BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Arsenal anti-hero Chris Sutton was sent off in injury-time as we recorded our first away since April.
Sutton will always be remembered by Gunners fans as the man whose failure to adhere to gentlemanly conduct on the pitch cost us a place in last season's Champions Cup.
And a heavy challenge on Patrick Vieira earned him a red card he certainly deserved. Spurs target Tim Sherwood should also have gone for a terrible challenge on Vieira should and it was a relief that the Frenchman was not more seriously injured.
Despite missing Tony Adams and Ray Parlour but with the midfield entente of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira back to control the game, and the fresh invention of Fredrik Ljungberg or the right, Rovers were always there for the taking.
And they started the game defending deep, well aware of Arsenal's pace and experience and content for us to come at them. But although we enjoyed plenty of possession, there seemed little attacking threat.
The continental trend to be patient in our build-up there for all to see. So it was with some shock that the home side had the first real opportunity. Tim Sherwood sprung the offside trap 12 minutes into the game and the ball was cleared with Damien Duff looming.
From then resultant corner, Nigel Winterburn had to clear off the line. But the French connection paid early dividends when Nicolas Anelka scored a fine opening goal midway through the half. Vieira intercepted a sloppy Blackburn pass in midfield and Anelka rifled in a shot from nearly 25 yards which flew in off the inside of a post.
The wind and rain which had spoilt much of the weekend's sport arrived in the Pennines before too long and Dennis Bergkamp in particular seemed unhappy with the wintery conditions.
With the ball flying anywhere, Blackburn struggled to get any flow to their attack, Duff causing the most trouble for the Arsenal defence.
The game should have been over six minutes before half time. Ljungberg was fouled on the edge of the box by the clumsy Stephane Henchoz and the slippery surface demanded a powerful free kick.
Petit celebrated his return with a slightly deflected shot which wrong-footed Tim Flowers in the Rovers goal. Blackburn brought on Kevin Davies at the start of the second half to add some impetus to their game, but he did little to justify his £7.5 million price tag.
Sutton almost brought Rovers back into the game with a shot which deflected off Steve bould and flew towards the bottom corner. David Seaman did superbly to block the shot and Davies follow-up went high and wide.
But youngster Damien Johnson brought Blackburn back into the game with a diving header from Duff's left hand cross, courtesy of another deflection, this time from Petit.
Arsenal could have panicked, bearing in mind their recent penchant for conceding late equalisers. We started to give the ball away and failed to dominate with the same composure that had characterised the earlier part of the game.
Any fear of dropping two points could have been allayed ten minutes from the end when Ljungberg fed Anelka and his shot flashed just wide of the far post.
There was an immediate scare at the other end when Davies had the ball in the back of the net only to see his effort harshly ruled out for a shove on Keown.
That was a relief and Anelka was then denied by a fine save by Flowers after a perfect through-ball by Bergkamp. We had to endure five minutes of stoppage time but deserved the win despite that late pressure.
We're up to third now, and you have to wonder what could happen when we DO hit top form... Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believed some niggly challenges deserved sterner treatment. He said: "We had to work very hard for that result and overall we deserved the win.
"The game we had here last year helped us because Blackburn were cautious at the start and let us attack. We were a bit lucky to score with the only chances we had, but that set us up well.
"Sherwood should have been sent off and I don't think it was a fair challenge on Vieira, but Sutton also deserved to go."