Premier League - Arsenal lose ground with draw

Sat, 02 Apr 19:28:00 2011

Arsenal lost ground on leaders Manchester United as they were held to a third successive Premier League draw, sharing a stalemate with 10-man Blackburn at the Emirates Stadium.

Match Highlights: Arsenal

The Gunners were left hugely frustrated in a scrappy first half which was severely lacking in creativity or inspiration as the hosts laboured against a doughty Rovers.

The second half followed much the same pattern as Cesc Fabregas was introduced midway through, and even after Rovers were reduced to 10 men following Steven Nzonzi's unsightly two-footed challenge, Arsenal failed to muster a crucial breakthrough, much to the despair of the home fans.

There was a big surprise in the Arsenal side, with captain Cesc Fabregas omitted, despite his manager Arsene Wenger having declared the midfielder fit to start in the match. Alex Song and Theo Walcott did return, however, while Blackburn employed Roque Santa Cruz in a lone striking role.

Robin van Persie had scored 10 goals in 10 games in all competitions against Rovers and the Dutchman was handed the captain's armband for the match with his favourite opposition.

Theo Walcott sprung to life in the seventh minute, twice darting through on goal with incisive runs from the right, and Paul Robinson was forced to make a very fine diving save down low to his left to thwart the winger.

It was one-way traffic early on as Blackburn defended very deep and rather ominously invited pressure from their hosts, who applied an almost incessant inspection of their defensive capabilities.

The early stages of the match were sadly notable largely for long injury delays as both Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri had to be tended to for lengthy periods after clashes with Martin Olsson and Ryan Nelsen, respectively.

Nasri's injury was particularly alarming as the midfielder soldiered on gingerly with a heavily bandaged forehead, and a good degree of the game's early intensity had been effectively extinguished by the breaks in play.

Wilshere squandered a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock on the half hour mark as the England midfielder played a neat exchange with Sagna, which culminated in him being presented with a free shot on goal from just 12 yards out, but he completely miscued his left-footed effort.

Almunia left every Arsenal supporter with their heart in their mouth in the 34th minute as he bizarrely and rather comically neglected to save a low shot on target from Martin Olsson, only to very fortunately get an inadvertent deflection on the ball to glance it agonisingly wide of the post.

Then on the stroke of half-time, Almunia was at it again: the keeper very nearly gifted Blackburn a goal as he recklessly charged off his line, completely missed the ball, and was left mightily relieved to see Olsson shoot wide with an open goal.

The half-time whistle could not come soon enough for the Arsenal goalkeeper, who was constantly jeered by the home fans and looked devoid of any confidence or self belief.

Arsenal became increasingly frustrated in the second half as wave upon wave of attacks were obdurately repelled by the visitors, who continued to defend very deep.

Laurent Koscielny won a towering header in the Blackburn box to meet Jack Wilshere's cross from the left, but his effort did not overly trouble Robinson, who gathered the ball down low to his right.

Fabregas was belatedly introduced in the 58th minute as the Spaniard made a long overdue appearance, and a huge ovation from the home fans greeted him to illustrate the fact as the largely ineffectual Andrei Arshavin made way.

David Hoilett went down in the Arsenal box theatrically as the midfielder sought a penalty under a challenge from Alex Song, but referee Phil Dowd was distinctly unimpressed and waved play on as Blackburn were denied a shock spot kick just after the hour mark.

Nzonzi gave Arsenal even more of a fillip as he lunged in recklessly, two-footed, on Koscielny and referee Dowd had absolutely no hesitation in brandishing a straight red card, accompanied by little or no complaints.

Another late chance ensued as Samba made a brilliant block to deny substitute Marouane Chamakh's snap shot after sterling work and intricate footwork from Wilshere on the edge of the Blackburn box.

One final opportunity fell to another substitute, Nicklas Bendtner, who was afforded a free header inside the Blackburn box, only for Michel Salgado to clear the ball off the line with his chest to show all of his experience with intelligent positioning.

The stalemate leaves Arsenal seven points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester United, albeit with a game in hand, while Blackburn sit two points above the relegation zone in 15th place.

Dan Quarrell / Eurosport

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