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Arsenal and Walcott bring Blackpool down to earth with a bump

Arsenal 6 Blackpool 0

Walcott 12, 39, 58, Arshavin 32 pen, Diaby 49, Chamakh 83

Blackpool fans are realistic enough to know they are the Premier League‘s equivalent of the archetypal seven-stone weakling, destined to struggle against the top division’s muscle-men. They will have enjoyed last weekend’s opening 4-0 win at Wigan for what it was: a rare opportunity to kick sand into a bigger boy’s face; a thoroughly enjoyable high in what promises to be a season with more downs than ups. Nonetheless, yesterday’s 6-0 hammering at the Emirates Stadium brought them back down to earth with a bump and ensured their Premier League honeymoon came to a sharp and painful end.

Blackpool fans will at least be familiar with what a rollercoaster ride feels like (image courtesy of cubicgarden)

Two games in, and the Seasiders’ season is already starting to resemble the In Fusion rollercoaster at the town’s famous Pleasure Beach. The ride opened in May 2007, the same month in which Blackpool earned promotion from League 1 to the Championship, from where they ascended after three seasons to the Premier League via a 3-2 playoff final win over Cardiff. If the club can stay on the rails – and the sudden resignation of Karl Oyston, currently involved in a bankruptcy hearing, as chairman this week is not exactly the best possible news – then a 17th-place finish would be regarded as a miraculous achievement by manager Ian Holloway and his under-financed side. When former Aston Villa striker Marlon Harewood and one-time Rangers playmaker Charlie Adam are your star attractions and your ground, Bloomfield Road, has a capacity of less than 13,000 and is currently undergoing much-needed redevelopment, it is understandable that expectations would be muted.

But, make no mistake, Blackpool are not just along for the ride. And as they demonstrated at Wigan last week, they are willing and able to play attractive, attacking football, and will give many larger clubs an awkward 90 minutes between now and the end of the season.

All of which made this the proverbial potential banana skin for an Arsenal side who had scrambled a late point last Sunday against ten-man Liverpool, and who have ‘previous’ in slipping up against newly-promoted sides, with the wounds of a 2-1 home defeat to Hull City – the only other club in Premier League history whose first-choice strip is orange – two seasons ago still fresh in Gunners fans’ memories.

However, from the moment Andrey Arshavin converted a 32nd-minute penalty awarded for a foul by Ian Evatt on Marouane Chamakh – as the last defender, Evatt was sent off, although the foul appeared to occur outside the box – the result was never in doubt. Until then Blackpool, trailing to Theo Walcott‘s 12th-minute opener, had crafted a couple of decent openings – most notably a header that Gary Taylor-Fletcher failed to get on target – to give them justifiable encouragement against an Arsenal defence featuring midfielder Alex Song alongside Thomas Vermaelen.

Theo Walcott scored his first Premier League hat-trick (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Evatt’s dismissal, however, hastened the inevitable, and the visitors quickly found themselves overrun and five down before the hour mark. Walcott notched up his first Premier League hat-trick either side of a crisp Abou Diaby half-volley; his third – a fine run and left-footed finish – being the pick of the bunch. And Chamakh opened his Arsenal account late on with a powerful header from a corner earned after a mesmerising run by substitute Carlos Vela. It was a just reward for a strong, line-leading performance by the Moroccan international, which had been marred only by wayward finishing.

Walcott knows this is an important season for him for both club and country as he attempts to prove his doubters – both among fans and the media – wrong. This was just the performance he needed as he attempts to force his way back into the England side after his omission from the World Cup squad. Each of his goals was the result of neat, composed finishing, and his overall performance was perhaps the best we have seen from him as a starter since the 2008/09 season. Both with and without the ball, his pace provided a constant threat, he drifted in off the touchline to good effect, and his decision-making with the ball at his feet was good. Oddly, his first Premier League hat-trick comes nearly two years after his first England one, but it will have done the 21-year old’s confidence a power of good.

Manager Arsène Wenger was delighted with his performance:

He is more electric than he has been to date because he is sharp. I like today the fact he mixed well the final ball and the finishing. That is always a sign that the player is always more mature. Let’s not forget that what he does is at a very high pace, so it’s not always easy to make the right decision, but today I think he got many decisions in the final third right.

The challenge for Walcott now is to reproduce this kind of performance on a more regular basis, and particularly against better, more physical opposition than he faced yesterday. If he can achieve that, he will be back in the England side on a regular basis again.

Wenger also praised the contribution of Tomáš Rosický, whose Arsenal career has been frustratingly injury-prone:

[Rosický is] a player who had a proper preparation. He was 18 months out and it takes a long time to come back and after when you do you have little problems. I believe when he came on at Liverpool he had a big impact on the game and he looks physically ready and sharp as well.

