Wenger demanding consistency
Arsene Wenger challenged his Arsenal side to find consistency again after romping to a first Premier League win of 2012 as they thrashed ten-man Blackburn Rovers 7-1 at Emirates Stadium. Robin van Persie plundered a hat-trick - his opening goal coming after just 79 seconds - as the Gunners shrugged off their recent frustrations to close back to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea, who host Manchester United later today.
Wenger, however, insisted he never reads much into big results, demanding instead his team just produce another winning display when they head to in-form Sunderland next weekend. "We need consistency," the Arsenal manager said.
"Strangely I don't feel we played very badly at Fulham, nor at Swansea, nor against Manchester United, but every time we just couldn't get the result and in the end it affects your belief. It was important to the confidence of the side that we won a game and get three points. This will help us slowly to believe again that we could win - to win 1-0 at Sunderland would be fantastic and that is what we have to prepare for, to produce a good performance."
Blackburn had levelled with their first meaningful opening on 31 minutes when Morten Gamst Pedersen fired a curling 22-yard free-kick into the top corner. However, Arsenal were soon back in front when Van Persie tapped in from close range following another penetrating run by Theo Walcott.
The Gunners skipper swiftly set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to extend the lead five minutes before the break, with Rovers defender Gael Givet then being shown a straight red card by referee Andre Marriner for a two-footed challenge on the Dutchman. From then on in, it was always set to be a case of damage limitation for the visitors.
Mikel Arteta made it 4-1 at the start of the second half, and Oxlade-Chamberlain slotted in number five on 53 minutes before Van Persie completed his hat-trick when clipping home a 28th goal of the campaign just after the hour. The final word went to substitute Thierry Henry when the on-loan New York Red Bulls netted in stoppage time to extend his own club goalscoring record.
It was another all-action display from Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was signed from Southampton during the summer. The 18-year-old admits he sometimes has to have a double-take at how far he has come in such a short space of time after notching up his first Premier League goals. Speaking to BBC Sport, Oxlade-Chamberlain said: "I have been waiting for a day like this.
"That [playing with Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie] is something I have always wanted to do, but making it happen is a different thing. I know I have a lot more work to do to stay in this team and to improve my own game, to push on. I listen to everyone, and people like Thierry and Robin, who score goals and are attacking players like myself, you can always learn a lot from them."
Oxlade-Chamberlain's rising profile has led to the inevitable calls he should be fast tracked into the senior England squad ahead of this summer's European Championship. The teenager, however, is taking things one step at a time. "I am focusing on Arsenal at the moment, and am in the Under-21 squad," he said.
"All I can do is concentrate on what I am involved in. Obviously it [England call-up] would be very nice, but I have just got to keep my feet on the ground and take it step by step." For Rovers, it was certainly an afternoon to forget. Steve Kean's men had put in three unbeaten away performances, including a famous win at Manchester United on 31 December.
However, Rovers - who did not have wantaway captain Christopher Samba in the squad - were torn apart down the flanks, their task made even harder following Givet's dismissal and also what looked to be a serious ankle injury to midfielder Jason Lowe. Blackburn remain 19th, three points behind Wolves who won 2-1 at Queens Park Rangers.
Despite all of the mounting pressure, Kean remains upbeat. "We have to pick ourselves up next week [against QPR] and look for a reaction," he said. "We have always had a reaction and I am confident. I have got faith in the lads that we will pull together, we always have."