Theo Walcott's return fails to fire Arsenal's title charge

The final whistle was greeted by a mix of boos and applause, but the overriding emotion among the home supporters was a sense of glum deja vu.

Theo Walcott's return fails to fire Arsenal's title charge Arsenal are yet again not going to be Premier League champions and yet again they must search their own soul for the main reason why.

After Manchester United's dramatic victory over West Ham, Arsène Wenger's side had to beat Blackburn in order to maintain pressure on the league leaders. That they failed to do so despite dominating possession and creating a catalogue of chances came as no surprise. It has become a familiar tale and a club that dreamed two months ago of winning four competitions are out of three and seven points adrift in a title race that is no longer in their hands.

Had Jack Wilshere not skewed a side-footed shot wide on 29 minutes when it appeared easier for the teenager to score, or Marouane Chamakh found the back of the net on 79 minutes as opposed to the frame of the diving Martin Olsson, then victory would have been Arsenal's and with it the maintenance of a five-point difference with United and the belief that Sir Alex Ferguson's men could still be caught, particularly given they have to visit this stadium on 1 May. But such an outcome would have been contradictory to a destiny that has attached itself to Arsenal ever since they lost the Carling Cup final to Birmingham and subsequently exited the Champions League and FA Cup. This is a side that have won once in their past seven matches and, after this increasingly wayward display, even have their normally supportive manager questioning their attitude.

"It was a frustrating performance," Wenger said. "There was a lack of energy and sharpness in our game. It is a big concern to see what we have seen. It is difficult to identify [why Arsenal underperformed]. We started OK, but the players didn't have the resources to keep the pace in their game."

Wenger being Wenger, there was no acceptance Arsenal are now out of the title race, but neither did he insist that his side could be champions for the first time in seven years. "I prefer to focus on our performance, not on [Manchester] United," he said.

The game had started brightly for Arsenal with Theo Walcott, featuring for the hosts for the first time since damaging his ankle at the end of February, running at Blackburn with precision and purpose. The winger helped created the first chance in the fourth minute, playing a one-two with Alex Song, who also returned to the team after a spell out injured, which led to the Cameroon midfielder hitting a drive that appeared to be going in until Phil Jones's intercepted the shot with a diving tackle.

The pressure continued but the nervousness Arsenal regularly display when their early dominance has not resulted in a goal again came to the fore with Manuel Almunia, unsurprisingly, at the heart of the kamikaze defending. The goalkeeper, who was at fault for West Bromwich Albion's second goal during Arsenal's 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns in their last league outing, spilled a shot by Olsson on 33 minutes that crept just wide of his near post. Then, the Spaniard failed to collect a free-kick, allowing Steven Nzonzi a free header, which the midfielder put just wide. Sat in the stands, the former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson shook his head in despair.

In fairness to Blackburn, those chances came about in part through their own refusal to buckle under Arsenal's pressure. Their overall display was admirable for a side that came into this fixture having not won their past six league games and became even more so when Nzonzi was sent off for a lunge on Laurent Koscielny after 76 minutes and Arsenal, now with Cesc Fábregas on as a substitute having also recovered from injury, cranked up the pressure once more after a period of sustained apathy.

"The team showed togetherness and spirit, this is a valuable point for us," Steve Kean, the Blackburn manager, said. That was not a sentiment Wenger could share. For him, this was the most pointless of points.


SUSAN FERGUSON, Observer reader What a dreadful game. Blackburn are not as good as Arsenal, so they obviously have to defend, so we always had 10 players to shoot through. But we gave the ball away too easily. We seemed to lack a bit of leadership – Fábregas made a difference when he game on, but we didn't seem to have that winning spirit today. You can't say we were unlucky. Wilshere and Arshavin were our best players; they had a bit of vision because you have to do something creative to break down a team like that. If you want to win the league, you have to beat sides like Rovers and West Brom – and three draws in a row is just not good enough.

The fan's player ratings Almunia 5; Sagna 6, Koscielny 6,Squillaci 4, Clichy 6; Wilshere 7, Song 6, Arshavin 7 (Fábregas 58 7), Walcott 6 (Chamakh 73 6), Van Persie 6, Nasri 7 (Bendtner 78 6)

MIKE DELAP, Steve Kean has been under a lot of pressure for a good while, but today he got his tactics and team selection spot on. He needed to when taking on a top team at their own ground and his decisions were fully vindicated. Virtually everyone had Arsenal down for a 3-0 or 4-0 win, so to travel to the Emirates, keep them out for 90 minutes and fully deserve a point is quite an achievement. We showed the kind of fight we need to stay up, especially after Nzonzi was sent off with a quarter of an hour left. It was a yellow card at worst, in my opinion. It was a good team performance, but Samba and Nelsen were my men of the match.

The fan's player ratings Robinson 7; Salgado 6, Samba 9, Nelsen 9, Olsson 8; Emerton 5, J Jones 8 (Dunn 90 n/a), P Jones 8, Nzonzi 6, Hoilett 8; Santa Cruz 5 (Roberts 62 5)

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Powered by article was written by Sachin Nakrani at the Emirates Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 2nd April 2011 20.12 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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