Arsenal produced a strong display to beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Ewood Park yesterday. It's a result Arsenal can be very proud of given the reputation that Blackburn have cultivated at home under Sam Allardyce. Arsenal were subjected to an examination of all their most notable shortcoming, but stood firm to win the game.
The first half was a study in contrasting styles, Arsenal playing the pass and move game, with Blackburn using their physical and aerial advantage wherever the opportunity presented itself.
Every Blackburn free kick, no matter how far out was turned into a significant set piece as was every throw they earned, and Arsenal were forced to defend well in order to survive a few of their attacks.
Nevertheless, Blackburn came close to taking the lead twice in the early stages. First Ryan Nelsen had a header cleared off the line by Cesc Fabregas, and then Chris Samba ought to have scored when he beat Abou Diaby to a corner launched into the Arsenal area, but the enormous defender put his header narrowly over.
Shortly afterwards it was Arsenal who scored the first goal. Robin Van Persie played Theo Walcott in behind the Blackburn defence, a quick burst of pace from Walcott took him away from his pursuer, and he produced an excellent finish indicative of a man in form to lash the ball into the far corner of the goal with sufficient power to break the net.
The lead was not to last though, and despite Blackburn's aerial onslaught their equaliser arrived through some good stuff played along the floor. Everyone's friend El-Hadj Diouf came into possession on the left hand side of the field. He was faced with a one on one challenge with Laurent Koscielny.
Koscielny should have done much better as Diouf shrugged off his challenge and advanced into the Arsenal penalty area, and picked out Manchester United loanee Mame Diouf in the centre for a simple finish.
The blow was compounded for Arsenal by the loss of Robin Van Persie, who went off injured as a result of a tough (but fair) challenge in the middle of the park. He was replaced by Marouane Chamakh.
At half time both sides had cause to be pleased, Arsenal had stood up well to Blackburns toughness and strength in the air, whilst Blackburn had coped well with Arsenal's attempts to find the space to get in behind them.
The second half though was Arsenal's. Professional, composed, resolute - all words that could be used to describe the Gunners performance in the second 45 minutes.
The regained the lead when Bacary Sagna did well to keep the ball in on the right flank, he quickly got the ball into the penalty area the feet of Cesc Fabregas whose shot was accidentally blocked by Theo Walcott, but the rebound fell to Andrey Arshavin, who despite a quiet game overall made no mistake by firing into the corner of the net.
Despite a couple of efforts from Blackburn to get back on a level footing, they seemed to tire as the second half wore on. Their tactics of pressing hard on Arsenal worked well in this fixture last season but they struggled to keep them on as tight a leash this time around which meant that they had to work a lot harder to try to achieve the same results.
Arsenal began to look quite comfortable in the game, and their lead was not seriously threatened at any point for the remainder of the game. They might have had a third goal late on but substitute Jack Wilshere slipped at a crucial moment to make Robinson's save rather routine.
So, full time then and a hard fought three points for Arsenal. I think there's good reason for Arsenal fans to be very encouraged by this result, not just because of Blackburn's impressive home record but because of how well they dealt with the attempts to bully them, and dominate them in the air.
I thought the defence had an air of confidence that I don't remember seeing at any point last season. Koscielny should have done better for Blackburn's goal but on the whole I thought there was a marked improvement, and I didn't feel like Arsenal could concede at any time, which has been a more or less constant feeling for last year or two.
I know some Arsenal fans consider the following words treason but I thought Almunia had a good game. Part of Blackburn's game plan was clearly to try to unsettle him by any means at their disposal, as evidenced by El-Hadj Diouf trying to intimidate him midway through the first half, but he stuck to his job and did it will, especially in the first half. I'm not saying I wouldn't like to see a better goalkeeper come in, I'm just giving credit where it's due.
For the team, an early victory like this can give them confidence that they can go away from home, play tough teams and get results which is something they're going to have to do regularly to have a chance of wining the title. There are more challenges like this ahead, so for the squad to see that they're capable of winning these games can only be good for them.
Arsene Wenger was understandably pleased with what he saw from his players in the game and rightly pointed out how important winning games like this is when it comes to competing for the title.
He also spoke briefly about the knock that Robin Van Persie picked up, and said it is only likely to keep him out for ten days. Providing that's accurate, the international break should take care of that, and Van Persie should hopefully be back in the squad for the next game at home to Bolton.
So, a good day all in all for Arsenal fans and we head into the international break having made a good start to the season. Just other thing to chew on as we head into the break - the Carling Cup draw was made yesterday and Arsenal will play Spurs away from home in the third round.
Just before I go, I'd just like to offer my condolences to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose attempt to assassinate Joey Barton fell tragically just short yesterday. I'm sure I'm not alone for thanking Wolves for at least trying.
Ok, that's it for today, back tomorrow.