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Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal preview

PUBLISHED: 16:33 25 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 07 September 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 21:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores his third goal for a hat-trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Blackpool at The Emirates Stadium on August 21, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 21: Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores his third goal for a hat-trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Blackpool at The Emirates Stadium on August 21, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

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Theo Walcott travels to Blackburn with his popularity at Arsenal at an all-time high - and with praise ringing in his ears, writes Jem Maidment. The much-maligned winger (pictured above, left) has received a spirited defence from past Highbury stars afte

Theo Walcott travels to Blackburn with his popularity at Arsenal at an all-time high - and with praise ringing in his ears, writes Jem Maidment.

The much-maligned winger (pictured above, left) has received a spirited defence from past Highbury stars after Alan Hansen's damning assessment of his overall development last Saturday - despite scoring a hat-trick - when the BBC pundit claimed Walcott did not have a footballing brain.

"Why didn't Hansen focus on the positives?" asked Arsenal legend Ian Wright this week. "He (Hansen) wouldn't have been able to cope with Walcott if he was still playing, that's for sure."

Another ex-Gunner Perry Groves concurred: "To say Theo hasn't got a footballing brain is ridiculous. He wouldn't be playing for Arsenal if that was the case."

Walcott's treble was the icing on the cake in last weekend's 6-0 win over 10-man Blackpool, but Rovers will prove a far tougher proposition than their Lancashire neighbours - and they have their own hat-trick hero.

Rovers chief Sam Allardyce has challenged on-loan striker Mame Biram Diouf to carry on from his heroics on Tuesday night after the Senegal striker bagged all three in a 3-1 Carling Cup win over Norwich City.

"A hat-trick for one of our players is always very encouraging and hopefully he can carry on scoring in the Premier League," said Allardyce.

Rovers kicked off their Premier League campaign with a narrow win over Everton (1-0) but last week conceded the lead to lose 2-1 to Birmingham.

Arsenal have plundered 20 goals against Rovers in their last six meetings in all competitions, but did lose in their last clash - a 2-1 defeat in a dead rubber of a match at Ewood Park in May.

Defender Gael Givet is the only major doubt for Rovers after dislodging a tooth on Tuesday night, but Allardyce expects the Frenchman to be fit.

Samir Nasri (knee) and Nicklas Bendtner (groin) are out but Laurent Koscielny is available after missing the win over Blackpool due to suspension.

Tomas Rosicky says three points is a must: "We go to Blackburn now and last season we lost there so we know it will be a completely different game. But if we want to be title contenders, which I think we are, we have to win."

Prediction: Arsenal simply can't afford to drop points with Chelsea having already bagged six points and 12 goals in their opening two games. Rovers will prove tough, especially at home, but the Gunners should edge it by a single goal. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

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