Sunday 25 February 2018

Wenger grateful for a dull day when the scoreline says it all

Arsenal 7 Blackburn 1

Dion Fanning

It was a straightforward day for Arsene Wenger, which is a victory in itself. Arsenal beat Blackburn 7-1, their first league win in 2012. Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick, overtaking Dennis Bergkamp on the all-time Arsenal goalscorers' list and that may not even be the story.

Thierry Henry scored in injury-time on what is expected to be his final appearance at the Emirates and that was not even the story.

The story, as it is increasingly, was the performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

He scored his first two Premier League goals for Arsenal but played with an awareness and control which, mixed with his pace, gave Blackburn endless problems. Steve Kean's side weren't helped by the early sending-off of Gael Givet for a dangerous tackle on Van Persie.

It was a tackle that worried Wenger and which Givet began apologising for almost immediately. He apologised to Wenger and then to his team-mates.

"The referee didn't have a tough decision to make and that made it very difficult for us," Kean said. "He's cut up, he's a very genuine guy, he's really down at the moment. We didn't have enough players in midfield after that to compete and it was a long afternoon."

Arsenal have had plenty of them this season. Wenger has been tested as never before, but in Oxlade-Chamberlain he has a player that allows him to believe in his project.

When Oxlade-Chamberlain was signed in August, the weary among Arsenal's support wondered why Wenger was signing another young forward when they needed an old centre-back.

They were keeping quiet yesterday and some were wondering why Wenger hadn't introduced him earlier in the season. "He is a fighter as well and he is much more mature now," Wenger said. "He was not ready earlier in the season. He has made big steps in the last month."

If Oxlade-Chamberlain devastated Blackburn on the left, he was aided by the now almost routine brilliance of Van Persie, the power and control of Alexander Song in midfield and Theo Walcott's pace. When Walcott went down blind alleys yesterday, Blackburn would offer him a way out of them.

Arsenal lost at Blackburn in December, a defeat which suggested chaos and decline almost as much as the 8-2 loss at Old Trafford.

This season still has the potential to end in disappointment. Nobody will ever achieve success by beating teams as badly set up as Blackburn were yesterday, but at least it brought some joy.

Arsenal took the lead after 79 seconds when Blackburn failed to clear and the impressive Francis Coquelin played Walcott in. His cross was tapped in by Van Persie.

A Morten Gamst Pedersen free-kick briefly suggested that Blackburn could match their achievements at Old Trafford and Anfield, but Arsenal scored twice in three minutes to put an end to those ambitions.

Blackburn's lack of organisation allowed first Song and then Van Persie to pick devastating through balls. Van Persie scored the first after Walcott again crossed while Oxlade-Chamberlain burst on to the second and composed himself before taking the ball around goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

Arsenal kept going in the second half. "We were guided by the way we want to play football and not by any extravagant individualism," Wenger said.

Arteta drilled in the fourth from the edge of the box after Blackburn made a mess of clearing a corner. Oxlade- Chamberlain calmly took his second after a magnificent run from Walcott and Van Persie's third goal was a thing of beauty as he swept in Coquelin's cross.

"Robin is an exceptional football player and they could show his movement in any football school," Wenger purred, who could also take satisfaction that the goals were spread around.

"All season people have asked me 'If he doesn't score, who scores?' and I couldn't deny it. The wingers showed they can score as well and we need more goals from midfield."

The seventh came from an old source: Henry is due to return to New York after the first leg of the Champions League tie against Milan in 10 days, but Wenger revealed there was a chance he could yet extend his stay by a fortnight.

Wenger left talking about consistency and answering questions about Oxlade-Chamberlain's England credentials. Has he heard from Fabio Capello?

"Not yet," he said, paused and smiled. "He has other problems at the moment." This weekend, Wenger is not the one wrestling with dilemmas.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport