Superb Walcott cures Arsenal's travel sickness

Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 2: Winger's dynamic display keeps Rovers in check as Gunners win away for first time since March
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The Independent Online

Like the weather, this was a game of contrasts; bright sunshine alternating with driving rain as Arsenal caressed the ball around before Blackburn Rovers whacked it or whipped it into their penalty area. It all added up to good entertainment and a result that reflected the London side's superior quality.

Visitors have to sweat for their points at Ewood these days, however, and Arsène Wenger was as pleased with his side's application as their class. They had not won on the road since March, a run that included a 2-1 defeat here that left Wenger victorious in only eight of his 21 meetings with Allardyce at Blackburn and Bolton. Not that his team were alone in suffering at Ewood Park last season, where Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham were the only away winners.

Strength of home form propelled Rovers into the top half of the table for the fourth time in five seasons last term, an impressive record given their resources as a small-town club whose benefactor Jack Walker is no longer with us. Yesterday they completed the signing of another vigorous striker in Benjani Mwaruwari, who had been out of contract at Manchester City.

Theo Walcott, the only English-qualified player of interest to Fabio Capello made the coach's trip worthwhile with another excellent display, opening the scoring with his fourth goal in two games before one of Blackburn's two Dioufs – Mame Biram – who had also scored a hat-trick in his previous game, equalised within seven minutes. The winning goal was a classic Arsenal break, ending with a smart finish by Andrey Arshavin.

Their squad is strong enough these days to leave out Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, both of whom had been outstanding against Blackpool last weekend but had to be content with late appearances as substitutes as Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie returned.

"In the first half we were a bit nervous but in the second we were calmer and controlled the game better," Wenger said. "We have bad memories here and I said before the game that if you have ambition in this League then you want to win at Blackburn."

There were some uncomfortable moments in defence where Laurent Koscielny was sometimes found wanting – above all for Blackburn's goal – and he will now come under pressure from another new signing, Sébastien Squillaci. As usual Arsenal were more convincing when in possession and it was a sweet passing move which brought them the lead. It flowed from Arshavin through Van Persie to Walcott for another fine finish from an identical position on the right of the penalty area to his hat-trick against Blackpool.

Seven minutes later the big centre-half Chris Samba led a break out of defence and sent El-Hadji Diouf down the left, outpacing Koscielny with embarrassing ease before setting up his namesake for a tap-in. There had been close calls at both ends before the goals. Early on, a shot by Abou Diaby hit the legs of first Vince Grella and then the goalkeeper Paul Robinson. At the other end, Fabregas had to clear off the line when Ryan Nelsen's head met a corner

Arsenal had to replace the hobbling Van Persie with Marouane Chamakh, who had a hand in the second goal minutes after half-time. He sent Bacary Sagna down the right for a cross from which Fabregas's shot was blocked, the ball running kindly for Arshavin who swept it past Robinson.

Walcott continued to be lively even after Capello had left for his second match of the day. He had the confidence to hit a couple of fierce shots, the second of which just cleared the crossbar, and was surprised to find himself given offside before beating Robinson again.

Rovers changed tack and tactics by sending on David Dunn and Martin Olsson. For the last 10 minutes Samba's huge frame was sent forward into attack but Dunn's shot was saved and Michel Salgado's was wild. At the last knockings they crowded Manuel Almunia at corners just as Wenger feared, but the goalkeeper was able to scrape the ball away and on the break Wilshere should have scored as Walcott set him up, but Robinson was able to save.

"It was a very good performance, but no points again," said Allardyce, grateful to have won the opening game with Everton before losing at Birmingham City. "You switch off for a split second and Arsenal are very good at punishing you." It is a knack that Walcott, in particular, is developing.

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