It’s odd to think that, despite the fact that Blackburn have been relegated and therefore lost some key players, this FA Cup tie should be trickier for Arsenal to manoeuvre than the last tie between the two. That may have something to do with the departure of one Dutchman - Robin van Persie netted a hat-trick in the 7-1 at the Emirates - but given that it’s the Cup and Blackburn are the underdogs, it should prove more difficult.
Jordan Rhodes, in particular, will be dangerous, with Morten Gamst Pedersen’s set-pieces a perennial threat. However, one of the main dangers might be Arsenal rotating ahead of their Champions League tie against Bayern Munich on Tuesday. When they’ve made wholesale changes, they’ve often seemed disjointed, their flow disrupted by too many switches.
Chances have often been few and far between, with the fluency in the final third almost non-existent. They may have to rely on the quick thinking and quick feet of Tomáš Rosický, who should deputise in the central playmaking role. He often gets the Gunners going with his fluid turns and killer passes, and they should be able to rely on that, should their usual combinations in the front third fail to work.
This might be the case given the likelihood of Gervinho starting in the front line. The Ivorian was having a tough time after an impressive start to the season, before jetting off to South Africa for the Africa Cup of Nations. The winger excelled in the tournament but will most likely be anxious about his return.
Given his £10million price-tag and the apparent fact that Arsène Wenger chose him over Eden Hazard (hardly the case), Gervinho had a lot to live up to, and is adjudged to have failed by many Arsenal fans. He’s a confidence player, with a fragile mentality, but his time at the Cup of Nations showed that he can still regain that confidence if given the support from the stands.
With all due respect to Blackburn, a home FA Cup tie may just be the environment that he needs to return to form. It may represent Arsenal’s best chance of a trophy, but realistically the Premier League is the most important, as without Champions League football Arsenal’s prospects would be much bleaker. That’s a debate for another day, although it’s not just Champions League football at stake, but the bragging rights - Arsenal fans wouldn’t enjoy finishing below Tottenham, that’s for sure.
With that in mind, an FA Cup tie is an ideal way for Gervinho to quietly work his way back to form. His style is languid, which does him no favours - this often makes him seem lazy, which isn’t the case. It’s foolish to deny that he has talent: his goal against Chelsea earlier in the season was a blatant showcasing of this ability, while his displays in South Africa and other showings previously in the 2012/13 campaign reiterated that potential.
A case could be made for Gervinho to man up and forget about the crowd, but at the end of the day, supporters are there to support. If he isn’t good enough, that’s not his fault – as long as he’s giving his all. Either way, Arsenal fans do no good if they’re getting on a player’s back and therefore hindering his performance.
The Cup of Nations reaffirmed his potential, and now he just needs to continue with that good form. The last time he returned from Africa, he’d missed the vital penalty in the final, and as a result, his confidence nosedived. With a bit of support from the crowd, the opposite could well happen this time around.