Club Focus – Blackburn Rovers – Home defeat to Arsenal but it’s not all gloom for Allardyce’s men

Blackburn Rovers slumped to their second consecutive league defeat this weekend as they were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side. Theo Walcott’s sparkling form continued as he bagged an impressive opener in the first-half, but his vicious strike was cancelled out by an equally well worked goal scored by Mame Diouf minutes later. Russian forward Andrei Arshavin sealed the victory for the Gunners at the beginning of the second-half, condemning Rovers to their first home defeat of this new campaign.

Ewood Park has become somewhat of a fortress under Sam Allardyce, Blackburn lost only three games at home last season and remained unbeaten against the traditional ‘top-four,’ defeating Arsenal 2-1 along the way. Rovers went into the match on a high, following the midweek victory over Norwich in the second round of the Carling Cup. Although Big Sam rested many of his key players for that encounter, loan signing Mame Diouf thoroughly impressed with a hat-trick. Indeed, his impressive display led Sam Allardyce to start the striker against Arsenal, alongside hardworking Croatian forward Nikola Kalinic.

Big Sam’s men were on top for many parts of an entertaining first-half. Rovers spurned a few opportunities and always looked threatening from set-pieces. However, it was Arsenal who took the lead, with Dutchman Robin van Persie finding the young, athletic Theo Walcott down the right and the forward drilled a low shot into Paul Robinson’s net. The power and accuracy of his shot resulted in the corner of the net being torn, which had to be fixed prior to the second-half.

With Rovers behind, the Lancashire side came up with some sublime football of their own. Towering centre half Chris Samba managed to release the much maligned El-Hadji Diouf on the left wing. The Senegalese forward went past new Arsenal signing Laurent Koscielny far too easily and set up his namesake Diouf to convert the tap in as Ewood Park erupted. Arsene Wenger has not been shy in the past of accusing his opponents of playing a long-ball game, but Rovers goal was well-worked and a move was almost one Arsenal would have been proud of.

The second-half saw the Gunners take the lead and then see out the game. Although Blackburn were always going to be a threat from set-pieces, they were unfortunate not to get something from the match. Big Sam tried to change things around slightly, with Vince Grella being replaced by the more attack-minded David Dunn. Tiresome forward Kalinic also made way for the quicker, more energetic Martin Olsson as Rovers tried to get back on level terms.

However, the most surprising tactical decision made by Allardyce came with ten minutes to go. The former Bolton boss took off goalscorer Mame Diouf, instead replacing him with young French defensive-midfielder Steven Nzonzi. Nzonzi provided fresh legs and height to the cause, however, it was captain Chris Samba who then shifted to the front-line, whilst Phil Jones pushed back into defence. Although Samba has played striker in the past, some might suggest Rovers would have had more of a chance getting back into the game with Diouf continuing up front.

Fortunately, Allardyce will be able to call on another striker should a similar situation occur in the future. Rovers this week completed the signing of Benjani on a free transfer. The former Manchester City player has been training with Blackburn for a couple of weeks now and will provide some competition in attack. Allardyce was desperately seeking to improve his attacking options and Benjani is a good acquisition for the club, seeing as he has some solid Premier League experience.

On the whole, Rovers perhaps deserved more from this game, just as they deserved more from their previous fixture against Birmingham City. The side now have just three points from a possible nine and with a trip to Eastlands next on the cards, after the international break, things could look bleak for Blackburn. However, based on their performances so far this campaign, Rovers have surely done enough to prove they will comfortably avoid relegation this season. The Lancashire outfit are defensively sound and have added Benjani to their ranks in attack. They do sometimes lack that creative spark when David Dunn is absent, but provided they can keep the local-boy fit for much of the campaign; Rovers should really start picking up points again. A mid-table finish is very much still on the cards, with 35 league games to play.

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