Andrey Arshavin grabbed his first and second goals for Arsenal as the Gunners defeated Blackburn Rovers 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
Substitute Emmanuel Eboue helped himself to two late goals, the second a penalty, to put the seal on the victory that sees Arsenal move back into the top four.
One of the stand-out performances of the afternoon was that of Nicklas Bendtner, but unfortunately for the Dane, it was his ineffectiveness in front of goal that was horribly in focus.
The Gunners played predominately with Bendtner, who – apart from his poor finishing – had a good game, alone up top, with Theo Walcott down the right and Arshavin on the left. Samir Nasri was given a free role ahead of the Alexandre Song and Neves Denilson.
Rovers began with a tight three in the middle of the pitch, designed to snuff out Arsenal’s movement and passing in that area, of Aaron Mokoena, Zurab Khizanishvili and Stephen Warnock
However, Arsenal went ahead within two minutes when Arshavin bundled his finish home with the help of Andre Ooijer’s challenge, after Nicklas Bendtner had released Theo Walcott in behind Rovers' defence and allowed the England winger to play a square ball into the danger area.
Sam Allardyce made a switch after 14 minutes, bringing off Gael Givet and introducing David Dunn. The change saw Stephen Warnock move from midfield to left-back, presumably as an attempt to counter Walcott’s pace.
Soon afterwards, Bendtner engineered space on the edge of the Blackburn box, but failed to generate enough power to trouble Paul Robinson, before Arsenal had a penalty claim turned down when Warnock awkwardly challenged Walcott and then landed on the ball with his arm.
Wenger made little fuss about the penalty claim incident, but was incensed on 22 minutes when El-Hadji Diouf caught Manuel Almunia with a pretty nasty, late and intentional tackle to the lower shin. The Blackburn wide escaped with a booking, perhaps thanks to the distance of Phil Dowd from the challenge.
Almunia had to be alert and agile to deny Rovers a surprise equaliser, after Morten Gamst Pedersen had anticipated a poor clearance and cleverly tried to loop a header over the keeper into the far corner.
Samir Nasri went close to doubling Arsenal’s lead on 35 minutes, smacking the crossbar with a free-kick before, 10 seconds later, he was denied by Robinson after getting on the end of a long ball back into the danger area by Almunia which had been badly dealt with by the Blackburn defence.
Aaron Mokoena, who had committed the foul that led to Nasri’s shot against the bar, had a half chance to work Almunia, but seemed unprepared when Pedersen’s corner reached him on the penalty spot.
Just prior to the sound of the half-time whistle, Bacary Sagna did just enough to prevent Pedersen, who had stolen a march on the full-back, from having a clean chance six yards from goal, allowing Almunia to collect.
Very soon after the restart, Walcott fluffed a fine chance, dragging his shot horribly across goal following Bendtner’s clever ball through. A minute later, the Englishman and the Dane once again almost combined for the second goal, as the big striker just failed to reach the winger’s ball across goal after a superb pass in behind by Nasri.
Incredibly, Walcott and Bendtner were at it again before the 50 minute mark. Nasri’s pull back preceded the frontman’s shot from eight yards being excellently blocked by Ooijer, before Robinson kept out Walcott’s difficult half-volley.
Ooijer, putting his body on the line for the cause, then used his face to get in the way of Denilson’s drive.
Warnock, who had earlier been moved back to left-full in the hope of quieting down Walcott, was withdrawn on 55 minutes, with Martin Olsson introduced.
Bendtner missed another fine opportunity after Kolo Toure and Song combined to set him up. The Dane then appeared to be too keen to make up for his misses, choosing not to feed Walcott for what would surely have been the Gunners' second goal. Seconds later, he failed to find a way past Robinson when one-on-one with the keeper, forcing the Arsenal fans onto his back.
Arshavin got his brilliant second 20 minutes after the break. After collecting a pass from Denilson on the left, the Russian lined Simpson up and danced around him on the by-line, before lifting a magnificently skilful finish from a tight angle high and into the roof of the net.
Just before Bendtner’s embarrassing afternoon in front of goal came to an end, when he was replaced by Carlos Vela with 11 minutes remaining, he fluffed one more glaring chance, blazing over from 10 yards following an Arsenal break.
Arsenal came within inches of adding their third of the afternoon when Arshavin produced a delightful one-two, but the Russian’s pass across goal was a little too strong for substitute Emmanuel Eboue.
However, the third was added a couple of minutes thereafter. Arshavin was in acres of space at the far post and the attacking midfielder’s effort was diverted by Robinson, only for Eboue to stab home from four yards.
Eboue, who had only been introduced with seven minutes of normal time remaining, then completed the scoring from the spot in injury time, after Olsson had felled Vela.
The victory completes an excellent week for Arsene Wenger's men, following a convincing FA Cup win over Burnley last Sunday, and progression past Roma in the Champions League.