Blackburn had barely soaked in the atmosphere of the Emirates Stadium when they fell behind in the 4th minute. Phillippe Senderos scored the opener by meeting Eduardo’s corner (totally unmarked, thanks to Benni McCarthy) with a powerful header.
Goalkeeper Brad Friedel had no chance to react but he made amends by putting in a resolute performance up to the end of normal play. Mathieu Flamini, Adebayor and Alexander Hleb were continually frustrated with excellent stops but Friedel’s brave efforts were undone in stoppage time with a fine finish from the prolific Adebayor.
It flatters the score-line as Arsenal have fluffed so many chances in between, that Blackburn’s hopes of an equalizer burned brightly throughout the game. The Gunners dished out their typical free-flowing football but were missing the sharpness in front of goal. Alex Hleb hit a post while Cesc Fabregas shot wide and then just over. These are the chances which the Spaniard will have converted easily but considering his throat infection, his presence on the pitch was already more than what the fans can ask for.
The loss leaves Blackburn ninth in the Premier League on 39 points and destroyed their seven-match unbeaten run but manager Mark Hughes has reasons to be optimistic. His team was gritty in weathering the storm and threatened to score a couple of goals in the process. The Arsenal blitz that Hughes feared, after conceding so early, never materialized.
In fact, Blackburn bounced back from their early folly and made themselves extremely difficult for Arsenal to break down. It was admirable to see Blackburn trying to out-pass their opponent; their brand of passing was a success to some extent but a deficiency in quality going forward prevented any real damage to Arsenal’s backline.
“I was really pleased with how we went about our job,” Hughes declared. “Not many teams come to the Emirates and take on Arsenal in the passing game.”
“I’m disappointed in the 2-0 scoreline. I thought we were very good for long periods. We’ll take a lot of positives from it.”
Arsenal have now extended their own unbeaten league run to 10 matches. Adebayor has been a revelation all season and it is scary to the opponents that he is scoring goals for fun. If Henry was around, certainly, the Togolese will still be struggling in the shadows and deprived of the chance to take center stage.
As long as Adebayor remains in such scintillating form, Arsenal have high hopes of ending their four-year wait for the title. The striker has scored 12 times in nine games to draw level with Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo on 19 league goals this season.
However, Wenger chose to deflect some of the attention away from Adebayor, in case he the Togolese really assumes credit for himself and grows self-conceited, by insisting that the team contributes to the goals as much as the striker’s efforts.
“He can score goals, but I believe that all the strikers benefit from our outstanding teamwork,” Wenger said.
“It’s not a coincidence that strikers who play here score goals because everybody goes forward, everybody gives you good balls. The team feeds you when we go forward.”
Wenger must be pleased with the way his charges maneuvered a tricky situation with confidence. Blackburn was a tough nut to crack but once again, the winner’s mentality shone through.
“I feel we handled the pressure very well each time this year when we’ve had our backs to the wall,” Wenger said.
“I don’t want my team to focus on the difference between us and the rest. I want us to focus on strengthening our lead and asserting our authority.”
There are still twelve games left and while Arsenal are in a good position, the title race will be a cliffhanger with all the contenders fighting till the last minute. The young Gunners have the belief but Wenger is aware there is still a long way to go before popping the champagne.
He said: “As soon as you’re not at your best at the top, you can drop points. We have seen that over the weekend,” - an obvious reference to the slip up by Manchester United.
The title is Arsenal’s to lose and we all know that Wenger, unlike Keegan, is not a person who wears his heart on his sleeve and is less perturbed by mind games. Manchester United cannot depend on others to do the job for them. When both teams face off again, it will be crucial for the Red Devils to get all three points, another defeat will be good as throwing in the towel.