Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn Rovers – Wasteful Gunners held by resolute Rovers

Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Robin van Persie returned straight to the starting line up following injury but could not inspire their side to an important home win against a stubborn Blackburn Rovers. Steve Kean was also boosted by the return of 19-year-old Phil Jones following knee surgery, playing the anchor role in a compact trio of defensively minded midfield players, alongside Jermaine Jones and Steven N’Zonzi.

It was a game with plenty at stake, especially for Arsenal following Manchester United’s emphatic comeback against West Ham earlier in the day and Blackburn’s current relegation form of a seven game winless streak.

Blackburn dropped extremely deep early on, with even the lone striker Roque Santa Cruz dropping into his own half. The emphasis looked to be in threatening from set pieces as they lacked pace going forward, working mostly on the break and looking to pump crosses into the isolated Santa Cruz. The early signs looked ominous, as Steve Kean’s negative tactics allowed Arsenal to play their natural game and carve out chances at will.

However, Kean’s side soon woke up, looking for the overlap with Martin Olsson bursting forward from left back and the lively David Hoilett looking like Rovers’ best outlets. Chris Samba, Ryan Nelsen and Paul Robinson also formed a solid defensive base, blocking everything Arsenal threw at them.

Jack Wilshere often found enough space to set the tempo from a deep lying playmaker role, seeing plenty of the ball and spraying it around both long and short, a la Xabi Alonso, but could not find the killer pass and often looked reluctant to shoot once the ball had developed into good positions, a common problem for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger looked to inject some urgency, creativity and belief into his side’s title pursuit by bringing on his skipper Cesc Fabregas just short of the hour mark, taking off the wasteful Andrei Arshavin. Fabregas and van Persie soon linked up well, playing some intricate passes but the Dutchman still could not unlock a stubborn Rovers defence whom he has managed to score against 10 times in 10 games throughout his career.

Following Steven N’Zonzi’s sending off Arsenal looked to set up camp in the final third and set the platform for a frenetic final 15 minutes. However, Martin Olsson typified his side’s heroic defensive efforts in this final period by throwing himself in front of a goal bound Marouane Chamakh shot.

Blackburn tried to hold the ball in the final stages but a long shift looked to be taking its effect, especially on the hugely energetic Jermaine Jones in the centre of midfield. A set of late corners led to Michel Salgado clearing off the line to seal his side a well earned point and deny Arsenal the sort of late goal which separates champions from pretenders.

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