Rovers aim to knock Gunners off their perch

BLACKBURN Rovers have reached the defining moment of their season – with 13 games to go Mark Hughes and his players are either going to launch a credible assault on the European places or

PREMIER LEAGUE

ARSENAL V BLACKBURN ROVERS

MON FEB 11 (8pm, SETANTA)

BLACKBURN Rovers have reached the defining moment of their season - with 13 games to go Mark Hughes and his players are either going to launch a credible assualt on the European places or fade away to mid-table obscurity.


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Currently sitting in eighth position, Rovers are only five points adrift of Everton in fourth spot, but it is a top seven finish and a Uefa Cup place that Hughes will be targeting.

That said, Rovers' failure to make the group stages of this year's Uefa Cup after losing to Greek minnows Larissa in September negated all of last season's hard work, and this is not a side that are cup specialists.

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After crashing out in the FA Cup third round with a 4-1 home defeat to Coventry City, Rovers have been left to concentrate solely on the league for the final five months.

They come to the Emirates on the back of three successive draws with Everton, Aston Villa and Middles-brough and while that is steady form, Hughes knows they need to beat some of those sides if they are going to reach Europe again.

If they do get there, then Rovers certainly have enough strikers to prosper, with Roque Santa Cruz undoubtedly one of the signings of the season with 15 goals so far in all competitons.

However, Benni McCarthy has struggled to rediscover his form or fitness from last season, and is vying for a spot up front with Matt Derbyshire and Jason Roberts.

Hughes allowed Robbie Savage to leave in January, but the midfield lacks bite without him, despite the return to fitness of Steven Reid.

Reid or Turkish veteran Tugay will expect to start in the centre, with David Dunn playing slightly further forward and David Bentley and Morten Gamst Pedersen, another who has struggled this season, on the flanks.

At the back skipper Ryan Nelsen has missed the last three games with a hamstring problem so Zurab Khizanishvili has been partnering Andre Ooijer, with Brett Emerton at right back and Stephen Warnock on the left and Brad Friedel in goal.

As they showed in the FA Cup a year ago, Blackburn can be very hard opponents to break down and, with Bentley and Santa Cruz, are always a threat on the counter.

I can see them causing Arsenal a few problems, but expect the Gunners to overcome them and stay on top of the table.

Gazette Predicts:

Arsenal 2 Blackburn 1

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