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Blackburn Rovers (0) - (2) 1 Arsenal

Ewood Park, 12th October 1996

FA Carling Premiership

Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Bould, Adams, Winterburn, Platt, 
         Vieira, Merson, Wright, Hartson
         Subs: Parlour (Hartson 85), Shaw, Linighan, Rose, Lukic 

Blackburn: Flowers, Kenna, Sherwood, Bohinen, Wilcox, Marker, Sutton, 
           Berg, Donis, Beattie, Croft
           Subs: Ripley (Donis 64), Gudmundsson (Wilcox 75), Given, 
                 Flitcroft, Broomes
Result : Blackburn             (0) 0   Arsenal                 (1) 2
Scorers:                               Wright 3,51

Bookings: Hartson, Keown
Att     : 24303
Referee : S Dunn (Bristol)
A competent performance at Blackburn on Saturday saw Arsenal in the end comfortably overcome a Rovers' side still without a league win this season. The job was made easier by a brilliant display of finishing from Ian Wright, but in his first game in charge, Wenger will nonetheless have been reasonably satisfied by the way a spirited Blackburn team (in the 1st half at least) was dealt with.

The first significant action of the game was in the Arsenal area when Steve Bould stopped a run by Donis but then ended up almost giving the ball away when he tried to dribble it out of the area. Soon afterwards Arsenal were in front. In the centre circle Wright knocked a pass out of defence square to Winterburn and turned to hare off towards goal. Nutty took the ball into the Blackburn half and then lofted a long diagonal cross to pick out Hartson beyond the far post. Ginger Johnny soared superbly above Berg and headed back across goal to find his co-striker. Wrighty shaped to hit a first time shot with his left foot but instead brilliantly transfered the ball to his right, completely wrongfooting his marker (Marker) in the process. A cool and precise finish into the opposite corner of the net, and it was 1-0 to the Arsenal.

Blackburn replied, taking advantage of some of slack moments in the Arsenal defence to create a couple of decent chances. Vieira was caught in posession in midfield and the 18-yr old debutant striker Beattie was given a chance to lob Seaman but didn't quite get enough height on his effort. Then a run down the left by Donis was stopped by a combination of Dixon and Keown, but the ball deflected to Sutton just outside the area. He chipped forward to find Sherwood beating the offside trap, but the midfielder's lunging header clipped off the top of the crossbar.

Arsenal were still looking dangerous at the other end, though possibly their best other chance of the half came when, from midfield scrum near the halfway line, Sherwood played a curious ball back towards his own goal which turned into a perfect cross for Platt. He nodded down to Hartson who was left with a clear run into the area. The Welshman produced a well struck shot which was arrowing inside Flowers' near post until the keeper reacted superbly to palm the ball aside for a corner.

Other Arsenal chances came and went. A chipped cross from the left picked out Platt on the penalty spot but, with the ball perhaps slightly behind him, his hooked volley lacked power and went straight at Flowers. Wright had a lovely run in the area to the byline but his chipped cross just failed to find Hartson. Wrighty also had another clear chance but slipped at the vital moment. Several of the Arsenal players were also slipping on the lush Ewood Park turf in the 1st half and presumably switched to a longer stud at half time.

Towards the end of the half the Gunners seemed to be more content to sit on their lead, and almost paid for it a couple of minutes before the break. Donis went on another tricky run down the right, his first cross was eventually returned to him and this time a clever chip to the far post found the head of Sherwood. His header came back off the post, hit Seaman in the back and deflected to Beattie a few yards out but wide of goal. From an acute angle he shot instantly but Spunky was up quickly to block superbly down by the near post.

Blackburn started the 2nd half brightly and early on a cross from the right wasn't properly cleared and returned back into the area. It was headed back across goal I think, to find Sherwood again in space in the area. He had his back to goal though, and his attempt to hook the ball over his shoulder was comfortably fielded by Seaman.

Soon afterwards Bouldy repelled another Rovers' attack, sliding in to direct the ball out to Vieira. The young Frenchman played a swift one two with Merson and broke into the Blackburn half before superbly picking out Wrighty's run with an incisive pass with the outside of his right foot. A great first touch allowed WWW to outpace Croft and as they both chased the ball into the area Flowers came out in a vain attempt to intercept. Wrighty got there first and lifted the ball over the diving keeper and it sailed into the net from just inside the area.

After that it was relatively comfortable for Arsenal. Blackburn laboured creditably away, but rarely threatened to break down the red and white defence. The substitute Ripley had probably their best chance when he produced a well hit volley from a cross in from the left, but Seaman was down quickly and held on superbly. The save looked even better on TV which revealed a slight deflection off Uncle Bouldy.

At the other end Flowers matched the England No. 1 with a diving save to deny a 20yd volley from Dixon, which followed a goalmouth scramble after a corner.

All in all, a pretty good display from Arsenal though in truth any result other than a win would have been a major disappointment given that Blackburn were without their best defender and lacked a cutting edge up front. Against that though, it is the first time we've won at Ewood Park in the 6 years since Blackburn returned to the top flight, and as a whole the team played pretty well. I thought there were still one or two slack moments in defence but overall it looked more solid than of late (cf early on against Sunderland, Sheff Weds and BMG).

It was interesting to hear Wrighty's comments about Wenger trying to get them working more cohesively. The same appeared to be true in midfield where Vieira held the middle, while Merson was more often on the right and Platt seemed to be sticking in the main on the left.

Nobody performed below standard, though I'd also say that Wrighty was the only one in outstanding form, but anyway the following are my HSBPRI ratings:

Seaman     7.5  A couple of important saves and some good catches from 
                crosses, but otherwise little to do.

Dixon      7.0  Another solid performance, including one superb goal 
                saving tackle on Donis on the 'wrong' side of the area.

Winterburn 7.0  Pretty good performance from Nutty, obviously fired up 
                by Wenger's arrival. Takes some credit for the 1st goal.

Adams      7.0  Looked much more like the old Adams playing in the middle
                of the back 3.

Bould      7.0  Continued his gradual improvement and suggested that he 
                may not quite be past it just yet.

Keown      7.0  The usual Keown we've come to expect over the last year.

Platt      7.0  In common with his midfield colleagues did a lot of 
                energetic work, though didn't seem to make many forward

Vieira     7.0  Looked a bit behind the pace in the 1st half, but much
                improved in the 2nd to renew hope in his promise.

Merson     7.5  Continued his good form of this season, always looked 
                likely to create something.

Wright     8.5  The obvious man of the match, and not just for two 
                brilliantly taken goals. Generally looked as sharp and 
                eager as I've seen him in the last 3 years or so.

Hartson    7.0  Pretty good and aggressive performance. Generally got 
                the better of Berg in the air, possibly having 
                intimidated him with an early flailing elbow which left
                the Norwegian with a bloodied mouth and frequently 
                complaining to the ref.
report by Derek Brownjohn.

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