct usage) burst the net. My, what a fine man he's become!
46 min: Arsenal come forward, slowly but surely, through Vermaelen, Clichy and Diaby before the France midfielder decides Morten Gamst Pedersen should have a touch. Any more thoughts on Alex Song's barnet out there?
47 min: Wenger looks pensive in the Arsenal dugout. I imagine he's not happy with how Foy has refereed the breakdown, so far.
49 min: "I don't think Song's taste in films is quite so advanced. He probably was going for a homage to Dennis Rodamn in 'Double Team' with Mr. Van Damme," offers Benn Dunn. Not enough piercings or dress-wearing to be Rodman, surely? If he did it properly, red a la Freddie Ljungberg, then he'd be a dead ringer for Premier League-era Bradford midfielder Jamie Lawrence.
GOAL! Blackburn 1-2 Arsenal (Andrey Arshavin 51) The commentator's curse strikes Andy Gray, who has just been berating Arshavin for another subdued showing. Not that he had to do too much to put Arsenal back in front ... Sagna broke down the right and his cross was perfectly weighted for Fabregas, arriving late into the box. The captain's shot was well struck but straight at Walcott – the ball coming off his back before falling into Arshavin's path, the Russian then sidefooting under Robinson and between two players on the line.
53 min: Arsenal sniff a third and Marouane Chamakh's strike from 20 yards, which looked like it may have swerved in, is deflected behind for a corner. Excellent work from Fabregas in the build up, though his delivery from the corner is overhit.
55 min: The visiting fans are 'ole'-ing as Arsenal string a series of one-touch passes together – but a few seconds later they display the flaky flip side of their particular coin as Vermaelen bodges a clearance allowing Kalinic, who had chased a ball over the top, a free shot at goal. It flies well over, though.
56 min: Vince Grella is withdrawn in favour of David Dunn, who didn't start because has been carrying an injury. Dunn was Blackburn's top scorer last year.
58 min: No yellow cards so far today. Blackburn, it was heavily advertised before the game, have the most in this fledgling season, with five from two fixtures – so there is at least one trend being bucked. Arshavin gets in on the left after a delightful long ball (yes an Arsenal long ball) from Diaby but blazes over and wide.
61 min: Arsenal are forced into some typically manic defending from another Blackburn set play, with Song performing an adroit block. Gael Clichy then clears and the bile rising in Arsene Wenger's throat subsides.
63 min: You can't score without the ball and Blackburn are struggling to get possession of the sphere currently. Fabregas so nearly slips in Arshavin on the edge of the box before the Russian jinks his way into an excellent position, past at least three challenges, only to finally succumb under the weight of blue and white shirts.
65 min: Rovers send on Martin Olsson for Nikola Kalinic. Salgado is penalised after being nutmegging by Arshavin. Chamakh then proves he's not just a lanky haircut with a nice piece of skill out on the left.
66 min: Salgado is then furious as a corner is given after the ball appeared to pop off Chamakh. Rovers head the delivery clear at the near post before Koscielny attempts to backheel flick the ball over Robinson from the returned centre ... but it loops over.
68 min: Looks like Cesc Fabregas isn't yet up to a full 90 minutes, so Tomas Rosicky is called from the comfort of the bench to prod and probe in the Spaniard's place.
69 min: Blackburn go close after a dipping cross from the left – Pedersen's delivery, I think – but it's just over Kalinic. Walcott then breaks at the other end, pulling Givet this way and that like a rag doll before firing into Robinson's midriff. Midriff. I like that word.
71 min: Anyone out there? Surely there's more scorn to be pinged in my direction. Arsenal are knocked out of their stride by the industry of EH Diouf on the left but after the pitch opened up Kalinic was unable to find a team-mate.
73 min: Arsenal must be delighted that Theo Walcott missed England's summer jolly to South Africa because he's looking livewire again today. He twists one way then turns the other and Gael Givet is presented with a yellow card for his attempts to keep tabs on the winger.
75 min: Bacary Sagna then does a bit od good old fashioned defending to thwart MB Diouf's charge into the box. He also wins a free-kick, so it's double bubble for the Arsenal right back.
77 min: Rosicky is actually looking like a decent Fabregas facsimile at the moment, first picking out Arshavin on the left only for his ball back inside to run behind Abou Diaby, then teeing up Walcott for a strike from distance. It's just over but kept Robinson interested all the way.
78 min: Pedersen winds up his trebuchet over on the Rovers left and it reaches the six-yard box – where Chamakh is quite clearly grappling with Samba – only for Vermaelen to nut it clear.
80 min: Despite all my pre-match wheezing, Arsenal haven't been the effete pushovers many expected. Koscielny and Vermaelen have had a few wobbly moments but Sagna in particular has been a trooper. Tip of the cap to those of you also at work out there, and thanks for the emails.
81 min: Nervous moments for the aforementioned Arsenal backline: first Chris Samba gets his orders from Bombardier Allardyce and starts loping forward; then David Dunn does well to work an angle for himself on the edge of the area, only to fire a low shot straight at Almunia. Steven Nzonzi is on, Mame Biram Diouf is off.
83 min: Salgado winds up and hammers over from inside the box on the right after another long throw-in. Arsenal send on Lil' Jack Wilshere for Andrey Arshavin.
84 min: Theo Walcott thinks he's capped a fine display with a second goal but he's flagged offiside. That or Foy gave a free-kick against Blackburn for handball. Walcott was offside though ... Er, we'll move on.
86 min: If Wilshere gets in ahead of Samba/Nelson to score today, can we expect any 'Jack fells a beanstalk' headlines? Surely we can. The midfielder wants a free-kick after his through ball for Diaby is blocked but Foy is unmoved.
88 min: Arsenal are forced to clear from under their own bar after another testing centre. Here's Josh Gerrard, a dispairing fantasy football manager, I assume: "No time for you, too busy scorning Gods re: Van Persie ankle implosion. Ps. Should be 'scorn to BE pinged my way'. Oh yes and this was: Sent from my iPhone." Your iPhone can't fix RvP, though, can it, eh?
90 min: Olssen and Diouf both want penalties after some last-ditch defending from Song. Diouf actually stumbled after a touch from behind from Koscielny but it looked negligible. Arsenal then break through Chamakh, Walcott and Wilshere but the 18-year-old fails to convert after slipping slightly when one-on-one with Robinson. Frenetic finish at Ewood ...
92 min: Koscielny wins an aerial duel with Samba on the edge of the box as Arsenal successfully repel another blue-and-white wave.
93 min: Ian Darke utters the time-honoured phrase "Robinson launches it once more into the mixer" as Blackburn attempt to scrape something, anything at the death ...
Peep! Peep! Peep! ... but there's is to be no late salvation for the home side as Chris Foy blows for full time. Arsenal have won and that gives them their best start to the season for a full (wait for it) three years. That was actually a pretty impressive display from Wenger's boys/striplings/youngsters/greenhorns (pick your favourite condescending epithet) and Theo Walcott, once again, caught the eye – he was the man of the match according to those respected judges, Barclays. We'll get back to you with Chris Waddle's thoughts on that when they come in. Thanks for the emails, you can join me again for United-West Ham at 5.30pm. Ta ra
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