Arsenal 3 Blackburn Rovers 0: Van Persie gives fluent reminder of Arsenal's full potential

Jason Burt
Monday 28 November 2005 01:00

Suddenly the Chelsea juggernaut has a Rolls-Royce in the rear view mirror. This victory, a wonderful episode of style and clinical execution, means that Arsène Wenger can flick through his diary and regard the 18 December meeting between his side and the champions, at Highbury, in expectation rather than hope.

The Arsenal manager said as much afterwards. "We are getting slowly back on a consistent run," said Wenger, whose team have now won eight and drawn one of their last nine matches. "We scored three goals at Wigan and three goals against Blackburn. We are back closer to the top."

Their last defeat, to West Bromwich Albion in mid-October, suddenly feels a long time ago and Wenger knows that if the run continues and if Arsenal not only beat Chelsea but also take advantage of their game in hand then the gap at the top is down to five points. That's a lot of 'ifs' - and is still a significant gap - but not so implausible, especially if Arsenal can maintain the kind of irrepressible attacking brio that has seen Thierry Henry score 11 times in his last 11 appearances and Robin van Persie seven in his last seven games.

Their goals against an impressive and positive Blackburn Rovers side, were of the highest quality and showed why, despite whatever supremacy is claimed at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal still provide a far greater "wow" factor.

But with it comes a fragility in defence and the heart of midfield which leaves the lingering impression that against the power and purpose of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele it can be mercilessly exposed, especially with Pascal Cygan alarmingly employed at left-back.

Indeed, against the lesser skills of Robbie Savage and Steven Reid, Arsenal's pairing of Gilberto Silva and Cesc Fabregas struggled. "We had a problem to dictate the pace in the middle of the park," said Wenger. "That was down to the great teamwork of Blackburn." It is clearly an area that needs strengthening and Wenger tried to do so over the summer with the attempt to recruit Julio Baptista and an inquiry about Fulham's Papa Bouba Diop. But Wenger preferred to talk afterwards about the talents of Fabregas who scored his first Premiership goal of the season. Wenger wants another nine.

It was against Blackburn last season that Fabregas, then 17, struck to become the youngest-ever Arsenal goalscorer in League football. He did so again on Saturday, arcing the ball around Brad Friedel after just three minutes. But that effort was supplanted in the memory by Henry's 100th League goal at Highbury, when he ran on to Robert Pires' incisive pass to strike unerringly, and an equally marvellous finish from Van Persie, whom Wenger described as a "cobra".

Minutes after he arrived as a substitute the young Dutchman tricked his way beyond two Blackburn tacklers on the touchline and drove the ball in off the far post from a tight angle. It was an intoxicating strike and although brilliant was also cruel on an attractive Blackburn who, in the relentless Craig Bellamy, had the contest's most impressive performer and who are clearly on an upward curve.

The Welshman struck a post with a header and had a goal-bound shot diverted away, after Jens Lehmann had saved his first effort, while his strike partner, Shefki Kuqi, was denied on the line by Pires. "It's disappointing, the score-line," said the Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes. "I don't think there was three goals difference between us." He was right but the economy of Arsenal's finishing should serve as a warning to the rest of the Premiership, including Chelsea.

Goals: Fabregas (4) 1-0; Henry (45) 2-0; Van Persie (90) 3-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, Cygan; Pires (Flamini, 77), Fabregas, Gilberto, Reyes (Ljungberg, 72); Bergkamp (Van Persie, 82), Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Nelsen, Todd, Gray; Emerton (Thompson, 61), Reid, Savage, Pedersen; Kuqi (Dickov, 79), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Khizanishvili, Mokoena.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Arsenal Fabregas; Blackburn Reid, Neill.

Man of the match: Bellamy.

Attendance: 38,192.

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