Sunday 17 December 2017

Gunners misfire as light fades on league hopes

Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 0

Sachin Nakrani at the Emirates Stadium

Simple maths may say Arsenal remain in the Premier League title race, but destiny is increasingly telling a different story.

Tasked with responding to Manchester United's win over West Ham earlier, Arsene Wenger's men could only draw with Blackburn, their third draw in as many league games, and now find themselves seven points behind United with eight games to play. Time remains for an overhaul, but hope has as good as faded from these parts.

The match started in poignant mood after a pre-match tribute to the former Arsenal midfielder David Rocastle, who died from cancer, aged 33, a decade ago this week. The hosts could not afford to wallow in sentimentality, however, after events at Upton Park and so it would have relieved Wenger that he was able to recall four players from injury for the visit of Steve Kean's side.

Theo Walcott went straight back into the starting line-up, as did Alex Song. However, Cesc Fabregas, on his return from a hamstring strain, was restricted to a place on the bench, alongside Abou Diaby.

The fresh faces had an immediate impact for Arsenal, with Song and Walcott combining for the first effort of the match. The Cameroon midfielder played a one-two with the winger before firing a shot at goal that was skilfully blocked by Phil Jones.

It was imperative the visitors broke up Arsenal's momentum and Rovers were doing so and came close to scoring through Martin Olsson's drive. Arsenal then had chances to score, the most blatant being a 29th-minute shot from Jack Wilshere that went just wide. The home side could have been made to pay for their wastefulness when Olsson's speculative shot was almost spilled into the net by Manuel Almunia.

Fortunately for the Arsenal goalkeeper, the ball drifted just wide of his left-hand post. Just before half-time, Almunia's recklessness allowed Blackburn to almost score again, this time when he missed a cross and Steven Nzonzi headed just wide.

Arsenal were industrious after the break but they simply could not find a way through Blackburn's barrier and it was little surprise that their first meaningful effort of the second half came via a set-piece; Laurent Koscielny's header dropping safely into Paul Robinson's grasp.

With stalemate ensuing, Fabregas was finally brought off the bench on 58 minutes to replace the tiring Andrey Arshavin but Blackburn frustrated them further, with Olsson and Hoilett keeping possession down Blackburn's left wing.

Arsenal's chances of a breakthrough improved when Nzonzi was sent-off on 77 minutes, for a lunge on Koscielny. Chances followed, the best a shot from Marouane Chamakh, who came on as a 72nd minute substitute for Walcott, that was blocked by Olsson, and a header from Nicklas Bendtner, who came on for Nasri, that was blocked on the line by Michel Salgado, but there was to be no winner.


Blackburn defender Martin Olsson caught the eye at the Emirates. The Swede kept possession well when needed, defended resolutely and was a real threat going forward for the visitors.


Arsenal: v Blackpool (a) Apr 10; v Liverpool (h) Apr 17; v Tottenham Hotspur (h) Apr 20

Blackburn: v Birmingham (h) Apr 9; v Everton (a) Apr 16; v Manchester City (h) Apr 25


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