Arsenal’s season took another nosedive as they led twice but scored two second-half own goals and were beaten 4-3 by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
Rovers, who had earned just one point from their opening four Premier League fixtures, proved their worth in the second half and took advantage of the visitors’ troubled defence to complete what at half-time appeared to be an impossible comeback. The result took them above their opponents and will no doubt add to the pressure currently surrounding both Arsene Wenger and the London club itself.
The Gunners were boosted by the return of Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey from injury, while left-back Andre Santos made his first start for the club. Alexandre Song and Gervinho were also named in the starting XI after each completed a three-game Premier League suspension. For their part, Rovers handed a debut to summer signing Yakubu as Steve Kean’s side set out looking for their first victory in the league this season.
Gervinho grabs first goal
The first significant chance of the match fell to in-form Robin van Persie after eight minutes, the Dutch forward connecting with Bakary Sagna’s looping cross from the right but seeing his header back across goal cleared off the line. The visitors took the lead just moments later, however, when Gervinho caught the Blackburn defence sleeping to beat Paul Robinson. A clever through ball from Song allowed the former Lille man to find the bottom left corner despite a last-ditch tackle from Christopher Samba.
Arsenal settled thereafter and began to dominate possession before Rovers were struck by an injury to right-back Michel Salgado, who had to be replaced by Radosav Petrovic. Samba then had a golden opportunity to improve Blackburn’s fortunes, the towering defender left unmarked at the back post from a Ruben Rochina free-kick but missing the target completely. Wenger’s team were quick to react, with Andrey Arshavin and then Gervinho both forcing Robinson into smart saves.
As the rain poured down, both sides continued to pour forward and Rovers got their reward in the 25th minute. Junior Hoilett had already threatened with his pace and dribbling but this time produced a clever pass which split the Gunners’ defence and gave Yakubu – played onside by Santos – the chance to equalise. The Nigerian debutant made no mistake, toe-poking a first-time finish past Wojciech Szczesny and into the corner.
Sagna and Gervinho were consistently causing Blackburn problems down Arsenal’s right side and it was from that area of the pitch that the visitors retook the lead ten minutes later. A series of intricate passes released Ramsey into the box and his incisive pull-back was perfectly weighted for Mikel Arteta to score his first Gunners goal with a composed, side-footed finish high into Robinson’s net.
Although Hoilett remained a threat, Arsenal were dangerous on the counter-attack and Gervinho should have scored his second, or handed Van Persie his first, with the final chance of the first half. Played in by Arshavin, the Côte d'Ivoire wide-man drifted past the defence and, after ignoring the chance to set up Van Persie, saw his rather selfish shot blocked.
The home side reappeared after half-time with a new vigour and they levelled again five minutes into the second period, with Arsenal merely adding to their own downfall. Rochina’s weak free-kick from the right seemed to hold no danger but Song’s awkward attempt to clear ended in disaster, the defensive midfielder sending the ball into his own goal via his knee. It could have got even worse for the Gunners minutes later, when Szczesny had to make a reaction parry to deny Mauro Formica.
Yakubu puts Rovers ahead
And Blackburn did complete an unlikely turnaround just before the hour mark, Yakubu bagging his second and Rovers’ third as Arsenal began to collapse again. A deep corner from the left reached Steven Nzonzi, who drilled a cross-shot back across the face of goal and Yakubu was on hand to tap in from just yards out and give the hosts a stunning lead. Arsenal attempted to rally, with Van Persie going close with a near-post header before England international Theo Walcott was introduced as a substitute in place of Arshavin.
Rovers had themselves made changes and it was one of their own substitutes who created a fourth goal in the 68th minute to give Kean’s men a two-goal advantage. Martin Olsson, who had replaced Rochina, tore down the right wing and reached the byline, before attempting to find a team-mate with a cutback. He only managed to find Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny, but the Frenchman dealt with the delivery as poorly as Song had before him and proceeded to score a second own goal of the day.
With Blackburn trying to close the game out for the final 15 minutes, Arsenal pushed forward in an effort to salvage the game. Van Persie tested Robinson with a header before turning provider for Marouane Chamakh, who had replaced Song. Van Persie swung a cross in from the left and the Moroccan met it with a powerful header which flew past the goalkeeper. And another header could have given Arsenal an amazing point, but both new centre-back Per Mertesacker and Chamakh missed from six yards and Blackburn held out.