Blackburn 1 – 2 Arsenal
Andrey Arshavin grabbed the winner for Arsenal as they showed the steel needed to overcome a committed Blackburn.
Arshavin threaded in the winner after a Cesc Fabregas effort was deflected into his path and the north Londoners held on to complete a hard-fought win.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had wanted his side to send out a message that they were capable of dealing with the type of physical approach Blackburn would adopt.
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And, after weathering the Rovers onslaught and earning the right to play, Wenger will be encouraged by the character his team showed to come out on top and enhance their title credentials.
Blackburn did not take long to test Arsenal’s resolve, with the visitors nervously clearing when goalkeeper Robinson launched a free-kick into their box, before his Gunners counterpart Manuel Almunia caught a long throw hurled into his six yard box.
It set the tone for an aerial bombardment on the Arsenal goal although, in the opening skirmishes, the visitors almost dealt Blackburn a blow when an Abou Diaby shot pin-balled off an unwitting Vince Grella and Robinson to safety.
But Blackburn were in forceful mood and defender Ryan Nelsen had a header cleared off the Arsenal line by Fabregas, while Almunia had to palm away from under his crossbar after Christopher Samba headed on another long throw.
The clash of styles made for a fast and furious game with some unrelenting action as both teams strived to wrest the upper hand.
Samba headed just over from a near post corner before the visitors matched the substance they were showing with the type of play that makes them so pleasing on the eye.
Almunia played the ball out and, six passes later, Walcott ran on to Van Persie’s measured ball and took a touch before sending in a shot at the far post.
However, while Wenger might have been fearing the type of ‘rugby’ tactics he talked about ahead of the game, Rovers produced the type of penetrating move of which the Gunners would have been proud.
Samba showed some nifty footwork belying his 6ft 4in stature before releasing El-Hadji Diouf, who surged past Laurent Koscielny on the left and passed for Mame Biram Diouf to tap in.
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Robin van Persie became Arsenal’s first casualty as he was forced off with an ankle injury but the visitors’ passing game was slowly coming to the fore against the more direct manner of Rovers.
The Gunners restored their lead when Fabregas had an effort blocked from Bacary Sagna’s cross before Arshavin pounced to drive in the crucial goal.
Arsenal had a degree of control as they dominated possession and, although Blackburn were struggling to impose themselves, they still carried a threat.
Nikola Kalininc blazed high after a mistake by Thomas Vermaelen but the home side’s attacks had become few and far between.
Jack Wilshere missed a great chance late on, although it would only have put the gloss on Arsenal’s first away win since March.