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Rovers 0 Arsenal 1.


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Some odd team changes today. Thompson came in for Emerton, Dickov came in for Stead, and Matteo came in for Nissa. I'm not sure I agreed with any of them. Anyway, we lined up in our now customary 4-1-4-1 formation that's served us well over the last week or two.

As has become the norm now, the first half was a bit dull. It was competitive, there were the odd moments of genuine spark and excitement, but mostly it was just another dour half of football. We were marginally the better team and pressed Arsenal into mistakes all over the pitch. However, when they did get it down and start to put their passes together they looked very dangerous. Our defence held firm though until stoppage time.

A through ball to Van Persie found him in a huge gap, on the edge of area, right inbetween our centre-halves. Both of them watched him turn superbly and take the ball past Friedel with consumate ease. A great, great finish that was totally out of place in the half of football that had gone before it - but where oh where was our defence.

One lapse in concentration cost us dear and we went in at half-time a goal behind. We'd had one decent effort on goal during that first half - a fairly tame Pedersen header that Lehman saved easily.

Just before the goal the injured Matteo was replaced by Nissa, and at the start of the second half Todd was replaced by Tugay, forcing Mokoena back into central defence. I hope Todd was injured (well I don't but you know what I mean) because if it was tactical it was a poor substitution.

We were, in the main, rubbish in the second half. Our central defensive partnership of Nelsen and Mokoena didn't look anything like as composed as Todd and Nelsen did, and losing Mokoena from midfield meant that Arsenal started to get on top of us in that area for the first time in the game. Consequently, Arsenal started to create chances and only some superb saves by Friedel, and a bit of luck, kept the scoreline the same.

Emerton came on for Flitcroft halfway through the second half and, bizarrely, played behind Dickov up front rather than on the right. It didn't make any difference though and we didn't really threaten the Arsenal goal at all until the last couple of minutes when Reid was put through, but he dragged his shot a couple of yards wide. To be honest we didn't really deserve to equalise.

Friedel made some good saves again, had no chance at all with the goal, and showed, yet again, what a top keeper he is. Our defence was fine until the goal in the first half, and was dodgy throughout the second half. Nissa wasn't as good as Matteo, Todd and Nelsen were solid but went missing for Van Persie's goal, Neill was ok but still wasted possession as only he can. Mokoena's a better defensive midfielder than centre half.

Our midfield competed well in the first half but got slightly overrun in the second when Mokoena was switched to defence and Flitcroft was substituted. Flitcroft did his spoiling job well. Reid competed for everything, looked a (minor) threat going forward, and was my man of the match. Thompson was poor and wasted numerous opportunities to put telling crosses over. Tugay was awful when he came on. He offered us nothing going forward and didn't defend. Pedersen didn't do enough. It's harsh to criticise him after what he's done recently but this lad is now a potential match winner for us. He needs to get involved more and he needs more confidence in possession. He can beat a man when he wants to, he did it a couple of times at the start of the match, but all too often he either loses the ball or turns and passes the ball back. He wasn't our worst player today but he can do better.

I'm starting to get really annoyed with Dickov. Actually, that's not fair, I'm starting to get really annoyed that Hughes keeps playing Dickov. He's clearly not fit. Dickov's whole game is based on his work-rate and competitiveness and now he just can't perform to the levels he did at the start of the season. Without those qualities he's just very, very ordinary. He's also clearly getting frustrated himself and, consequently, he's becoming even more of a ball-ache for referees than he was. I actually found myself hoping he'd get sent off today because that would mean he'd miss a game or two. Emerton looked totally out of place as a supporting striker and I don't know what Hughes was thinking of.

I don't normally have a go at the ref when I write these reports, and I think we'd have probably lost today no matter who the ref was, but I've got to mention how bad Graham Poll was. I've not seen the game on TV but Poll apparently awarded Arsenal 9 free-kicks in the first 20 minutes without awarding us a single one. I just wonder if our perceived "hard" reputation is starting to precede us now. Throughout the game Poll seemed to favour Arsenal whenever a challenge was made. The most annoying thing though was the man's pettiness. He constantly disrupted the flow of the game by insisting on free-kicks being taken a yard further back or by speaking needlessly to players.

Blaming the referee though avoids the issue. We were poor today and I thought Hughes got his tactics wrong. For all Emerton's faults he's better than Thompson at the moment. Stead did nothing at Everton or Liverpool to deserve being dropped for a half-fit Dickov. Once we went a goal behind we had to change our system, but we didn't. And putting Emerton on as a striker when Stead was on the bench was just unbelievably stupid in my book.

This report probably seems very harsh considering we were playing Arsenal and we only lost by the odd goal, but we had a real chance today. They were missing half their team, we were confident after recent results, and I really thought we'd win before the game. We didn't imo because of a defensive lapse and poor tactics by Hughes. The game was there for the taking, or at least saving, but we blew it.

This was a dress-rehearsal for the FA cup semi. It's hard to be optimistic going into that game now. We failed to beat a hugely under-strength Arsenal today. How are we going to beat them when they have Henry, Bergkamp, Lungberg, Pires and Campbell back?

Match report written by Scotty

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Todd (Tugay 45), Nelsen, Matteo (Johansson 42), Mokoena, Thompson, Flitcroft (Emerton 60), Reid, Pedersen, Dickov.

Subs Not Used: Stead, Enckelman.

Booked: Dickov, Neill, Reid.

Arsenal: Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Senderos, Clichy, Fabregas, Vieira, Flamini, Cole, Van Persie, Reyes.

Subs Not Used: Ljungberg, Taylor, Cygan, Eboue, Owusu-Abeyie.


Goals: Van Persie 43.

Att: 22,992

Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

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