Spirited Pool Display in Arsenal Defeat
10th April, 13:30
A back-to-basics Blackpool performance almost surprised title-challengers Arsenal at Bloomfield Road. The Seasiders went down 3-1 to the Gunners but can be pleased with a spirited display in the second half, where they had the away side on the rack.
Ian Holloway made several changes from the team that was hammered at Fulham. Two were enforced, with David Vaughan and Elliot Grandin injured, whilst James Beattie and Brett Ormerod dropped to the bench.
The Seasiders began brightly but were undone time and time again over the top by the visitors as they looked to play a high line which played into Arsene Wenger's team's hands.
The opening goal came in the 18th minute against the run of play. Jason Puncheon lost the ball in the middle of the park and from there, a Cesc Fabregas ball found Robin Van Persie unmarked and he slid a ball across the penalty box to Abou Diaby who tapped in from eight yards.
What was galling about the goal was not the losing of possession but the defensive positioning and then the lack of tracking back, with Evatt and Crainey seemingly allowing Diaby a free run into the box.
The second goal came three minutes later and saw equally poor defending. Emmanuel Eboue was allowed to play a simple one-two with Jack Wilshire to get into the box. Luke Varney was on his heels as the move developed, meaning Eboue had time and space to rifle home a left-footed shot past the helpless Richard Kingson.
There was something of a reaction, which simply wasn`t there after two quick goals last week at Fulham. That in itself was encouraging, but the Arsenal looked the more threatening until half time and perhaps should have extending their lead a couple of times.
Earlier in the half Gary Taylor-Fletcher had gone down in the box, which on another day would have been given, but Pool didn`t really make 41-year-old Jens Lehmann work too hard in the away goal.
The team came out for the second half with renewed vigour, which hasn't been the case recently. The team abandoned the possession football which has hindered their survival chances to the way we know Blackpool can play. That's more diagonal balls and playing in the opposition's half rather than keeping the ball for longer spells without hurting teams.
Luke Varney had a fantastic chance early in the second period as a misplaced Charlie Adam free kick found him all alone at the near post but he couldn't guide the ball on target. A big chance, but a sign of things to come.
DJ Campbell was a willing runner all game, which the team has missed, seeing Pool do their business in decent territory.
Blackpool found a way back into the game on 52 minutes. Charlie Adam found Varney on the half way line who was hacked down by Wilshire but referee Lee Mason waved play on (only good decision of the afternoon) so Jason Puncheon drove his way through the heart of the Arsenal midfield before slipping an inch perfect ball to Campbell. The striker jinked around Lehmann who brought him down. GTF picked up the loose ball and rolled his effort into the empty net to send Bloomfield Road into delirium. Unfortunately for Pool, Lehmann stayed on the pitch which if a penalty had been awarded he wouldn`t have been.
And moments later Lee Mason does what Lee Mason does best - make an absolute clown of himself. The superb GTF wriggled his way into the box and popped a ball off but as he did, was hacked down by an Arsenal defender right in front of the referee's nose. Nothing doing for what was a stonewall penalty.
Arsenal always looked good on the break, especially after they threw Theo Walcott on for Arshavin. They wrapped the game up in the 76th minute when Walcott sprung the offside trap before laying a ball off to Van Persie who stroked home to make it 3-1. I'm since told that Holloway was going apoplectic in the post-match interviews, claiming offside.
But in truth it was Ollie himself who took the sting out of the game when he brought on Andy Reid for Luke Varney, although DJ Campbell had a brilliant chance with 10 minutes left to set up a tense finale.
However, the way in which Pool conducted themselves - making the game feisty and at a high tempo which suits our style of play. And is also testament to Ollie's team talk at half time. There was very little effort made to retain possession in areas of the pitch where we can't hurt the opposition, which if it's repeated against Wigan next week, could see us pick up a huge three points.