Arsenal ride their luck to keep title hopes alive

Blackpool 1 Arsenal 3

Bloomfield Road

Blackpool was the last resort for Arsenal and though it seemed briefly that they might be another coachload of daytrippers leaving the place with very red faces last night, their faint title aspirations are intact.

It was beach football for 45 minutes, Arsenal shimmering in the sunshine and rediscovering their touch against the Premier League's weakest defence in a way which might provide some much-needed deliverance for a side Arsène Wenger declared before the game had lost their goalscoring spontaneity because they have been "in grief".

But it might just have been another story; the same old story of defensive fumblings which provided us with one of the season's most extraordinary matches in their 4-4 draw at St James' Park two months ago, when they gave up a 4-0 lead.

The appearance of Jens Lehmann in an Arsenal team for the first time since a 1-0 over Everton on 4 May 2008 had seemed portentous from the minute Manuel Almunia injured his knee in the warm-up. But Arsenal's title pretensions flashed before their eyes in the moment that Lehmann pulled DJ Campbell to ground in the early stages of the second half. Had the ball not fallen loose for Gary Taylor-Fletcher to slot in, Lehmann might well have been dismissed, rather than sauntering from the field, bathing in the chants of his name 40 minutes later.

Even Wenger admitted that he had winced when his goalkeeper waded into Campbell. "Yes, that was an important split second of the game," he said, conceding an infringement. Wenger's claim that the goalkeeper would only have been cautioned for the offence if play had not gone on did not stack up. Lehmann was the last man between Campbell and goal.

It was not the only turning point. Arsenal's second flirtation with disaster came within two minutes of the first when Laurent Koscielny's hack at Taylor-Fletcher should have earned Blackpool a penalty to level the match. Ian Holloway's sense of desolation last night was understandable – he looked distressed when he emerged from referee Lee Mason's dressing room, a full hour after the game had finished.

Though Theo Walcott's arrival to set-up the decisive third goal confirmed the visiting side's undisputable superiority, this does not look like a commanding Arsenal side, now ready to reel in United. They were the Invincibles when Lehmann – who, at 41, is a week off overtaking Jock Rutherford as Arsenal's oldest player – was in his north London pomp, playing all 38 games of the legendary 2003-4 season. But the immediate fixture list – Liverpool at home next Sunday, followed by Tottenham, Bolton and then Manchester United on 1 May – will surely settle matters beyond all doubt.

How Wenger's players managed to cause their manager all this anxiety only they will know. Blackpool briefly threatened them, Ian Evatt heading over Charlie Adam's corner in the opening minutes, but then they were engulfed; incapable of coping with the succession of crisp, high balls from midfield from the boot of Cesc Fabregas – the jewel of the afternoon.

The Spaniard was the inevitable source of Arsenal's first, Van Persie taking the through-ball on his chest and squaring for Abou Diaby to sweep home. Five minutes later, a masterful return pass by Jack Wilshere cut a swathe through the right side of the Blackpool defence for Emmanuel Eboué to lash home the second before Craig Cathcart could get a challenge in.

Arsenal could have racked up the six goals they scored in August's Emirates meeting between the sides in the opening period alone. Van Persie's heavy first touch twice let him down at critical moments and Diaby couldn't find the target after Richard Kingson had over-committed himself. Nasri beat the offside trap to meet another Fabregas chip but saw the ball come back off the post. The memory of St James' kept Wenger up and down from the bench, flapping his hands and ruing all the profligacy.

Blackpool's chances to turn things round were not limited to the contentious moments. Campbell's failure to connect to a second-half cross, and Lehmann's calmness to stand tall when Diaby had gifted possession to the same striker, also threatened the course of the afternoon. Then Arsenal scored a counter-attacking third and the tension eased. Holloway's anger extended to referee Mason's decision to allow the goal to count when Van Persie, waiting in the area to convert substitute Theo Walcott's cross, began his run from an offside position. It was a far more marginal call.

Holloway said last night that he feels like a "gladiator going into an arena with a toothpick" and he has plenty to fear, having lost 11 out of 15 league games since the turn of the year. He believes that he might have confused his players by returning from a fact-finding trip to Spain two weeks ago, full of the joys of the short passing game which they tried to fairly disastrous effect in last weekend's defeat at Fulham.

"I confused them. I take the rap," he declared in an absorbing diary of his week in The Independent on Sunday. They simply cannot defend: that much was evident in the way that Arsenal cut them apart and Holloway's key admission last night was buried under the grievances. "We forgot about everything we spoke about and practised, to stop them getting through," he said.

Blackpool's three successive home games are crucial. Arsenal can hope against hope that they will also still be fretting when May dawns.



Subs: Blackpool Reid 4 (Varney, 60), Phillips (Southern, 83), Kornilenko (Puncheon, 87) Un-used Rachubka (gk), Eardley, Ormerod, Beattie.

Arsenal Walcott 6 (Arshavin, 61), Gibbs (Nasri, 86), Ramsey (Fabregas, 89). Unused Almunia (gk), Rosicky, Chamakh, Bendtner.

Booked: Blackpool Crainey, Southern. Arsenal Diaby, Wilshere.

Man of the match Fabregas Match rating 8/10.

Possession Blackpool 42% Arsenal 58%.

Attempts on target Blackpool 6 Arsenal 8.

Referee L Mason (Lancashire) Att 16,030.



Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works