By Shane Thomas
ARSENAL 6-0 BLACKPOOL, SATURDAY 21ST AUGUST
Ok, so I'll admit it. This was quite a fun experience. There'll be a distinct lack of pessimism from this post (don't worry, the misery will return soon enough) as Arsenal demolished Blackpool to go to second in the Premier League table.
As the tube pulled into Arsenal station yesterday afternoon, the sense of excitement and tension was palpable. Maybe this was due to the fact that this wasn't just my first game as a participant, but also Arsenal's first home match of the season. In the midst of all the red shirted fans, I got stuck behind two very slow walking gentlemen. The instinctive annoyance that I felt subsided somewhat when I heard them discussing the merits of 'The Shawshank Redemption'. Clearly not all football fans are reconstituted cavemen (I still think I would have been justified in punching them both in the back of the head for their slow walking).
So onto the match itself. Despite the final scoreline, Arsenal made a sluggish start in the opening 10 minutes. Abou Diaby and Andrey Arshavin in particular were guilty of being careless in possession & enervating the momentum whenever Arsenal got into promising positions.
But on the 12th minute, as if supercharged, Arsenal sprung into life with a glorious opening goal. Marouane Chamakh pulled into the inside-left channel and picked up a pass from Tomas Rosicky (who was excellent all match), Chamakh instantly flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot to Arshavin and Blackpool were on the back foot within seconds. With the Blackpool defence overloaded, Arshainv shifted the ball back to Rosicky, who moved it onto Theo Walcott. With a first time finish Walcott found the corner of Mathew Gilks net.
While Arsenal began to pass the ball with aplomb, and missed two great chances to score, credit must be given to Blackpool. While The Tangerines defended deep, they attempted to play enterprising football when they did have possession of their own, which made a refreshing change from how visitors to the Emirates Stadium normally play. They had a great chance to equalise when Eliot Grandin rose above Gael Clichy to head golawards. His failure to test Manuel Almunia cost his team dear.
The die was cast in the 32nd minute. Chamakh was played through on goal and as Ian Evatt made a desperate tackle to deny him, the Moroccan got a crucial touch to the ball and Evatt brought him down. There was some debate to whether it was in the penalty box, but there was no doubt that Evatt denied Chamakh a clear goalscoring opportunity. The penalty was awarded and Evatt was sent-off. Arshavin fired home the spot-kick, made it 2-0, and the contest was effectively over.
The red card knocked Blackpool for six (literally in the end). While understandable, they lost their focus and shape, and it was soon 3-0. Arsenal slickly moved the ball to Walcott inside the penalty area. With his back to goal, Walcott pivoted on the spot and found the same corner of the net as he did in the 12th minute.
Into the second half, Blackpool were unable to cope with the man disadvantage. They were like a lamb with a broken leg encircled by a slavering pack of wolves. And four minutes later, the slaughter continued. A delicious pass from Rosicky sent Bacary Sagna away down the right, he cut the ball back for Diaby and the Frenchman scored on the half-volley. 4-0.
Walcott completed his hat-trick after an electric dribble from the right touchline into the penalty area. After racing past three players, he converted the chance to round off a brilliant performance. While Walcott has been frustrating on numerous occasions for Arsenal & England fans, the crowd at The Emirates has always been desperate for him to succeed. And when he was substituted I joined 60,000 other Arsenal fans in giving him a deserved standing ovation. He has never played better in an Arsenal shirt and gave the poor Blackpool left-back, Stephen Crainey a miserable afternoon. Crainey may have nightmares about the Arsenal flyer for the rest of the season.
After missing two great chances - one of them being an empty net - Chamakh scored his first goal for Arsenal after rising highest to head home a Robin Van Persie corner. This may be the first of many headers Chamakh will score for The Gunners, and from a personal point, it's nice to see that Arsenal have a potent aerial threat again.
But the most heartening thing from the game for me were both sets of supporters. While there was the usual banter between the fans it remained good natured, without a trace of nastiness. When the Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas made his long awaited return the noise in The Emirates would have raised the roof - if it had one. But the Blackpool fans more than matched the home support in terms of fervour. Knowing that competing in the same league as Arsenal is the stuff of dreams, they seemed determined to enjoy the occasion as much as they could. Indeed, after the fifth Arsenal goal, it only caused the Tangerine Army to turn up the volume even more. After the final whistle the Blackpool fans stayed to applaud their players, and continued to sing. Which then elicited a deserved round of applause from the Arsenal support.
On the way home, myself and my friend bumped into the Blackpool fans who had spent the morning on the television show, 'Soccer A.M'. They shook our hands and spoke warmly about Arsenal. You could see that despite the fact that they were on the wrong end of a hammering, they really enjoyed their day. And it seems they will enjoy their time amongst the Premier League big boys.
While I still think Blackpool are certs for relegation, after yesterday, I dearly hope they can stay up. Not only are their fans a credit to the Premier League, but their footballing philosophy may also be a source of delight in what has already been a goal-filled start to the English season.
Almunia - 7, Sagna - 7, Song - 7, Vermaelen - 7, Clichy - 7, Wilshere - 6, Diaby - 7 (Fabregas - 6), Rosicky - 8, Walcott - 9 (Van Persie - 6), Arshavin - 7 (Vela - 6), Chamakh - 7
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