Arsenal were going to shut up shop

January 13, 2007 at 1:08 pm (Events)

Arsène Wenger strode into his pre-match press conference on Friday brandishing a piece of paper.

As moments in history go it was not quite up there with Neville Chamberlain’s flourish after the Munich Agreement but it said plenty about the Arsenal manager’s attention to detail.

A week ago Wenger spoke forthrightly about ill-discipline in English football and the disparity between teams who try to play and those who try to spoil. When a sheet of Opta stats backing up Wenger’s view landed on his desk, he felt duty-bound to show the journalists with whom he had debated the issue.

Sure enough, Wenger’s sheet showed that Arsenal had committed the fewest fouls in the Premiership this season. When the Frenchman had made his point, a helpful member of the press pointed out that Saturday’s opponents lay at the other end of that particular table.

Arsenal have certainly had some bruising encounters with Mark Hughes’ side in recent years – Robin van Persie took a forearm in the face during the 2005 FA Cup Semi-Final – but Wenger is expecting more than just a physical challenge at Ewood Park.

“They are still very committed,” he said. “You do not expect to go up there on the motorway with nobody on the road. It will be congested but we are prepared for that, we know what we will meet.

“But Blackburn are also a side which plays good football. You cannot play Tugay in your team and not play football. They have good players – Bentley, Savage, Pedersen, Tugay, McCarthy, Nonda – they all try to play. You expect commitment because that’s normal for the Premier League but you expect as well quality in their game.”

Rovers have shown plenty of quality since capitulating in the final 10 minutes at Emirates Stadium two days before Christmas.

Hughes’ depleted side had held their own until a late flurry of goals earned Arsenal an emphatic 6-2 win. Wenger is no stranger to six-goal salvos – he enjoyed one at Anfield in midweek – but he’s not expecting a repeat performance on Saturday.

“I feel the first result was a little bit flattering because they were late goals and it was quite a tight game until the end when we made the difference,” he said. “But it was a difficult game.

“We want to go there and try to win the game of course but Blackburn is a good side and since then they have responded very well. They won at Everton, they won all their games since losing to us, they beat Liverpool so it will be a big challenge.”

It is a challenge Wenger will have to face without a quartet of injured players. William Gallas (thigh) is at least a fortnight away from fitness after suffering a setback in his recovery, Freddie Ljungberg (hamstring) and Emmanuel Eboue (ankle) are hoping to return for the visit of Manchester United next Sunday and Lauren who is still struggling with a minor toe injury.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Adebayor’s return to the squad presents Wenger with something of a selection dilemma. Thierry Henry and Van Persie are also fit while Julio Baptista and Jeremie Aliadiere excelled at Anfield on Tuesday. The Arsenal manager will ponder long and hard before naming his team.

“At the moment I have five strikers available and Adebayor has only had two days training so I am tempted not to start him,” he said. “They all deserve to play but I can only play two and sometimes I only play one. But that is good because with so many games coming up that is a position we have to rotate and that is really good for us.”

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