Once more Sam Allardyce outwitted Arsene Wenger, his old foe, as Blackburn bullied Arsenal into defeat. The Rovers manager has made no excuses for the aggressive tactics he has adopted in the past against the Gunners. And yesterday was the same. Blackburn targeted Lukasz Fabianski, the Arsenal keeper, with a set-piece barrage and it was no surprise both goals came as a result to turn a deficit into victory.
Two minutes before the break, Morten Gamst Pedersen swung over a corner that caused panic as Fabianski could not come out and clear. The ball dropped to Ryan Nelsen, who found Keith Andrews and his low ball made its way to the unmarked David Dunn who slotted home his 10th goal of the campaign. The winner followed in the 68th minute. Again Pedersen delivered and Fabianski was stuck on his goalline and Chris Samba had an easy header.
But Wenger was fuming with the performance of Martin Atkinson, the referee, for not protecting Fabianski. "I think it was a foul on both goals," he said. "They had two players whose only purpose was to stop him from coming for the ball. "The referee cannot allow that. There's no chance for the keeper to go for the ball. It's completely unfair. "I think he [Fabianski] had a good game. It should not affect his confidence, but that of the referee."
But Allardyce countered: "If you expose opposition weaknesses enough, they will be exposed. We know these tactics work well against Arsenal. I think we won the game because we deserved to." The goals also typified the character of Rovers under Allardyce. This side may not boast stellar names, but they have spirit in abundance. Manchester United and Chelsea found that out when they came here. They came with big reputations and left with bruised egos and just a point for their title ambitions.
Arsenal do not have that to worry about, but will lose third place if Tottenham win their last two games and the Gunners falter on Sunday against Fulham. Strangely, Arsenal took the lead through a set piece in the 14th minute. Samir Nasri floated a corner for Bacary Sagna to flick backwards and Robin van Persie headed home. Both were unmarked and unchallenged. It was very unlike Rovers, but van Persie has a fine record against Rovers.
This was his eighth goal in as many games against them, but also a significant first since October, before his ankle injury left him sidelined for almost six months. When you have back-up players like Carlos Vela, it shows how badly Van Persie was missed. Predicted to have a bright future, the Mexican has struggled in the spotlight and lacks conviction and confidence at this level. His Arsenal record and yesterday's performance seems to support that theory. In only his third league start for the Gunners, he was handed a glorious chance to dispel the afore-mentioned doubts.
Theo Walcott sneaked in behind the Rovers defence to reach a ball that Paul Robinson, the Blackburn keeper, thought was going out. As he was left stranded and the goal empty, Walcott laid a pass back for Vela, who somehow steered his shot wide from six yards. Van Persie showed him how to keep a cool head in front of goal and almost grabbed a second when Robinson made a good save to keep out his 20-yard free kick.
But Arsenal looked like a side ready for the end of a gruelling campaign that has once again brought little reward for their efforts. And Rovers took control as Wenger admitted the hosts were "sharper in the fight". But while Fabianski's ability to deal with crosses might be questioned, his shot-stopping should not. He showed great reflexes to deny the influential Pedersen, who had gone clear from a pass by Andrews.
And when Dunn released Juinor Hoilett, the substitute, Fabianski - also criticised after his performance in the 3-2 defeat at Wigan recently - stood up well to push over his rising shot. Arsenal offered little in response as Rovers moved up three places to 10th with the prospect of an extra £2 million (Dh11.2m) if they stay there. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Man of the Match: Morten Gamst Pedersen (Blackburn)