I’m writing the report for this game super early this time, partly to make up for the lateness of last week’s post and partly because I’m just so bloody excited we managed to win!
Our boys scored three of the sort of goals that only a team like Blackpool will concede to secure a 3-1 win at Bloomfield Road and pull Manchester United’s lead at the top of the table back to seven points.
Abou Diaby (seriously!) opened the scoring a quarter of an hour into the game, Emmanuel Eboué (seriously!) added a second a few minutes later and despite Blackpool putting up a valiant second-half fight and pulling a goal back, Robin van Persie sealed the deal with our third with 15 minutes to go.
It is probably worth mentioning at this juncture that Jens Lehmann started in goals today. That’s right, 41-year-old Jens Lehmann. Given that I was watching a stream with Spanish commentary and Manuel Almunia looked rather grumpier than usual (which is saying something for him), I was under the impression that the Spaniard had been dropped to accommodate the psychopathic German. But I now know, as of course you already do, that Almunia twinged his knee in warm-up, opening the door for Lehmann to make a first appearance since his shock return.
Rather miraculously, he oozed confidence throughout the game in a performance that turned back the years. He was vocal, made a number of lovely interventions and even had the cheek to attempt an almost perfect re-enactment of his sending off in the Champions League final for the Blackpool goal. Now I think about it, had Lee Mason sent him off rather than playing the advantage I can only imagine who would have donned the gloves as a replacement. Squillaci? Ramsey? Eboue???
The home side had the better of it early on, forcing a number of corners and refusing to let us out of their half for the opening five minutes, but we soon found our groove. Cesc took control in the middle of the pitch, creating a hatful of chances for the front three of Arshavin, van Persie and Nasri, yet it was Diaby who eventually broke the deadlock. Dancing dangerously around a couple of challenges in typical Bambi style in his own third, Diaby powered forward to put the finishing touch on a sweeping counter-attack that also involved Fabregas and van Persie.
With the pressure released Eboué got in on the action a couple of minutes later, exchanging passes with Jack Wilshere before hammering a shot in with his left foot. Watching the replay again it looks like Kingson in goals tried to jump out of the way of Eboué’s shot rather than block it. Baring in mind the pace on the ball though, I can hardly blame him.
The remainder of the first half was a Grade A demonstration of how not to put a game to bed. Van Persie couldn’t knock one of his many chances in, Nasri had shots saved and hit the post and Diaby Bambi’d with the goal gaping. It was always going to come back to bite us and when Blackpool re-emerged from the dressing rooms with fresh intensity and grabbed an early goal, things became very nerve-wracking indeed.
With the game (and our title challenge) on a knife edge Koscielny was fortunate to avoid his twenty-sixth penalty concession of the season while a close-range header flew just wide. The danger from Blackpool’s point of view, and the hope from ours, was that their relentless attacking onslaught would once again leave them susceptible to the counter-attack. That was s exactly what happened.
Diaby did his best Gäel Clichy impression by trying to start an attack from close to our own corner flag but miraculously, it paid off. He raced away from his pursuer, curved a lofted pass towards Cesc who, in one glorious touch, flicked the ball into space for the speedy surprise substitute, Theo “The Flash” Walcott. Theo zipped onto the pass, squared it for van Persie and just like that the game was over.
Aside from Clichy losing the ball thirty yards out from goal and forcing Lehmann to make his best save of the afternoon, Blackpool rarely threatened after going two-down for the second time that afternoon. Neither did we though and the score finished 3-1.
I get the feeling that in Arsene Wenger’s perfect world every “little” team in the Premier League would play football as attacking and carefree as Blackpool because it would probably see us win the title. The men in orange deserve a lot of admiration for the way they approach the game — and were at it again today, particularly in the second half — yet their dedication to attack left them hopelessly open at the back at times.
We were clearly not at our best in this encounter but with the title well and truly on the line we got the result we required. From a fan and perhaps player perspective too, it was great to return to winning ways. It has been well-documented that the last time we had won was against Leyton Orient in early March. Thankfully that horrible duck has been broken now.
The team looked refreshed with a fit Fabregas pulling the strings, although few sides will give him as much time and space to pick passes as Blackpool did. I thought Diaby impressed with his attacking intent, as did Nasri on the right and Squillaci at the back. Lehmann, of course, deserves huge praise for such a composed performance under the circumstances. I thought Koscielny lacked composure at critical moments (hopefully Djourou’s imminent return will calm him down), Eboué and Clichy were jittery under pressure and Arshavin and van Persie were below their high standards.
Nevertheless, a win is a win is a win. And we won. So get in there!
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