Wenger happy with European warm-up as Rovers go soft
Blackburn Rovers 0 Arsenal 4
Published 15/09/2008 | 09:49
Arsène Wenger spoke of "an accomplished performance" but it was difficult to know quite what to make of a facile Arsenal win at a ground where the home side's traditionally robust approach would once have discomforted them more than a little.
At the start of eight days in which they also travel to Kiev and Bolton, it was an unexpectedly comfortable warm-up.
Blackburn's defending, their strength under Mark Hughes, seems suddenly to be their weakness. Their emphasis is now squarely on attack, which – some might say with half a smile – probably makes Hughes's successor, Paul Ince, just the man for the Newcastle job with which he is persistently linked.
Yet in this company it is a flawed philosophy. "Thankfully, we haven't got to play Arsenal every week," Ince said afterwards, as if to console himself. The four goals conceded at West Ham two weeks ago seemed to have slipped his mind.
Last season, after an X-certificate 1-1 draw in which the Blackburn captain Ryan Nelsen was sent off, Wenger accused Blackburn of having "a desire of violence". No evidence this time of any such dark thoughts but the softer approach is clearly not to everyone's liking, not least Nelsen himself.
"The guys want to play good football and that is a good attitude," Nelsen said. "But we have been successful in the past by being solid at the back and we need to get back to that."
It was not all one-sided. Had Blackburn's finishing been a match for their positive intentions, in the first half at least, Arsenal's afternoon might have been more taxing. But, with even the prolific Roque Santa Cruz unable to make a chance count, Arsenal's defence – breached only once in six matches so far – survived, while their forwards revelled in their freedom.
Wenger, who had chosen to allow Theo Walcott to ride the wave of confidence set off by his England hat-trick, must have had his heart in his mouth as the 19-year-old, starting wide left, made his first attempt to find a path through a pack of Blackburn shirts.
Yet no challenge of substance came and at the end of a skipping, side-stepping run, Walcott slipped the ball perfectly between two defenders for Robin van Persie to score.
Eight minutes gone and the possibilities for Arsenal were already exposed. It took until first-half stoppage time for Wenger's team to strike again but once Emmanuel Adebayor had finished a move numbering 27 patient passes by heading their second, from the excellent Denilson's cross, victory was assured.
In fact, so tame was the erstwhile Blackburn beast that Wenger felt safe enough later to introduce both Aaron Ramsey, the 17-year-old former Cardiff City prodigy, and Jack Wilshere – in his manager's view, a future England midfielder – who at 16 years and 256 days became Arsenal's youngest player in a league match.
Ramsey set up a goal, his through ball allowing Adebayor, who had already scored again from the penalty spot, to complete an easy hat-trick.
Goals: Van Persie (8) 0-1; Adebayor (45) 0-2; Adebayor pen (81) 0-3; Adebayor (90) 0-4.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Simpson (Derbyshire, 73), Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Emerton, Reid, Andrews, Pedersen (Treacy, 69); Roberts (McCarthy, 69), Santa Cruz. Substitutes not used: Kerimoglu, Brown (gk), Mokoena, Villanueva.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy; Eboué (Ramsey, 82), Fabregas, Denilson, Walcott (Song, 64); Adebayor, Van Persie (Wilshere, 84). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Djourou, Bendtner, Gibbs.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Blackburn Warnock; Arsenal Denilson.
Man of the match: Denilson.