Arsenal enter the history books in irresistible style
Arsenal 3 Blackburn Rovers 0
Thursday 26 August 2004
The record established by Nottingham Forest in Old Labour's long distant winter of discontent, was inevitably and stylishly eclipsed last night by another set of reds. Arsenal were delayed but not denied at Highbury by a Blackburn Rovers side whose endeavour ultimately proved no match for the champions' irresistible attacking brio.
Early in the second period Theirry Henry's third goal of the season broke Rovers' resistance. Cesc Fabregas soon added a second to extend Arsenal's record unbeaten run to 43 league matches and, equally significantly, secure their return to the Premiership summit. A third goal, by Jose Antonio Reyes, was just icing but its selfless provision by Henry typified the platform on which this team's artistry is based.
Twenty-six years ago Forest's unbeaten run foundered on a Liverpool midfield built around the grit of Graeme Souness. Last night the former Scottish international was confined to a touchline he prowled constantly but for 50 minutes those same qualities were evident in his Rovers' team.
From the indomitable Craig Short, through the persevering Dominic Matteo to the waspish Paul Dickov Rovers provided stern resistance. Many teams, said ex-Arsenal player Ray Parlour before his new Middlesbrough team lost here at the weekend, are beaten in the Highbury tunnel. Rovers, though, have a good record against Arsenal and they travelled without fear.
They did, admittedly, take a while to settle. Arsenal began where they left off against Boro slipping through the banks of blue and white shirts with polished ease. Thrice in the first five minutes Henry tested Brad Friedel, twice from open play and in between from a free-kick conceded by Short's mis-timed lunge on Gilberto Silva.
That was one of a series of fouls committed by Rovers in the opening exchanges but, gradually, they began to gain a measure of possession and take the game to Arsenal. Jens Lehmann, badly at fault on Sunday, achieved a measure of redemption with a sharp save from Short's 19th minute volley following a Brett Emerton cross. He then denied Dickov after the former Arsenal striker had wriggled though.
An indignant Arsenal responded with a sweeping move featuring Henry and Jermaine Pennant - who was making his first start since scoring a hat-trick against Southampton in May 2003 - but it ended with Fabregas shooting wide. The young Spaniard was on target soon after but his shot struck Robert Pires and flew over.
Arsenal began the second period as they had the first, but with better luck. After Pennant had forced another save from Friedel, Fabregas found Dennis Bergkamp in space on the right - none of the three left-backs in the Rovers team having picked him up. Bergkamp whipped a superb cross between the Rovers' central defence and goalkeeper, and Henry stabbed in at the far post.
Eight minutes later the record was secure. The clinching goal came, untypically, from a corner. Curled in by Henry it was met at the far post by Gilberto Silva, the ball going in off Fabregas. Arsenal were now rampant. With 11 minutes remaining Henry sprinted past Nils-Eric Johansson and, though Friedel saved his shot, Henry calmly recovered the ball, dummied Johansson, then squared for Reyes to tap in. It was Arsenal's 12th league goal of the season, in only their third game.
All this and Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell are yet to kick a ball this season.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Cygan, Cole; Pennant (Ljungberg, 76), Gilberto Silva, Fabregas (Flamini, 85), Pires; Bergkamp (Reyes, 76), Henry. Substitutes not used: Hoyte, Almunia (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Short, Johansson, Gray; Emerton, Tugay (De Pedro, 76), Matteo, Gresko; Dickov, Stead (Yorke, 62). Substitutes not used: Amoruso, Flitcroft, Enckelman (gk).
Referee: N Barry (North Lincs).
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