Arsenal 7-1 Blackburn Rovers: Evisceration

We have seen all too often in the recent past the games where the Arsenal method of attack just doesn't come off. The defense-splitting passes get intercepted, the movement off the ball tracked by shadowing defenders. In the wake of that, we sometimes can forget what can happen when it does come off. Today, a horrid Blackburn Rovers side was simply standing on the tracks when the train came through.

There was some rotation in the side as the Boss had promised, Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin coming in for the exhausted Aaron Ramsey and the still-recovering Bacary Sagna. I don't want to bag on Ramsey too much as he's worked hard and been asked to play far too many games - but I think a big reason why we were so effective today is because we didn't have tired legs in the center of midfield breaking up plays.

While I said above that the visitors were shocking today (and man alive, they were abysmal), I also don't want to give the impression that it was the only reason for the scoreline. Whatever got into the Arsenal side today, they descended on the hapless yellow-clad Rovers in ferocious, bloodthirsty packs right from the opening whistle. Frankly, I didn't know that some of this lot had it in them, but on the day they were merciless to the point of being feral.

The Gunners dominated possession immediately, and had the lead inside of two minutes. Alex Song played the ball out wide to Theo Walcott, who in turn laid it off for the overlapping Francis Coquelin. His initial cross was poor, but the clearance from the Rovers defense was ridiculously casual. It came back out to Coquelin, who first-timed a fabulous chipped pass onto the onrushing Walcott. He sprinted to the goal line, and shredded the Blackburn defense with a simple dragback. Robin van Persie was in acres of space with Gael Givet nowhere near him, and he could not miss from 3 yards out. It was a goal that was beautiful in its simplicity, and it was exactly the start this Arsenal squad needed.

The visitors could barely get a touch on the ball as the minutes went by. The men in red continued to probe around the Blackburn area but were unable to break down a defense that had largely gotten itself back together after the opening goal. Rovers played a 4-5-1 with Anthony Modeste looking a forlorn figure up top. In fact, the on-loan striker's main contribution was nearly getting booked for a foul on Mikael Arteta, and then harshly getting his yellow card for a collision with Wojceich Szczesny. Speaking of which, it was worrying at the time as our keeper was down for a while, but he was able to play the rest of the game. That said, one wonders if his injured knee didn't contribute to two critical moments later on.

As the half wore on, Arsenal had some half-chances but couldn't covert. A Per Mertesacker header from a corner kick flashed over the bar, and RVP tried his now-signature chip across the face of goal, which didn't miss by much. The domination was great, but a second goal would have calmed nerves in all of Goonervana.

Naturally, Blackburn scored on their first shot of the game.

The men in yellow were in unfamiliar territory (that being beyond the halfway line), when Modeste was fouled by Laurent Koscielny. Up stepped Morten Gamst Pedersen to take the free kick, and he casually curled it up into the top right-hand corner of Szczesny's net. The young Pole did get a hand to it, and I do wonder if perhaps his knee problem kept him from getting there sooner. Still, it was a quality set piece from the Rovers man and either way, they were level.

I don't believe I was the only Gooner to think "here we go again" at this point.

Calamity struck for Rovers right after though, as an innocuous tackle from Rosicky resulted in their right back Jason Lowe having to come off injured. Bradley Orr, who they poached from QPR's dustbin, came on in his place. That said, the next chance fell to Blackburn. A long free kick from Paul Robinson was sent into the Arsenal area, and Szczesny flapped badly at it and missed. Again, was it the knee slowing him down? Luckily for us, it not only came off of Steven N'Zonzi's head and went wide, but Sian Massey had correctly flagged for offside anyway.

That was Blackburn's chance. A few minutes later, the ball was in their net once again and Arsenal had the lead they'd never relinquish (...and the winner for Understatement of 2012 goes to...The Modern Gooner!).

This one was literally box-to-box, starting with a backpass to Szczesny. Mertesacker and Arteta also touched it before coming to Coquelin out on the right. Song and Rosicky got involved, as did Vermaelen. It came back to Song in the center, and his brilliant diagonal ball left everyone in a yellow shirt for dead. Walcott ran onto the end of it, and from there it was a carbon copy of the opening goal. Again, RVP was left with a ludicrously-easy tap-in to wrest control of the match back from Blackburn once and for all. I don't know how the defenders left him that open, and I don't know why Paul Robinson didn't try and cut out the pass to Walcott. No complaints here, though!

Random thought: People rightly point to Argentina's goal against Serbia/Montenegro in the 2006 World Cup as being one of the great team goals ever, but wasn't this one nearly as good? We'll see if anyone talks about it in the coming days.

Given the shitshow that the reverse fixture against this lot was, I still was not breathing easily. Thankfully, the rampant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put paid to any lingering doubts with his first league goal for the club. This time, the opening came from a tackle that briefly took Rosicky down injured. The ball bobbled out to Walcott, whose pass was poor and behind RVP. The Dutch wizard corralled it in though, spun around, and released Oxlade-Chamberlain with a devastating pass inside the defenders. The young lad's first touch betrayed him a bit, but he hit the afterburners and sped away from his markers. Robinson lumbered out but was never going to get there, and he just made it easier for the Ox to round him and tap into the empty net. You could tell what the goal meant to this kid, and hopefully this is just the first of a great many.