The Czech player ran and passed with great intelligence, providing valuable impetus from midfield which was largely missing at Anfield until his arrival from the bench. Arsenal fans (myself included) are often frustrated by his alarming susceptibility to long-term injuries, but it easy to forget that Rosický is a player very much in the Paul Scholes mode – a great runner from midfield with excellent vision and a hammer of a right foot. If he can stay fit, he will be a critical cog in Arsenal’s attacking machinery this season.

Unsurprisingly, Blackpool manager Holloway branded as “ridiculous” the penalty decision which reduced his side to ten men, but conceded his team were already heading for a likely defeat by then:

Arsenal are a team full of fantastic players. They way they try and play, pass and move is an education. We were doing OK until the referee deemed Ian’s challenge to be a sending off. I thought it was a penalty at best but then to send him off was ridiculous – it absolutely ruined the game as a spectacle. But we’d probably have been beaten anyway. Some of the football Arsenal played was world-class and they could have scored more. After the red card it was damage limitation and they damaged us all the way to the end.

Even Wenger agreed the call was marginal:

From where I was I thought it was outside the area but I think the linesman gave it. I saw it, but from the bench it is difficult to see if it was inside or outside. The referee has no choice, unfortunately, because it was not a malicious foul, but denying a goalscoring opportunity is clear. I feel many times a yellow card would be enough.

Finally, the manager made cautious but positive noises regarding potential signings before the transfer window closes in just over a week’s time:

I am confident we will add at least one, maybe one plus one. It is difficult to predict because the market is very quiet but I know that in the last five days it gets crazy and then it gets completely mad.

He also put the lie to Fulham boss Mark Hughes‘ complaints about Arsenal putting unfair pressure on want-away goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, to whom he has always attempted not to refer directly:

I believe it has to be as quiet as possible. We always respect the decision of the clubs if they don’t want to sell. They do not need to come out in the press with that. If they don’t want to sell they say that and we respect that. It’s the same with anybody.

Overall, despite the limitations of the opposition, this was an encouraging performance by Arsenal, if not one to get too carried away about. The movement from midfield was much crisper (albeit against a bedraggled Blackpool back line) than the previous week, and for Chamakh to get his first goal under his belt was every bit as important as Walcott’s hat-trick. Jack Wilshere generally sat relatively deep in midfield, but like captain Cesc Fabregas did at a similar age, he impressed with an ability to find time on the ball when everyone else around him is haring round like madmen. And both Fabregas and Robin van Persie were able to enjoy a light workout as they continue to ease their way back into the side, coming on as substitutes for the final half-hour. Both looked bright and eager after their World Cup exertions and (in the case of Fabregas) on-off transfer sagas.

There will be bigger challenges to come – starting with a tricky visit to Ewood Park to take on Blackburn on Saturday lunch-time – but Arsenal’s season now feels like it is properly under way. Only time will tell if this is the start of a title challenge, or another false dawn.

Finally, and without meaning to sound in any way patronising, it was great to see Blackpool’s fans not only stay to the very end, but continue to sing long and loud as their team battled on desperately. They are a credit to their club, and they will undoubtedly win many friends this season. I wish them well.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

21 Responses to Arsenal and Walcott bring Blackpool down to earth with a bump

  1. aeroberg says:

    I feel for Blackpool but the Premier League has no place no sympathy. I hope they managed to stay up this season as they do adopt a style of football that is not dissimilar to Arsenal. As for my club, Arsenal, I hope they really kick-on from here.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the comment. Blackpool add a splash of colour – both literally and figuratively – and I always have time for Ian Holloway, who is still one of the most quotable managers ever to work in this country. I can see them being everyone’s second-favourite team this season.

  2. Erick says:

    Nice match report I think Rosicky will be vital for us this week

  3. tele85 says:

    I do agree that Blackpool could put more threat at arsenal’s defence if they stayed with eleven players, perhaps even scoring a goal.
    For Arsenal, i hope they can maintain their consistency and end the silverware drought this season.
    Nice work on the review by the way.

    • Tim says:

      At least Blackpool were willing to have a go, unlike so many other teams visiting the Emirates. Sadly, the sending off knocked the stuffing out of them. Still, I’m not complaining too much!

  4. Jay-Jay says:

    I was impressed with Blackpool’s support and the attitude of their players – they never resorted to petulence in the face of defeat and kept plugging away as best they could. I fear that they’re relagation is something of an inevitability, but I’d love for them to stay up.

    Really enjoyable article.

