Arsenal 6 Blackburn Rovers 2: Silva puts Arsenal on gold standard
Wenger's rampant raiders exorcise the curse of Emirates with first six-goal show of season
Sunday 24 December 2006
Fears that Sherlock Holmes and his Meerschaum might be needed to address The Strange Case of the Emirates Curse were vigorously exorcised as a late scoring flurry saw Arsenal pluck six goals for the first time this season. Having drawn five of their previous nine Premiership matches at their new home, Arsenal ran riot with three in the last five minutes of an exhilarating game to inflict embarrassment on a Blackburn side which was a touch harsh.
Midway through the second half, when Shabani Nonda's second goal cut Arsenal's lead to one, the home side wobbled. "At 3-2 we were a bit exposed" Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, admitted. "But I knew if we survived four or five minutes we'd come through it".
The emergence, when it arrived, was spectacular, stilling mounting criticism from the crowd. Arsenal's six-goal, five-star show underlined Wenger's pre-match assertion that "the team are really on the way up" and the manager, hailing a "spirited performance" correctly deemed the match "amazing to watch", adding with a smile: "It is never boring here."
Blackburn played their part in the most positive way, risking being torn apart on the counter-attack, which duly came to pass in those pulsating final minutes.
Against an Arsenal defence further re-jigged after an ankle injury kept out Emmanuel Eboué, Blackburn were unable to field their top scorer, Benni McCarthy, because of suspension. However, his stand-in, the Congolese Nonda on loan from Roma, was the architect of the early slap in the face which aroused all the worst fears of those edgy Arsenal fans.
With less than two minutes gone, Nonda's slick pass sent David Bentley clear on goal, only for the ex-Arsenal man to be brought down by Kolo Touré. Arsenal protested, of course, but only half-heartedly, at the prompt award of a penalty by Howard Webb, and Nonda dispatched the kick to Jens Lehmann's right.
Arsenal responded as if summoned by bugle blast, flooding forward with slick passing movements which generally had Cesc Fabregas at their heart, and were level by the 10th minute. Touré's header, from a left-side corner, was deflected on to and over the bar and Robin van Persie's second flag-kick, this time from the right, saw the captain, Gilberto Silva, apply a clean header.
Thus was the stage set out for a thriller. Lehmann needed to be at his impressive sharpest to deny the eager Bentley twice and to gather, at the second attempt, a swerving free-kick delivered by Morten Gamst Pedersen. But it was Arsenal who seized the advantage with two goals in four minutes.
Van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor made the running for Alexander Hleb to cut inside Andy Todd's challenge and beat Brad Friedel from an angle. As Blackburn attempted to come to terms with losing that early lead, they fell further behind, conceding a penalty when the captain, Lucas Neill, brought down Van Persie. It was the sort of foul, committed by a last defender, which has frequently been punished by a red card, so Neill was perhaps fortunate to escape with yellow. There was no escape from the kick, though, stroked home by Adebayor.
Blackburn could have fallen further behind early in the second half. Tomas Rosicky's shot looked a certainty for the net until it was headed up on to the bar and clear by Andre Ooijer.
Encouraged by the escape, Blackburn worried Arsenal for a while with their zeal, which brought a second goal for Nonda with just over 20 minutes left. Brett Emerton surged down the right and his deep cross was met with a diving header by the newly arrived substitute, Matt Derbyshire. Though the effort came back off the bar it fell kindly for Nonda to score with an overhead kick.
Things remained delicately poised, with Lehmann saving brilliantly from Pedersen, until that explosive finish. Van Persie started it with an angled left-foot shot after bamboozling Ooijer, and the genius of Fabregas laid on another for him, described as a collector's goal by Wenger.
As if Blackburn had not been punished enough, in added time a Fabregas shot was pushed out by Friedel straight to Mathieu Flamini - and their misery was complete.
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