Theo Walcott's crisp finishing quite rightly dominated post-match discussions after Arsenal safely negotiated their trip to bandit country, or at least the part of the world where football sometimes resembles rugby, though Arsène Wenger seemed to attach greater significance to the contribution Cesc Fábregas made in his first start of the season.
The Arsenal captain looked slightly surprised to be withdrawn after 68 minutes, not long after helping to create his side's winning goal, but his manager is determined to get the best out of him over the course of a whole season. "He didn't know he would be coming off before the end, but that was his first appearance since the World Cup final," Wenger said.
"As long as we look after him I don't think there will be any problems in getting him back to the player he was before. I don't think he is the type to give anything less than his best, just because he didn't get a move. He may have wanted to join Barcelona but he loves Arsenal as well, and that's why he made his decision. I am happy because you always want to keep your best players and it was vital for us to keep Cesc. There is a trust and confidence on both sides. He has given enough to the club and the club has given a lot to him in return."
Wenger is well aware that Javier Mascherano has just ruthlessly engineered his own move to Barcelona by effectively refusing to continue playing for Liverpool, but he has no fears Fábregas would try to do the same. "I don't know everything about the Liverpool situation, maybe there was a financial problem, but I do know it is difficult to legislate once a player says he is unhappy at a club. But Cesc has not said that. He is still our leader and I am looking forward to having him back."
If Arsenal were not quite at their free-flowing best at Ewood, that was due in part to Blackburn's wholly legitimate tenacity. The home side rallied after Walcott's opening goal and managed to finish the first half on top, though Sam Allardyce was willing to concede that Arsenal were a superior side. "You know when you play them that you have to take your opportunities to get your nose in front," he said. "Because if you don't you only need switch off for a split second and they will punish you."
Blackburn did switch off momentarily in letting Bacary Sagna escape down the right to set up Arsenal's winner. Fábregas's shot came back off Walcott for Andrey Arshavin to beat Paul Robinson to the rebound, though not even Allardyce could bring himself to point the finger at his defence for the first goal. "I wouldn't necessarily want to blame my defenders because I'm not sure what they could have done to deal with such accurate first time passing," he said. "When you have that sort of quality it is very hard to stop."
Blackburn's only hope, once Robin van Persie's unimprovable pass had breached their defence and invited Walcott to cut in on goal from the right, was that the England forward would pass up the chance or give another example of his allegedly poor decision-making. Some chance. Walcott had picked out Robinson's bottom corner before the goalkeeper had fully assessed the danger, shooting early and so sweetly the ball actually broke a few strands of the side-netting.
The only downside for Arsenal was that Van Persie lasted only 15 minutes longer before twisting an ankle that will keep him out for a couple of weeks.
The home side hauled their way back into the game in a most impressive manner, with El Hadji Diouf going round a suddenly ponderous Laurent Koscielny on the outside to leave Mame Biram Diouf the easiest of tap-ins with a ball cut back from the byline. Two Dioufs (the scorer is on a season-long loan from Manchester United) are not all Blackburn have to offer up front this season. Just before the Arsenal game they signed Benjani Mwaruwari from Manchester City on a one year contract. Rovers may continue to struggle against the very top teams, but life will not be dull with those three up front.
United's Diouf in particular looks as if he will be a handful for most defences on his own. As Allardyce said, his goal may have been a tap-in but he knew how to time his run and where to position himself after crossing from the opposite wing. Big and muscular, he put over a few useful crosses as well as meeting one or two, and when fully match-fit he should be a more than useful acquisition. Blackburn have finished outside the top 10 on only three occasions in their present 10-year Premier League sequence, and appear to have enough firepower to make the top half once again.
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