Arsenal's defeat at Blackburn Rovers at the end of last season exemplified what made the end of what was, on the whole, an enjoyable, if ultimately unsuccessful, season so disappointing. Arsenal were outfought by a team that wanted the win more than them, and got it as a result.
The lack of passion that day from Arsenal was quite exasperating.
Yes, there was very little to play for but pride, but since when did the pride of Arsenal football club not matter to its players? A lot of players were missing due to injury and that should be taken into consideration, but the players that came in seemed to turn their nose up at the chance to impress and that sort of attitude is inexcusable.
We've already heard from Andrey Arshavin who wants to right the wrongs of that game, and that attitude needs to run through the squad. Several crucial players that didn't play in that game will play today, and that will help. Players like Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song who will simply not allow Arsenal to be bullied off of the pitch.
Although certain figures in the media continue to question Arsenal's ability to handle a physical challenge away from home, I think it's something the team have improved with massively over the last couple of seasons. I don't think kicking Arsenal scares them into not competing as we know they can anymore and Blackburn will need more tricks than that to beat them.
I think today's game is one Arsenal can have a reasonable hope of winning. Blackburn were an effective side at home last season and Arsenal were not alone in being a top side not to get a result there, but they are at the end of the day, a bit rubbish. They can certainly be beaten and it's down to Arsenal to find a way of doing that.
I didn't agree with Arsene Wenger's complaints about Blackburn's style after the fixture last season.
I think Sam Allardyce, much as I hate to say it, was tactically spot on in that match and sometimes I struggle to back Arsene Wenger up when he says teams that are full of big strong players that are mostly good in the air shouldn't play to those strengths. Neither can you blame Blackburn for putting a bullseye on a goalkeeper they know is good for a mistake, I would expect Arsenal to do it if their opponents had such a goalkeeper after all.
Arsenal know what they'll get from a Sam Allardyce side, it's a tactic that's been used against them time and time again, and Arsenal should consistently be finding an answer to it now. The team have the ability and the know how to beat a team like Blackburn away from home, it's just a matter of how successfully that is put into practice. If Arsenal get rattled and allow Blackburn to intimidate them, then they'll be in trouble.
In terms of team news, Laurent Koscielny should return from suspension, and it will be a big test for him.
Arsenal fans have expressed concern all through preseason about how he needs more muscle to stand up to the big lads like Blackburn's, and we've heard him say he's relishing the challenge. I guess we'll find out how much he relishes it today.
As careful as the manager has been with Fabregas and Van Persie so far this season, I'd be surprised not to see both start this lunchtime. Arsenal's biggest strength in this game is their significant technical superiority to Blackburn, and that needs to brought to bear as much and as early as possible.
New signing Sebastien Squillaci is not in contention which is a pity as he seems up for a scrap, which is what Arsenal will get today. It must be a bit annoying for him to join the team only for most of the squad to go off on international duty after the game today. He himself has not been called up for France, so that should at least leave him to find his feet at his new club.
I don't have any prediction for the game, I think it purely depends on how well Arsenal handle the challenge presented to them by Blackburn's tactics. If they can overcome that, then it could be a comfortable win, if not, it could be a difficult early afternoon.
As fans of course, it's impossible to overlook how dislikeable Blackburn Rovers are. In fact if anyone can think of a redeeming feature, I invite you to post a comment for consideration. The fact that they are so easy to hate makes the occasions that we beat them all the more satisfying. Fingers crossed then, for some seriously satisfied Arsenal fans later on.
Enjoy the game.
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