Rovers were reeling now - if this were in UFC the referee would have stopped the fight at this juncture. You get the feeling that they were clinging on until halftime, but the worst was yet to come for them. Givet had already been partially culpable on both of RVP's goals, and in the 43rd minute his day was complete when he was sent off by Andre Marriner for a two-footed lunge on van Persie. Thankfully our captain was OK, and it meant that a Blackburn defense already in disarray was plunged into outright chaos.

They did make it to halftime with no further goals conceded, after a reshuffle that saw David Dunn come off for young center back Grant Hanley (in fairness, he was probably Blackburn's best player in the second half...whatever you think of why Christopher Samba was not in the squad for them today, you also have to wonder why this kid didn't play from the start). Before that though, Vermaelen was unlucky to hit the post when a corner kick came out to him on the left.

The first few minutes of the second half were a bit more even, but it was a false dawn for Rovers. The warning signs came when Hanley damn near put the ball into his own net in the 50th minute, and it didn't take long from there for Arsenal to begin the rout in earnest. Off of the resulting corner kick, the delivery was cleared out by N'Zonzi, but it came back centrally to Arteta off of a deflection from Koscielny. The Spaniard had scored in the reverse fixture from range, and had a go here as well. Orr tried to deflect it out, but could only guide it into the bottom corner. It was going in anyway, so Arteta will rightly claim it.

Blackburn were all over the shop now, any remnants of fight well and truly beaten out of them. RVP skied one over the bar right off the restart, and a few minutes later it was 5-1. Song won the ball in the middle of the park and laid it off to Rosicky, who hit a gorgeous long pass to Walcott who was bombing down the wing. Walcott drove into the area with purpose and cut inside, drawing the entirety of the Rovers defense to him. That left Oxlade-Chamberlain open on the left side of the area, and his low drive to the near post left Robinson rooted to the spot (though he may have been unsighted as the shot came through the legs of Gamst Pedersen).

Arsenal were running riot now, and they remorselessly laid siege to the Blackburn area. Given that our guys have sometimes been guilty of easing off in games too soon, it was nice to see them really stick the knife into someone. The next chance was again down to the Ox, whose mazy run down the left wing left three markers trailing in his wake. His back-post cross was perfectly weighted, but Arteta could only volley over. Still, the men in red attacked in waves, and right around the hour mark they extended the lead yet again.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was in the thick of it again, playing a one-two with Rosicky that left him with the ball in a central location. His cross to Coquelin on the right was spot-on, and the ersatz right-back charged beyond Junior Hoilett and played it to a shockingly-open RVP. The Dutchman was on a hat trick, and was duly obliged as his imperious flicked shot flashed past Robinson at about Mach 7 and into the top corner. Fuck me, what a goal that was. Hanley had played well for the most part, but why on earth he was standing so far off the captain, I have no earthly.

There was still half an hour to go, and I thought that double digits might not be out of the question. Understandably though, the team eased off a bit and the rest of the match was played at a testimonial pace. Changes were made in the 68th minute, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny coming off for Thierry Henry and Bacary Sagna.

Now, I totally get Henry coming on, but honestly I would have infinitely have preferred RVP coming off instead. It's 6-1, he has his hat trick, why risk injury by keeping him in? Besides, he's played a lot of football lately - wasn't this the best possible time to give him some rest? I know it seems churlish to complain after a huge win, but this could come back to bite us.

Anyway, the rest of the team were quite obviously trying to get Henry involved. Sadly, the Blackburn defense knew this and were marking him tightly. The sentimentality perhaps cost us a few goals as others were in better positions at times, and it looked for all the world like it would finish 6-1.

We got our fairy tale moment right as injury time was expiring, though. A casual backpass from Scott Dann (remember when everyone wanted us to sign him?) caused Hanley all kinds of bother. RVP nicked it off of him and played it to Henry. It was a 2-on-3 and honestly the defense should have dealt with it. Instead, they did another give-and-go, the initial pass to RVP drawing Hanley and Martin Olsson. The return came back to Henry, 1-v-1 with Dann. Henry's effort was a bit on the soft side, but it deflected off of Dann and past the wrong-footed Robinson. There was perhaps a bit of luck to it, but who cares? Henry had his first league goal for the club in over five years, and I can think of no better cap to an already hugely satisfying day than that.

Make no mistake though, there's a lot of hard work ahead for this team. Fourth place is still quite a distance away, and we'll need consistency and more of this fight and ruthlessness shown today. In the meantime though, I think every Gooner can enjoy a day in which seven goals were scored and plenty of good attacking movement was on display. Now it's up to this team to stop the Jekyll-and-Hyde act and put together four or five wins on the trot.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 8 (Sagna N/A), Mertesacker 7, Coquelin 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 9 (Henry 7), Song 8 (Benayoun N/A), Rosicky 8, Arteta 8, Walcott 9, van Persie 9

Man of the Match: No shortage of people to choose from here, eh? Alex Song showed a tremendous range of passing, Laurent Koscielny was everywhere, Theo Walcott was always a danger down the right and Robin van Persie had a hat trick. Still, I have to give the nod to young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored his first two league goals for the club and gave us all a glimpse of what could be a brilliant future.