Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Blackburn Rovers

At least this guy no longer manages Blackburn.
Photo is public domain.

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, April 2
12:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 p.m. BST

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Phil Dowd
    • Assistants: Dean Mohareb and Ceri Richards
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 6 - 2 Blackburn Rovers
  • Reverse Fixture: Blackburn Rovers 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 57 Arsenal wins, 29 Blackburn wins, 30 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-W-D-D
  • Blackburn's League Form: L-L-D-L-L-D
Arsenal Squad News

Injured: Denilson (toe), Djourou (shoulder), Szczesny (finger), Fabianski (shoulder), Vermaelen (Achilles)
Doubts: van Persie (knee), Bendtner (ankle), Ramsey (groin)

Awesome news, everyone! Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, and Alex Song are expected to return this week! Also, Abou Diaby.

Ah, but the good news is always mixed with some bad, and this time, it's the international break's fault (like it oh so often is.) I'm going to share with you excerpts of a chat conversation I had during the course of Tuesday afternoon with a friend of mine:

2:33 pm: We should form a prayer circle in the hopes that van Persie and Wilshere don't get hurt in their international matches today.
2:47 pm: van Persie has scored, so that's a sign that he's not broken.
3:45 pm: van Persie was subbed off at halftime. I hope healthily.
3:46 pm: Nope. He's hurt.
3:51 pm: I am stunned at his horrible luck.

Robin van Persie returns from the international break...
Oh, that's not him? THANK GOD! Photo: Westsound Modern.
That pretty much sums it all up with van Persie and the Holland national team, doesn't it? The optimist twist of the situation is that RvP faces a fitness test today and according to Arsene Wenger, has "a good chance" to feature. I'll be holding my breath for that to happen (which could possibly make me pass out, I don't know; it could be a long time and I can only hold my breath for like 45 seconds.)

Nicklas Bendtner also faces a late fitness test with an ankle injury he suffered with Denmark and Aaron Ramsey faces a test over a groin injury. Other than that, Denilson's toe injury is the only new ailment.

If the Dutchman passes fit, then Arsenal will have nine of the starting XI from their last run of great form in late December through January (the two absences being in goal and in Johan Djourou at center half.) Hopefully this means the offense can get back in gear while the defense tries to sort themselves out. Despite his errors, I suspect Manuel Almunia will retain his place between the sticks, unless he makes another truly dire mistake. In the back four, we will have to once again see Laurent Koscielny and Sebastian Squillaci in the middle, with Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy at full back. Alex Song should return to the holding role along with Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas will return to running the offense with Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott on the wings. But who will pass fit up top? van Persie, Bendtner, or will we see Marouane Chamakh?

Since I've started writing for this blog, my predictions have been horribly off, but here goes: Almunia - Sagna - Koscielny - Squillaci - Clichy - Song - Wilshere - Fabregas - Nasri - Walcott - hopefully van Persie.

Blackburn Squad News

Injured: Grella (Achilles), Andrews (groin)
Doubts: Dunn (hip)

You would think a team sitting 13th in the table in early April would be relatively comfortable at this point in the season, right? But this is not a normal season in the Premier League and Blackburn Rovers sit in 13th with 33 points, leaving them just one point ahead of the drop zone. It's amazing how much parity there is in this league this year, that this many teams could be fighting against relegation with just eight weeks to go.

Blackburn will be hoping for a fitness boost with David Dunn, who has missed the last three matches with a hip injury, looking to return for this match tomorrow. They received some bad news recently, as Vince Grella is done for the season, after undergoing major surgery on his Achilles. He joins Kevin Andrews, who has a groin injury, on the injured/out for the season list.

Current Form

Manuel Almunia gets stuck in some sort of giant spider web.
Photo: Daily Mail.
How much do I really need to write about Arsenal's current form? It's not particularly good. Arsenal played five matches in the month of March and won just one of them (and that was the FA Cup replay against Leyton Orient.) The Gunners are winless in four and have won just twice in the eight matches played since the Champions League win over Barcelona. In good news, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 15 matches at the Emirates, a streak which includes 12 wins and three draws.

Blackburn have not won since a 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion on January 23, making them winless in seven competitive fixtures. The winless streak started as the Rovers crashed out of the FA Cup with a 3-1 loss at Aston Villa (incidentally, they crashed out of the Carling Cup by the same scoreline this year, as well.) From there, Blackburn have lost four and drawn two in the league (drawing at home to Newcastle and Blackpool, losing at home to Spurs, and losing on the road to Wigan, Aston Villa, and Fulham.) Blackburn's last road win was also against West Brom, by a 3-1 score on December 28.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture 2-1 at Ewood Park in late August. Andrei Arshavin scored the winner early in the second half after Mame Biram Diouf canceled out Theo Walcott's opener in the first half. Blackburn had won the prior meeting between the two sides 2-1 at Ewood Park themselves, early last May. I think Lukasz Fabianski threw the ball into his own net twice, or something, that day.

The Gunners won this fixture last year, in October, by a 6-2 scoreline. Stephen Nzonzi opened the scoring for the Rovers in four minutes before Thomas Vermaelen equalized, then David Dunn put Blackburn up 2-1. Arsenal stormed back from there, with five unanswered goals from Robin van Persie, Andrei Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, and Nicklas Bendtner. It would be nice to see six different goal scorers for Arsenal again.

Blackburn's last league result and win at Arsenal was on October 22, 2002 at Highbury, by a 2-1 score. Arsenal have won six of the last seven meetings with Blackburn.

The Referee

Remember when this happened? Sadly, so do I.
Photo: Getty Images.
Hey, remember Phil Dowd? Because he's taking charge of this one. The last time we saw Phil Dowd, he was busy aiding Arsenal's utter collapse at Newcastle. I'm not going to talk about that anymore.

Other Phil Dowd matches this year include a 1-1 draw at Sunderland, the 3-2 loss to Spurs, and the 1-1 FA Cup draw with Leeds. So, yeah, not the best of experiences with that man this season, to say the least. For Blackburn, he's taken charge of a 1-0 win over Everton and a 2-1 loss at Liverpool. He has shown nine red cards this year (two to Arsenal players;) only Martin Atkinson and Anthony Taylor have shown more. Incidentally, Atkinson was fourth official the day Dowd sent off Alex Song at Sunderland and Anthony Taylor is the fourth official tomorrow.

Around the League

After losing ground two weeks ago, The Gunners currently find themselves sitting five points back of first place Manchester United, though they still hold a game in hand. This, combined with Arsenal's May 1st head-to-head meeting with United at the Emirates mean that all Arsenal has to do is win against United, win their game in hand, and match United's results the rest of the way to claim the title. No easy task, especially with the way this season has gone, but at least the option remains plausible.

All of that being said, United play first this weekend, as they travel to East London to take on West Ham. The Hammers currently sit precariously just above the relegation zone, even on points with 18th place Wolves, but ahead by just one goal on goal difference. Speaking of Wolves, they play in one of the six normal kick-off time matches this weekend as they travel to Tyneside to play Newcastle. Chelsea, now in third place and four points back of Arsenal with an even number of games played, plays at 10:00 (3:00 in England) as well, as they travel to Stoke. I hate rooting for Stoke. Other Arsenal rivals on the road this Saturday include Spurs who travel to Wigan and Liverpool who visit West Brom. The other 10:00 a.m. matches are Aston Villa at Everton and Bolton at Birmingham. Arsenal v. Blackburn is the late match.

On Sunday, the early match will see Fulham host Blackpool at Craven Cottage, while the late match sees Sunderland visit Eastlands to play Manchester City, who have slipped down to fourth in the table.


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