Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal have often found Sam Allardyce-managed teams somewhat of an irritation – bullish in the tackle, bullies in the air and bad news to their title aspirations. In the days of Allardyce at the Bolton Wanderers, Arsenal could be found wanting and whinging about the physical battle they had to endure. Sunday’s game at the Emirates, where Big Sam brought his Blackburn Rovers side started in familiar fashion and ended in spectacular.
The man often looked upon as the answer to many an Arsenal prayer in previous meetings was sat in the stands watching on as the new saviour demonstrated why he is revered in such similar fashion as the big gun of the Gunners. Thierry Henry, a guest as Arsenal the football club celebrated 13 years under Arsene the manager, could only smile as he witnessed a masterclass in what we all already knew – Cesc Fabregas – the dream footballer. And club captain. And main difference between jovial celebrations and another bad day at the office for the Gunners.
Behind four minutes in after a long Paul Robinson punt was flicked on and over the Italian rookie Vito Mannone by Steven N’Zonzi to put the visitors ahead, the hosts – and Fabregas in particular – responded superbly and eventually ran out comfortable victors, with their Spaniard skipper playing part in five of the six goals for Arsenal.
Although it took another fine strike from centre-back Thomas Vermaelen to pull the Gunners level – and yet after another surprise Blackburn lead, this time with David Dunn scoring for the visitors – once Fabregas found his stride there really was little hope for the Lancashire men. The perfect weighting and measure of the through ball on to the left foot of Robin van Persie allowed the Dutchman little to do except strike the ball cleanly to pull Arsenal back into the game. Fabregas repeated the trick for Andrei Arshavin to beat Robinson from an almost identical position and put Arsenal up 3-2 going in at half-time.
Allardyce felt rightly aggrieved to have a clear penalty shout that went against his team in the second half after Dunn was felled by the challenge of Vermaelen with the scores still separated by the odd goal: “It is a blatant one. You have got to get the major decisions right, otherwise you don’t stay in this league too long, not as a manager or a player, so as a referee you have got to be judged the same. They are fully professional now, so if they are not good enough, we should find someone who is.”
Replays will support Allardyce’s sense of injustice and post match comments, even if the FA authorities don’t. Predictably, following that decision, Fabregas added Arsenal’s fourth through a sweet left-foot half-volley then turned assist once more, this time for Theo Walcott, before being withdrawn to a standing ovation. Walcott, making his first start for the Gunners this season, was quick to lead the plaudits for his skipper: “Cesc is fantastic to play with. He will spot anything. He played the ball to me for my goal and I didn’t have to break my stride. That’s how good he is. He’s our captain and is doing a great job. If he plays like he did against Blackburn, no-one will be able to stop him this season.”
A bold statement, but true nevertheless as Fabregas was simply unstoppable, playing with a flair and class that will keep the return to Barcelona rumour-mill going, even if the 22-year-old attempted to quash those rumours a badge kissing celebration and re-iterance of his desire to stay put: “There’s always speculation I don’t like it here but I am committed to this club 100 per cent.” If the passion and commitment displayed by Fabregas eased the reported fears of losing their lynchpin to the European champions Barcelona, what may continue to worry the Arsenal faithful however is their side’s tendency to concede goals.
Blame for N’Zonzi’s opener could be pinned on the positioning of Mannone, Arsenal’s third-choice goalkeeper who has performed relatively well in the absence of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski and without doubt, William Gallas could have ushered Dunn on to his left foot and towards the corner flag instead of inside on to his right foot. Yes the Gunners went on to score six (the last being a well-struck effort from substitute Nicklas Bendtner) but that now brings their Premier League goals against tally to 10 in seven – a statistic unlikely to go unnoticed by the studious Arsene Wenger.
For now, the Frenchman will continue to state his belief his team are fully equipped to claim silverware after four successive seasons without any. With Fabregas in this kind of form, Arsenal has every chance of celebrating honours come May next year.