    • livearsenal says:

      Disagree that it is inevitable. I think their season will continue as it has started, they will surprise some teams, and they will be shown up by others. As long as it they don’t get disheartened by results like yesterday’s they have a chance.

  5. Tim says:

    Thank you both for your comments. Having now seen Wigan and West Ham in action, I don’t think Blackpool’s relegation is inevitable, but it is still very likely. Their problem is likely to come in January when they will struggle to reinforce the squad, and I fear they will go the same way as Burnley. But I will be delighted if they prove me wrong and stay up, unlike certain other recent Premier League clubs who play in orange I could name …

  6. punkenstein says:

    To the detail, lovely! I do feel Blackpool’ll do a Hull (not on us) and survive this season. Hopefully, they’d be better than Hull should they get a second season top flight!

  7. Rod Sloane says:

    As a Pool fan , if Blackpool stay up it will their best season in real terms since they won the FA Cup in 1953. I will ignore the Pool’s glorious win in the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1971,,,BTW how many European trophies gave the Arsenal won?

    Personally, I don’t think that the Arsenal should measure themselves against Blackpool and vice versa. Although we are both in the Premier League we are in fact in different Leagues.

    Couple of factual errors Bloomfield Road can now accomodate 17,000 and Pool have never played in orange… we play in TANGERINE!

    I am sure you enjoy the deilghts of the Fylde Coast on April 9th.

    Up the Pool!

    • Tim says:

      Forgive the artistic licence about the colours – it was meant as a dig at Hull, most Gooners’ second-least favourite team (after the obvious one), who most assuredly play in the same shade of orange as their former manager’s preferred brand of fake tan. I hadn’t realised what your new capacity was, but 13,000 was the capacity pre-redevelopment, right?

      Not being disrespectful, but naturally we won’t measure ourselves against you or any of the other teams who are expected to be fighting it out at the bottom of the table – that’s not the gig we aspire to. Which is why I don’t understand why some Arsenal fans are proclaiming yesterday’s result as evidence of an impending title bid. What will matter most will be how we do home and away against Chelsea and United, where we were abject last season, The only other thing that really matters is, of course, finishing ahead of Tottenham!

      Oh, and two European trophies: the Fairs Cup (effectively the old UEFA Cup) in 1970, and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994.

      Best of luck for the rest of the season. Your fans did you proud yesterday. If only ours were as loud as often at the Emirates!

  8. Adam Stone says:

    I don’t think that Blackpool relegation is inevitable. Far from it in face. If they can build on this good start, and get some points at Bloomfield Road then there is no reason why they cannot survive as Hull did a couple of seasons ago.

    I do think that a good start is a must for them though.

    As for my home town club, Wigan, well I think that they are really going to struggle this season and might well be early relegation favourites, unless they buck their ideas up sharpish.

    • Tim says:

      Hi Adam. As you know, I picked Wigan for the drop before the season started, and I see no reason to change that prediction at the moment. Yes, they were playing Chelsea yesterday, but the defensive errors they committed would have shamed an under-13s side. And it’s not as if there is a big war chest available with which buy their way out of trouble in January.

      Blackpool definitely need to start well, but so did Burnley last season and Hull two years ago – and both imploded in the second half of the season, with Burnley relegated and Hill escaping on the final day (cue Phil Brown’s laughable karaoke Sloop John B). That’s my fear for Blackpool – they need to keep scrapping for points all the way to the finish, which they may struggle to do once injuries and suspensions kick in. Not inevitable, certainly – but also a big task ahead.

      • Adam Stone says:

        Agreed, it is going to be a major task for them, but I think they might just be good enough to do it.

        I thought that Newcastle might struggle, but after their 6-0 drubbing of Villa today, I might be revising my opinion of their chances.

  9. DesiGunner says:

    I think this game was good from the confidence point of view. Theo, Chamakh, Arshavin, Rosicky, Diaby – all would have benefited with what they did. It was also a good game for the big guns to ease back into some rhythm … RvP, Cesc and Song got some valuable match practice.

    • Tim says:

      Indeed. Let’s hope they are all back in the starting line-up and firing on all cylinders for Ewood Park on Saturday!

  10. vled says:

    Blackpool do desrve applause for sticking to their style of play and for not doing all out defence (as most teams do against Arsenal). They might find it difficult against teams like Sunderland, birmingham, Blackburn etc and i hope they do survive. As for Arsenal, lets see what the coming weeks hold.

    A good post by the way!

    • Tim says:

      Let’s see. Blackburn away on Saturday will be tricky, but our next few games are very winnable. If we can get on a good run, then our first game against Chelsea in October will be fascinating.

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  13. Johnathan says:

    Blackpool will be back soon, whether they will still get revenge against Arsenal is another question though!

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