It was a 7:30AM start time for me but that doesn’t explain why there were so many empty seats in the Emirates for this one. I’ll let some Brit explain that one. It was a completely different squad than the one that faced Bolton. Amongst the starting lineup changes, Henry returned alongside Aliadiere along with Walcott, Senderos, Fabregas, Flamini and finally after what seems like a millennium, William Gallas. A little surprising to see Arsenal suit-up a near first-team squad with the Champions League returning on Tuesday but I guess that shows the significance of the FA Cup to Wenger. Let’s not mess about, Arsenal’s goal was to win the game and Bolton’s was to earn a replay. As much as I hate and spit on teams that adapt that approach, it is their only chance to advance and I doubt they care if they made the game ugly and boring.
Arsenal had the majority of early possession albeit it was near the middle of the pitch with Fabregas controlling the ball, seemingly with some sort of plan. The only early ball that threatened was a lob pass inside to Henry who needed to volley it home but fired it high. It was a difficult chance but somehow you expect him to do better. Maybe it’s unfair because if any other striker (say Baptista) had just managed to get a foot on it, we’d be praising him for his efforts.
On the other side, Blackburn’s front line positioning was always too geared towards an offside than a scoring chance so any long pass they did muster up led to very marginal threats. The opportunity they did have was safely ruined by David Bentley who chose to fire it from 35 yards rather than pass to any of the two players on either wing who had an advantage over the defense. Nice to see an ex-Arsenal man show his old team how sorry they were going to be for letting him go. The only other “threat” Blackburn posed was when Fabregas lost the ball in midfield with Nonda down the field but the pass for him was way too long, a horrible pass really.
Moment of skill for Thierry Henry. Fabregas sends Aliadiere down the right side but he’d too deep and finds Henry with three defenders surrounding him. Henry shows some great dribbling skills to evade all three and supply a decent cross. The captain making something out of nothing really. Arsenal got a few corners in the half and they used them to no advantage which leads me to propose that Arsenal just play the ball in with a simple pass on corners rather than lunge it into the box. They’re much more effective in build-up plays with width rather than set pieces.
Arsenal were definitely ahead in the game in terms of half-chances and possession but in the end all that doesn’t really matter. I think Blackburn isn’t even trying to score; a replay sounds pretty nice to them. Maybe these guys and first half highlights can explain better. Is it just me or is the Star Sports set ridiculous? I mean get rid of those couches.
First Half Highlights
Kolo Toure had a nice run virtually the length of the pitch before his shot was blocked off. Immediately after, Fabregas had a lot of space in front of the box but he tripped and no foul was called. He should’ve passed it two seconds sooner when he had help to his right in the form of Aliadiere. It’s funny seeing Bolton have the ball with any kind of space around them, they have no idea what to do. It’s like their game plan isn’t even to score so when they actually have the ball with any opportunity to do something, they get confused.
Kolo Toure makes another long run, this time it ends with Henry’s pass for Ljunberg being intercepted by Khizanishvili. A more conventional build-up play for Arsenal, something that’s easy on the eyes and is a scoring chance. Henry and Ljunberg have played together for so long that it’s very hard to discount the chemistry between the two, maybe that should be a factor in Wenger’s team selection. So Theo Walcott gets a chance to score his first Arsenal goal from 8 yards out after a pass from Aliadiere but he drills it in the side-netting. He should’ve done better or at least shot it across the face of the goal rather than try aim for the near corner which was always going to be tough. Maybe that’ll come with experience or maybe it’ll never come.
Gallas gets taken out for Clichy, most likely I’m guessing because it’s been a while since he played and Wenger wants to take it easy with him and plus, we need him in Champions League on Tueday. Arsenal playing extremely wide, almost too wide doesn’t do them much good and Walcott wasn’t having any success against Warnock who was exchanging high-fives with his mates after Walcott stumbled and gave the ball away. Adebayor is brought in for the ineffective Walcott and Rosicky replaces Ljunberg for similar reasons as Gallas and maybe to ignite the midfield to win this one in the last 20 minutes.
Huge scare for Arsenal when Darbyshire desperately looped one in which Almunia had to get the slightest of touches on to bump it out for a corner. And then it’s followed by total bullshit as Aliadiere is clearly brought down in the box by Warnock, a clear penalty by even the commentators account and the referee looks the other way despite having a clear and un-blocked view of the play. Henry had a difficult chance on the ensuing scramble and shot it high and wide. Blackburn catching a huge break on the defensive end after almost scoring on the other.
It’s left to Gael Clichy to be creative and he makes a nice run, looses the ball, gets lucky and gets the ball back, marched into the area only to deliver a very poor pass into the middle. Arsenal were grabbing at anything at this point, even Fabregas attempting a volley which never had a chance. Soon after Fabregas set up Rosicky nicely in front of the net and all he had to do was lift it over the goalie, but alas, much like his missed sitter against CSKA Moscow, he failed to punch it in.
A mad scramble in front created by Adebayor’s run from the left sees Henry get the ball but he tries to place it with finesse to the right and it’s deflected by Friedel only to Justin Hoyte who has a clear goal scoring chance but his shot is blocked. This along with Rosicky’s earlier chance were Arsenal’s best goal scoring opportunities in the game.
Nothing new, a frustrated Arsenal unable to capitalize on opportunities at the Emirates. I didn’t think we’d need a replay to get past Bolton but just like the home game against CSKA Moscow, we missed too many chances. Add another fixture to an already overcrowded schedule.
Star Sports post-match highlights – A bit patchy for a few seconds in the middle.
The replay is on February 28th at Ewood Park.