Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers – Preview
A regular Premier League fixture in years gone by, Saturday’s tie promises to be a stern test tactically for Arséne Wenger, as he balances prior knowledge of the Lancashire outfit with the unknown quantity they now possess plying their trade in English football’s second tier.
The seventh time the two have been drawn together in the FA Cup, Arsenal have progressed on four occasions, and are unbeaten in 34 games against lower ranked sides in the FA Cup (W27 D7). Add to that statistic that The Gunners are also unbeaten in 34 FA Cup ties at home (W25 D9), and many would deem Saturday’s clash something of a home banker.
The FA Cup poses an interesting proposition for Wenger once again this season, as he looks to end a trophy drought triggered by the club’s last success in this competition back in 2005. With the league effectively impossible to attain once again this year, it is again the cup competitions that Arsenal must look to in their quest for silverware.
Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are in scintillating form in Arsenal’s three-pronged attack, Giroud having scored five in his last five appearances, whilst likely starter Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is sure to bring his usual physicality and fearlessness when Michael Appleton’s men visit North London.
Jack Wilshere’s knock against Sunderland was a minor one, but with Wenger’s awareness of the very real risk of the young midfielder being burned out, with one eye on the Champions League tie with Bayern Munich on Tuesday, potentially influencing any decision on his involvement.
Nacho Monreal will continue at left back, whilst the rest of the back four is subject to minor re-shuffles, with Carl Jenkinson pushing for a start and Laurent Koscielny needing to be eased back in with a few minutes here and there, whilst Francis Coquelin can expect to have a strong case for disappointment if he misses out on selection.
Blackburn Rovers, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four visits to the Emirates by at least four goals on each occasion (D1; all competitions).
They find themselves in 8th place in the Championship this term, and top scorer Jordan Rhodes is a threat wherever he plays, having notched 20 goals this season. Their defensive efforts have picked up of late, too, having only conceded once in their last four, winning three of those games, and they will be hoping for a promotion push as the season nears its climax.
Most will remember old faces Danny Murphy and Morten Gamst Pedersen, whilst journeyman DJ Campbell recently joined on loan, and will of course pose a threat to the Arsenal goal were he to play a part this weekend.
Scott Dann, Martin Olsson and Grant Hanley are three mainstays of the Blackburn Rovers defence, and have established quite the understanding over the course of the 2012-13 season, growing accustomed to one another’s play. Jordan Rhodes’ goals will be supported by an array of other attacking options at Michael Appleton’s disposal, with veteran Portuguese Nuno Gomes and the mercurial Colin Kazim-Richards having played ensemble roles this campaign.
Blackburn have lost three of their last four visits to the Emirates by at least four goals on each occasion, and managed to keep hold of experienced goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who attracted the advances of Premier League West Ham United before the window slammed shut.
With the right mentality and attitude, an Arsenal victory is something many would expect, but Rovers are not a side to be underestimated under the tutelage of Michael Appleton, who has brought about a real change in fortunes since taking over on 10th January, with Premier League managerial experience in his time at West Bromwich Albion.
With German giants Bayern Munich visiting the Emirates on Tuesday, the Blackburn Rovers game will act as the perfect warm-up for a much sterner test just around the corner.
Potential starting XI’s:
Arsenal: Szczęsny; Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Monreal; Diaby, Cazorla, Coquelin; Walcott, Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson; Henley, Dann, Hanley, Olsson; Pedersen, Murphy, Lowe, Etuhu, Olsson; Rhodes.