Blackburn Rovers 4-3 Arsenal: Suicidal Defending Costs Us Again

In retrospect, it is possible that we as the Arsenal supporter collective overestimated the extent to which our defensive problems were fixed in the wake of the battling performance at the Westfalenstadion in mid-week. Further, we may also have overestimated the extent to which the club itself had recovered from the Curse of the League Cup. At this stage, I don't know if I am now overestimating the true levels of crisis we now find ourselves in.

It doesn't feel like it, though.

It's several days on, so you all know the details. Still, I'll recap it to refresh the memory. I missed the first 10 minutes, but I understand that Blackburn immediately took the initiative and looked dangerous in the opening exchanges. Arsenal then came back into the game, and had taken the lead just as Sean was getting me my first Magners.

The move started when Alex Song played a gorgeous through-ball past the Blackburn defense and onto the run of Gervinho. The Ivorian hit it across the face of goal, and it also took a little nick off of Christopher Samba's leg. I don't think Paul Robinson had much of a chance on it anyway - it was perfectly into the far corner - but the Rovers keeper didn't even dive. What a finish, and obviously the goal lifted Gooner spirits even further.

Blackburn could easily have folded given their current dire straits and the multitude of knives out towards their embattled manager Steve Kean. Instead, they redoubled their efforts and fought their way back into the game (I wonder what that's like?). The home side signaled their intent 10 minutes later when the completely unmarked Samba headed an effort wide of the post when scoring would have been easier. Up the other end, Robinson made the first of several strong saves when he pushed away an effort from Andrei Arshavin, then later denied Gervinho a second.

Three minutes later, Blackburn were level. The excellent Junior Hoilett played in Aiyegbeni Yakubu. He very easily could have been offside, but new man Andre Santos was several yards behind the rest of the defensive line. Schoolboy stuff really, but Yakubu still had it all to do. Wojceich Szczesny charged off his line, probably expecting the big man to lumber slowly into the box and lose possession. Instead, Yakubu brilliantly toe-poked an early shot into the far corner, leaving the keeper with no chance.

Arsenal would re-take the lead, but a more significant event occurred right before that. Scott Dann - once an Arsenal target if the Fleet Street rags were to be believed - scythed down Bacary Sagna with a vicious tackle. Honestly, I have no idea how he wasn't booked for it. Sagna was eventually replaced early in the second half, which had quite the effect on the final outcome.

Before that though, he started the move that made it 2-1. His pass found Aaron Ramsey, who cut it back for Mikel Arteta on the edge of the area. The Spaniard opened his account for the club by absolutely thundering an unstoppable shot just underneath the crossbar. As well as the Blackburn keeper played on the day, he wouldn't have stopped that with a stepladder and two days' notice.

Then, from the "what could have been" file, Dann continued to plague us by making an absolutely brilliant sliding block in his own penalty area to deny Gervinho a second. Fair play to him, he had a storming game.

So, the halftime whistle then, and we were fairly satisfied with the result so far. The goal was kind of a stupid one to concede, but the midfield was looking fantastic and like more goals were coming.

Then, this happened.

Inside of five minutes after the interval, Blackburn were on level terms once again in hideously predictable fashion. Once again, Arsenal's baffling inability to deal with basic set pieces led to a completely preventable goal. A free kick from a short distance outside the penalty area was sent in by Mauro Formica, and everybody kind of stood around and watched it. It hit off of the leg of Song, and of course went right into the corner of the net.

Really, it'd be kind of funny if it weren't happening to us. What wasn't funny was Sagna limping off, to be replaced by Johan Djourou. Yes, you read that right...Djourou, who can't even play his own position these days, was coming in to play right back. I don't know about anyone else, but I saw foreboding clouds on the horizon when that particular personnel change was made.

Sadly, I was right. Within four minutes, Djourou was booked for cynically pulling down the latest Blackburn player to torch him extra-crispy. Within seven minutes, Blackburn had a lead they wouldn't relinquish. A corner kick was hit to the far post - Steven N'Zonzi hit it back across the face of goal, and the completely unmarked Yakubu was there to tap in his second of the afternoon. Many Gooners are saying that the Blackburn man was fractionally offside, but I personally thought he was level with the last defender. Further, the defending was atrocious and we deserved to concede anyway.

