Arsenal eventually got back to winning ways yesterday, with a 3-1 victory away to Blackpool. It was a game which they quite simply had to win, and thankfully they managed to do just that. The way the game panned out, anything other than a win would have been a disaster for Arsenal.
The team was more or less as expected except for the inclusion of Jens Lehmann from the start, as Manuel Almunia apparently injured himself in the warm up. He's a player who looks completely devoid of confidence at the moment, and I wouldn't be surprised if he felt he was unable to play due to nerves. I felt happier to see Lehmann in the team, and I thought he looked far more comfortable in goals than Almunia has done in the last few games.
Bacary Sagna and Alex Song were unavailable through injury which meant Emmanuel Eboue and Abu Diaby replaced them. Theo Walcott was on the bench due to his ankle injury, despite the fact that he got a hat trick against Blackpool in August. Even with those few changes, Arsenal still had a team which was strong enough to give Blackpool a torrid afternoon. It all depended on the attitude and commitment of the players in the yellow shirts.
Blackpool made all the early play, as they looked to want the game more than Arsenal. They pressurised Arsenal in their own half, and their players were the first ones to every loose ball. However, things changed in the 17th minute with Arsenal's first real chance of the game. Robin Van Persie was played in on the left of the Blackpool defence, and he squared the ball across the goalmouth for Diaby to stroke into an empty net. Arsenal didn't really deserve their lead at that stage, but they turned on the style for the rest of the first half.
The second goal came soon after the first one in the 20th minute, and this time Eboue was the scorer. He played a neat one-two with Jack Wilshere, and blasted the ball into the net with his left foot from eight yards out to leave Arsenal in a seemingly comfortable position. For the rest of the first half Arsenal punished Blackpool for playing a high line, but they failed to put away chance after chance. In the past Arsenal have paid a heavy price for failing to finish off opponents, and the fear among their fans was that it would happen again.
Just before half time Blackpool almost made Arsenal pay for their profligacy, but after a goalmouth scramble the ball was saved by Lehmann, and cleared by Cesc Fabregas. The second half started off in a similar manner to the first one, as Blackpool again pushed Arsenal very hard in their own half. This time it had an effect, as they managed to pull a goal back in the 51st minute. Blackpool broke up an Arsenal attack, and broke forward very quickly themselves, with some good refereeing playing on after a foul by Wilshere.
When DJ Campbell was played through on Lehmann, he was brought down by the Arsenal keeper, and the fans screamed for a penalty. The referee played on again, and Gary Taylor-Fletcher was on hand to put the ball into an empty net, and reduce the arrears for Blackpool. If the referee hadn't played on then Blackpool would have had a penalty, and the referee would have had to decide whether to send Lehmann off or not.
My understanding of the rules would have seen him get a yellow card, as Campbell had knocked the ball away from the goal before Lehmann brought him down. Thankfully the referee used his common sense, and played on, which meant he didn't have to make that decision. If Lehmann had been sent off it would have left Arsenal with a big problem, as Almunia's injury meant they had no substitute goalkeeper. According to the players after the game, RVP would have taken over in goal. I've only seen him play in goal once before, and then his son showed him up, you can see for yourself below.
After the Blackpool goal it was backs to the wall for Arsenal for a while, as Blackpool made all the play. During that time Laurent Koscielny did his best to give away a penalty with some poor tackling, but thankfully for Arsenal the referee was in a generous mood towards them. Blackpool should definitely have had one penalty, and they could possibly have had one in the first half too, as Koscielny's tackling left a lot to be desired. For a change Arsenal profited from the poor standard of officialdom in the Premier League.
Gradually Blackpool tired, and Arsenal assumed control of the game again. After an hour a very quiet Andrey Arshavin went off, and he was replaced by Walcott. Arsenal started to make chances again, but they continued to miss them until the 75th minute, when they increased their lead. Diaby beat a couple of Blackpool players on the right side of the Arsenal defence, and he played a pass to Cesc who flicked it over his shoulder first time for Walcott to run on to. He continued to the corner of the Blackpool penalty area, before he passed it to RVP who finished with his left foot from the penalty spot.
When the original ball was played to Walcott, RVP was offside, but he was onside when it was passed to him, and the goal stood. At that stage Blackpool looked like a beaten team, and Arsenal looked capable of scoring a few more goals too. More chances were created, but all of them wasted, as they had been in the first half. In the last five minutes both Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey came on for Samir Nasri and Cesc, as Arsenal saw the game out.
At times Cesc was absolutely imperious, as he pinged passes over the Blackpool defence to set Arsenal players up with chances which were all missed. When Arsenal were on top he found space and time to make those passes, but I thought he was almost completely absent when Arsenal were being bettered by Blackpool at the start of both halves. He still has a way to go before he will have recovered both physically and mentally after his most recent injury, and as captain he was notable in his absence at certain crucial times.
Lehmann was far better in goal than Almunia has been since he returned to the team, and he has to keep his place against Liverpool next week unless Wojciech Szczesny is fit to play. I felt confident when crosses were played into the Arsenal box, and when the keeper had to leave his line Lehmann made all the right decisions. Hopefully Arsene Wenger will have seen that too, and Lehmann will keep the shirt, even if Almunia recovers before next week.
Arsenal's first two goals were scored by players drafted in to cover others who were out injured, and both Diaby and Eboue have had a fair deal of criticism from Arsenal fans this season. I was happy to see them both score, and I thought Diaby had a fairly good game, but I was not impressed with Eboue in the second half at all. He misplaced far too many passes, and put Arsenal under needless pressure a few times. I was also a little worried to see Gael Clichy give away a great chance to Blackpool late on, as he dallied on the ball, and was caught in possession. I had hoped he had managed to cut the indecision out of his game, but clearly he's not there yet.
If Arsenal had taken their gilt edged chances I'm sure they would have won by five or six goals, but it's very rarely so easy for their fans. At least they won, and reduced "Manure's" lead to seven points at the top of the Premier League. Arsenal also have a game in hand on "Manure", but not for much longer. Arsenal play Liverpool at home next Sunday, and then "Manure" travel to Newcastle with Arsenal traveling to the Spuds the following night. Arsenal need to win both of those games, to keep up the pressure on "Manure", and they will have to play a lot better than they did yesterday if they are going to do so.
When the going was tough yesterday, the lack of confidence in some of the Arsenal players was very evident. Hopefully the win will help that confidence to return, and Liverpool and the Spuds will feel the full force of Arsenal in those two games. Arsenal are unbeaten in 14 Premier League games, but they have drawn too many of them for my liking, and the time for winning games is upon them now.
The boss has a whole week to work with the team before the next game, and in that time Sagna, Song, and Szczesny will all hopefully return from their various injuries. I think it's probably a bit too soon for Johan Djourou to return, which means the two fit centre backs need to be taught how to stay on their feet in the next week. Koscielny in particular was far too fond of leaving a foot in after some of his tackles yesterday, and on another day he wouldn't have got off so lightly.
In other news it looks like Arsenal will finally belong to Stan Kroenke very soon, as he seems likely to buy the shares of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, and Danny Fiszman. His stake in the club will be increased to 62%, and he will be obliged to make an offer for the shares of all other shareholders at that stage. If he's successful I'm not too sure what exactly it will mean for the future of the club. I do know that the board sacked David Dein for trying to bring him in, and they only changed their attitude to him when Dein teamed up with Alistar Usmanov. It would seem that he is considered the lesser of two evils, and only time will tell what the outcome of his proposed takeover will be.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights of yesterday's game.
See You Tomorrow.