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Blackburn v Arsenal Preview: ‘In fairness they have done remarkably well’

arsenal v balckburnBy Jonny Payne

Arsenal travel to Blackburn on Monday knowing a point will be enough to secure third spot and their participation in the Champions League for the thirteenth year in a row. The Gunners have put Blackburn to the sword three times over the past eighteen months. Two four-nil score lines, both home and away in the league last season, were followed-up with an emphatic 6-2 thumping at the Emirates in October. The match epitomised Arsenal’s early season form, with six different scorers in a master-class of attacking football led by Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.

But Blackburn have since shown resilience, recently taking points from the top two at Ewood Park. Rovers battled to a 1-1 draw against Chelsea and a 0-0 scoreline against Manchester United, both during the crucial title run-in, to help consolidate their position in the Premier League.

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has noticed the improvement in Sam Allardyce’s side, he said:

“You go to Blackburn and you know they had good games against Chelsea and Manchester United. In fairness they have done remarkably well Blackburn; they are eleventh in the league and they’ve turned things around. They have played good football this season I believe, so it promises to be an interesting game and an exciting one as they have nothing to lose anymore – so it could be a good end of season game.”

If transfer stories in the press last week are to believed, then it could also be a chance for Blackburn duo, defender Phil Jones and defensive midfielder Steven N’Zonzi to impress the Arsenal manager, who is rumoured to be interested in their services.

Going into the game, Arsenal’s injury problems have worsened once more with the news that Denilson will miss the remaining two matches of the season. But Wenger has said meanwhile that Andrey Arshavin, who was expected to be fit for Monday’s encounter “has a chance to figure in the last game, maybe, and an outside chance for Blackburn.”

Thomas Vermaelen, William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas, Manuel Almunia and long-term absentees Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey remain sidelined, giving the likes of Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre and Lukasz Fabianski another chance to impress ahead of the transfer merry-go-round. Swiss defender Johan Djourou, meanwhile, has returned to training following his long-term injury lay-off, but he is not expected to figure at Blackburn.

With little riding on the match, Wenger has refused to use the game to blood some of his younger squad members, stating that he seeks to end the season on a high – starting with a win against Blackburn.

“We want to win and I will play the team, which I believe will be the most balanced to win the game,” said Wenger

“I think to be faithful to what we have done during the season it is important that we finish well. First of all, it is important that we finish in the top three and as close as possible to the top teams.”

Most of Arsenal’s players could be forgiven for thinking ahead to the World Cup which is just 40 days away, but for some, impressive performances against Blackburn and again at home to Fulham next week will be crucial if they are to make the plane to South Africa.

Samir Nasri, who has taken up Fabregas’ mantle since the Spaniard limped off against Barcelona, is on the fringes of the French squad, as is Abou Diaby whose inconsistent form of late would be a worry for France coach, Raymond Domenech.

Wenger has been impressed with Nasri’s performances in the middle, but insists his future lies on the wing.

The Arsenal manager said: “I see Nasri wide because he has the tricks the speed the pace – and don’t forget that Fabregas plays in this role.”

The Frenchman added: “He’s had a good season, Samir Nasri. He’s a hard-worker a good dribbler and a very interesting player because he has a combination of qualities that are quite exceptional. I believe Robert Pires is a good target for him because if he can score the number of goals Pires scored he will be an exceptional player.”

Wenger has suggested that Campbell could also be in line for a World Cup call-up with injury worries over the Three Lions two first-choice centre-backs. Another sure-footed performance such as that against Manchester City could impress Fabio Capello enough – but it is in truth a little far-fetched.

One man who has seemingly already won a spot in the England squad is Theo Walcott. Since returning from injury, the winger took time to settle back into the rigors of Premiership football, but he has shown his quality in the past month, particularly in a second-half cameo against Barcelona at the Emirates. If he runs Blackburn ragged tomorrow, which he easily could, Walcott would surely not face a nervous wait ahead of Capello’s squad announcement in two week’s time.

With another season of ‘what could have been’ almost over, Wenger looked ahead to next season, insisting that his squad has the belief to mount another serious title challenge.

“I believe that the squad is convinced that we have a strong chance for next year because we have room for improvement,” Wenger said.

“If you assess our situation I believe that going forward we have been very efficient and that our goalscoring rate is very good. Where we want to set ourselves a target for next year is that we conceded nearly 40 goals and that’s too many to win the championship, that’s where we want to improve,” said the Frenchman.

Wenger continued: “We had disappointing results at Tottenham and at Wigan that’s where we lost the championship. With five games to go we were in a strong position because if we had won at Tottenham I believe we would be level today, and that of course brings immense regrets.”

Possible line-up:


Sagna        Campbell          Silvestre        Clichy


Nasri                      Diaby

Walcott                                                        Rosicky

Van Persie

Subs: Mannone. Traore, Eboue, Eastmond, Bendtner, Eduardo, Vela

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