Kean takes full advantage of weaknesses to outwit Wenger

Blackburn 4 Arsenal 3
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The Independent Online

In November 1962 Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal played out a 5-5 draw, and Saturday's game at the same venue could easily have finished with the same scoreline.

The defences were that bad, but the attackers in the end were not that good. Especially in the end, and at the Darwen End, playing towards the stand where their bewildered followers were situated, Arsenal missed four chances in the last few minutes alone to have taken greater advantage of their 24 attempts on goal, as well as having muted appeals for a penalty turned down.

Groping for positives from the afternoon, their manager, Arsène Wenger, suggested: "We created a lot of chances. That's not easy away from home." He felt obliged to add without any prompting: "In our weak moments we were not strong enough to resist. We didn't have many weak moments in this game but every time we had one, we paid for it."

What will worry supporters is that the weakest moments were such uncomfortably familiar ones. Two of Blackburn's goals came from set pieces, maintaining Arsenal's miserable record of conceding 50 per cent of their goals over the past two seasons that way. That two of the four were also knocked into their own net by men in red shirts only added an element of farce to the rain-soaked proceedings.

Per Mertesacker, the lanky new German centre-half, has not as yet introduced any famed Teutonic organisation into the defence and Thomas Vermaelen, his most likely long-term partner, is not due back from injury until after the next international break.

Although it did not help that Bacary Sagna had to be replaced at right-back by Johan Djourou, another centre-half, who was badly exposed, Arsenal had by then twice had a lead nullified after well-taken goals by Gervinho and Mikel Arteta.

There were even suggestions that Wojciech Szczesny, who briefly appeared to have solved the club's goalkeeping problem, may be suffering again in conceding 12 goals in two away games. Blameless for almost all of them, and bringing off one fine save from Mauro Formica, he lost his head more than once in rushing out for balls he could not reach, betraying a lack of confidence in the defenders.

Credit should, however, be given to the much ridiculed Blackburn manager, Steve Kean, who is a shrewder and harder-working cookie than many give him credit for. Having travelled to the Emirates and then Dortmund to watch Arsenal in the previous week, he noted the fragility of their zonal marking and as soon as Djourou was brought on he introduced the speedy Martin Olsson, normally a left-back, to terrorise him down the flanks. That led to two fine runs and further goals. Ayegbeni Yakubu, scorer of a beautifully taken equaliser in the first half, popped up again to put his side in front, suggesting he can add something to a callow side if younger legs like those of the willing Junior Hoilett do his running for him.

"I have nothing to prove to anyone," the experienced Nigerian insisted later. "I know I can score goals. It is just unfortunate that I did not get the chance to do that at Everton, where I did not play for almost a year because of a serious injury. Thankfully, Steve Kean has given me the chance to play week in and week out back in the Premier League and that is really, really great for me."

Kean himself was able to claim that only "1 per cent" of the 20,000 Blackburn supporters had turned out in the heavy rain before the game to protest at his remaining as manager, although his assertion that it meant "the other 99 per cent were happy" may have been wide of the mark.

Nevertheless, he does appear to retain the support of the club's owners, who were celebrating as wildly as anyone at full-time. "I've got a good relationship with them," Kean said. "I did an interview with the organisers [of the demonstration] at the training ground and I think that helped a lot to keep the numbers down. I wouldn't imagine there's a ground in the country that's not got 1 per cent unhappy, even when they're winning."

At Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, the numbers are rising all the time.

Scorers: Blackburn Yakubu 25, 59, Song (og) 50, Koscielny (og) 68. Arsenal Gervinho 10, Arteta 34, Chamakh 85. Subs: B'burn Petrovic 6 (Salgado, 18), Olsson 8 (Rochina, 56), Vukcevic 5 (Formica, 65). Arsenal Djourou 4 (Sagna, 53), Walcott 6 (Arshavin, 64), Chamakh 7 (Song, 76). Booked: Arsenal Djourou. B'burn Dann, Olsson. Man of the match Nzonzi. Match rating 6/10. Possession: B'burn 44% Arsenal 56%. Attempts on target: B'burn 5 Arsenal 16. Ref A Marriner (West Midlands). Att 22,637.

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