With a little help from our foes
Five points clear with 12 games to go. OK, let me say that that again. Five points clear with 12 games to go.
The coming-of-age party that this Arsenal squad embarked on back in July last year continued last night with a remarkably self-assured display at the Emirates. It wasn't just the ultimate "mission accomplished" feel of the outcome, it was the thoroughly comprehensive manner in which we dominated our opponents - in all fairness, Blackburn is a top 10 Premiership team, and one with a history of rising to the occasion when playing us.
The game started as brightly as we could have hoped. In the 4th minute, Senderos punished Blackburn's poor set piece marking by heading home unchallenged from Eduardo's swerving corner kick. Content with the scoreline, we remained in control for the rest of the first half, but without pressing the issue.
The second half brought a flurry of activity in front of Brad Friedel's goal (he remains, I truly believe, one of the most underrated goalkeepers int he Premier League) but the breakthrough eluded Adebayor, Hleb and Fabregas. I could see how, at times, the fragility of the one goal lead ominously reminded of the Birmingham City draw a few weeks back and of the perils of not exhibiting the proverbial killer instinct. And even though we were unable to build on the one-goal lead, Blackburn were superlatively tame for the entire half.
The one-way traffic eventually produced the second goal - in injury time. A superb pass from Fabregas found Hleb sprinting into space on the right side; he then found Adebayor in single coverage, who slightly lifted the ball with his first touch and released a fierce volley with the second. Friedel was beaten and the points were finally secured.
Most importantly, we go to Old Trafford on a well-justified confidence high - very much in contrast with the mood of the hosts of the Saturday FA Cup clash. The League table developments of the last three days added an even more intriguing twist to an already mouth-watering encounter.
Lehmann - 7. Not tested a whole lot, has shown safe hands and a fairly cool head.
Sagna - 7. A constant presence in Hleb's support, has played as a right-back/right-midfielder role the entire game. It stretched him thin, but it allowed Hleb the freedom to penetrate in the middle where he feels most comfortable.
Gallas - 7. A very good, assured performance.
Senderos - 8. Same as above, plus an extra point for the goal.
Clichy - 8. Omnipresent on the flank when pressing forward, he had the most difficult role - that of providing a wide outlet on the left in the absence of a true left midfielder, while keeping Bentley at bay - he tirelessly managed to do both.
Hleb - 7. Plenty of effort and movement, but once again lacking that killer last touch that splits the opponents' defense wide open. Great recognition of Adebayor's position for the second goal.
Fabregas - 8. Very mobile and creative - it truly takes careful observation to take note of his truly unique talent and contribution to the team's free-flowing game. It is so easy to take his ability for granted.
Flamini - 7. Great work rate and yet another commanding performance in a very crowded central midfield.
Gilberto - 7. Provided the safety that both Fabregas, Flamini, and oftentimes Clichy enjoyed when surging forward.
Adebayor - 8. EPL's Man of the Moment can not stop either scoring or turning in consistently solid performances. As much as Flamini has redefined the holding midfielder position this season, he has redefined that of the target man - constantly in motion, creating space and opportunity for either himself or his partnering striker.
Eduardo - 6. I have been firmly in Eduardo's camp since he joined the team - and remain in his camp still; however, he most definitely needs to improve his handling of the ball under pressure. Time and time again, he is too easily dispossessed - many times in our own half.