One would think that suddenly being down to the dead-last side would spark some kind of reaction, but other than one half-chance from a Robin van Persie header, there wasn't much doing on that front. Of course, things got even worse in the 69th minute when yet another comedy own-goal essentially killed off the game. The whole thing could have been prevented if Martin Olsson's run down the sideline was stopped. Instead, it was that man Djourou who comically missed his tackle like it was some kind of Three Stooges skit, and the Swede was off to the races. Seriously, if Djourou were a dog we'd be readying the shotgun behind the barn after this performance. Anyway, Olsson sent it across the face of goal, Szczesny flapped at it and missed (a rare mistake from our young custodian), and I think that surprised Laurent Koscielny. The ball hit off his leg and went into the net. Fuck me running.

At this stage, Arsenal decided that playing football might be somewhat of a notion. OH, WHAT A CAPITAL IDEA.

From this point on, Arsenal swarmed the Blackburn net with fury and a renewed sense of purpose. Yet again, I find myself wondering why it takes a two-goal deficit in the 80th minute to get to this point...why can't they play like this at least most of the time?

Marouane Chamakh again came on as a late-minute sub, coming on for Song. With that, we went to a 4-4-2, and blow me over with a feather, we were far more dangerous. Sure enough, with five minutes to go, the Moroccan slammed an unstoppable header into the net off of a cross from van Persie. At 4-3, with five minutes left, it was within the realm of possibility to get a point. Poor Kean must have been bricking it over on the Blackburn sideline, at least a little bit.

Unfortunately, Robinson made some solid stops in injury time, and Per Mertesacker whipped a header over the crossbar. In the dying stages of the match (beyond the 4 minutes indicated on the board), Theo Walcott (on as a sub around the 65th or so) was in the penalty area, but had pushed the ball wide. Personally, I thought he was on the verge of losing it, or at the very least there was no immediate scoring threat. Robinson came in late and clipped him, which you can absolutely file under "Seen it Given". However, I thought it wasn't a penalty, and Andre Marriner opted not to give it.

Either way, we were at the point where we were hoping for a referee to bail us out in a game against the 20th-place side. Oh, and remember what happened the LAST time an Arsenal player took a penalty? Anyway, Blackburn cleared the ball out, and the final whistle went. I think it would trivialize real life to say that it felt like someone had died at the Blind Pig, but it definitely felt like someone had lost their job. I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Now, we sit in 17th place with four measly points (3 less than QPR, 1 less than Norwich and Swansea) and a -8 goal differential, the worst in the division. We go from a ferociously battling performance away to the German champions, to meekly surrendering two leads against one of the worst teams in our domestic league. It's ugly reading, but that's where we are. If I had to guess, I'd say that once again, we turned up to a winnable game assuming the three points were already in the bank.

This team is bereft of leadership. We do not have a strong captain, and at this stage, we do not have a strong manager.

Sure, there is every chance that some of what ails us is the new players needing to bed in somewhat. I don't dispute that. But even when they do, will it change the same old problems that have ruined our seasons for the last 5-6 years? Will it make us be able to defend basic set pieces? Will it make us be able to kill off games like this early on, when we have a multitude of chances to do so? Will it prevent us from playing guys like Djourou when they are in abominable form?

I don't buy it.

As proud as I was against Dortmund, I reserve the right to be equally as disgusted with Blackburn. It's been discussed to death, but ever since the League Cup Final from last season, we're in relegation form. Now, we're perilously close to the relegation places. Five games played, SEVENTEENTH place. Turn that over in your mind a bit. This is uncharted territory for us, and while I don't think relegation is a possibility yet, can't you see us finishing, say, 12th or 13th now?

I hope I'm wrong...but I increasingly doubt it. Things change in football - imagine what you could tell a Liverpool supporter circa 1984, a Spuds supporter circa the late 1960s, etc. Maybe our time is just up. If it is, I am at least comforted by the thought that the same faces will still be at the Pig no matter where we finish.

Arsenal 'til I die, bitches.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Santos 5, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 5, Sagna 7 (Djourou 3), Arshavin 6 (Walcott 6), Arteta 7, Song 6 (Chamakh 7), Ramsey 6, Gervinho 7 (MOTM), van Persie 6