Football: Overmars strikes to shatter dreams of brave Blackpool

Arsenal 3 Blackpool 1
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The Independent Online
ARSENAL'S continuing interest in what their manager, Arsene Wenger, described at the weekend as "a very special trophy" - Alex Ferguson please note - was maintained last night in a third round tie which offered a crowd of 34,143 further evidence of the FA Cup's special qualities.

It took an adept piece of finishing in the 65th minute from Tony Adams to break the resistance of a Blackpool side whose performance belied their lowly position three places from the bottom of the Nationwide Second Division. The Arsenal captain's first goal of the season was especially impressive given that he was playing with a long-standing back problem.

But the Premiership side could not be certain of advancing to a home fourth-round tie with either Hereford United or Leicester City until 30 seconds from time, when Marc Overmars fired in their third goal, which gave the scoreline a deceptively comfortable appearance.

Afterwards, Wenger reiterated his belief that Manchester United were wrong not to defend the trophy this season - "not just because they are a good team, but because of the message it gives out" - and said he had offered his players the figure of last night's ticket sales as a measure of the FA Cup's enduring value.

"To get a crowd like that when we have so many games is fantastic," he said. "We want to do well in the FA Cup. It means a lot to us because it is historically the most important trophy in England - a real cup, not like the Worthington Cup."

Blackpool arrived for this tie seeking to prolong an unbeaten record against Arsenal in the competition. Stanley Matthews and Co disposed of the Londoners at the quarter-final stage en route to winning the Coronation Cup final of 1953, and in 1969-70, the season before Arsenal won the Double, the Seasiders won 3-2 in a third-round replay at Bloomfield Road.

But the home side offered early evidence of their intent to end that historical sequence with a barrage of chances as they began coherently despite the absence of Patrick Vieira through suspension, and of David Seaman, Dennis Bergkamp, Martin Keown and Nigel Winterburn through injury.

Most of the early initiative centred upon the darting figure of Thierry Henry, but it was the individual inspiration of another of Arsenal's Frenchmen, Gilles Grimandi, which appeared to have tipped the tie Arsenal's way in the 23rd minute. Receiving a simple midfield pass from Overmars 30 yards out, Grimandi sent a powerful low drive inside Tony Caig's left- hand post.

Highbury settled back for more of the same - but six minutes from half- time all but a mad orange corner of the ground relapsed into shock as Blackpool equalised with a goal of quality.

From a pull-back on the left by John Hills, the Blackpool midfielder Paul Beesley swung over a cross that drifted invitingly for Phil Clarkson, skipping ahead of Adams, to turn the ball home with his left foot.

When play resumed after the break, the home side carried on where they had left off and Blackpool began to live dangerously conceding free-kicks on the edge of their area. When Henry's lunging effort from close range landed on the roof of the net, and then Hills made a saving tackle on Fredrik Ljungberg in the 65th minute, it began to appear as if all Arsenal's pressure might turn out to be in vain. But happy Blackpool thoughts of an impending replay vanished when Adams, as so often before, rose to the challenge at the vital moment.

Wenger confirmed afterwards that his captain had been suffering what he called "a slight problem". But the idea of resting him on such an occasion was not countenanced. "I couldn't afford to leave him out," Wenger said. Good decision.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Luzhny, Adams, Silvinho; Ljungberg (Hughes, 72), Grimandi, Petit, Overmars; Suker ( Kanu, 72), Henry. Substitutes not used: Vernazza, Weston, Lukic (gk).

Blackpool (4-4-2): Caig; Bardsley, Carlisle, Hughes, Hills; Lee, Bushell, Beesley, Clarkson; Nowland, Murphy. Substitutes not used: Couzens, Bent, Forsyth, Lambert, Barnes (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

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