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, Arsÿne Wenger, described this week as "a very special trophy" - Alex Ferguson please note - was maintained last night in a third-round tie that offered further evidence of the FA Cup's special qualities.

ARSENAL'S CONTINUING interest in what their manager, Arsÿne Wenger, described this week as "a very special trophy" - Alex Ferguson please note - was maintained last night in a third-round tie that offered further evidence of the FA Cup's special qualities.

It took an adept piece of finishing in the 65th minute by Arsenal's captain, Tony Adams, to break the resistance of a Blackpool side whose performance gave no evidence of their lowly position three places from the bottom of the Second Division. A goal 30 seconds from time by Marc Overmars sent Arsenal on to a home fourth-round tie against Hereford United or Leicester City, although they were never as comfortable as the final scoreline suggests.

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

But the home side offered immediate notice of their intent to end this historical sequence with a barrage of early chances as they began with a coherence which belied the absence of Patrick Vieira through suspension and the likes of David Seaman, Martin Keown, Dennis Bergkamp and Nigel Winterburn through injury. Thierry Henry had, like his French colleague Emmanuel Petit and the Brazilian full-back Silvinho in black gloves on what was an increasingly bitter night, played a central role in this early initiative.

But when the Arsenal breakthrough came, in the 23rd minute, they owed it to a moment of individual inspiration from another of their Frenchmen, Gilles Grimandi, who accepted a simple pass from Overmars 30 yards out and drove the ball with power and deliberation low inside Tony Caig's left-hand post. It was the third goal in successive games for Grimandi, who had scored only once for Arsenal prior to that.

That appeared to be the signal for Arsenal to go on and ruin the Seasiders' awayday. But six minutes from half-time the visitors left all but a mad orange corner of Highbury in shock as they drew level with a goal of Premiership quality. Their left-back, John Hills, pulled the ball back for the midfielder Paul Beesley to curl in a cross that fell perfectly for Phil Clarkson to turn the ball past the Arsenal keeper after getting ahead of Adams.

The inclusion of the Arsenal club captain, despite a long-standing back problem, had offered further evidence of how importantly Arsenal regard the FA Cup. But Adams looked as if he was operating at less than peak efficiency.

Arsenal, nevertheless, responded with urgency to Blackpool's equaliser and might easily have gone in at half-time 3-1 up. First Petit's low drive was parried for a corner by Caig, and two minutes later after Petit had freed Overmars for a clear run on goal, the Dutchman shot wildly over.

Arsenal carried on where they had left off after the break and Blackpool found themselves living dangerously as they gave away successive free-kicks on the edge of their box, from which Henry and then Petit went close. Henry nearly collected the goal his overall play had deserved on the hour when he slid in to connect with a Petit cross but lofted the ball on to the roof of the net. Five minutes later Fredrik Ljungberg was denied a goal by a saving tackle from Hills. But the Blackpool full-back was merely postponing the inevitable. Within a minute Henry's attempted overhead kick from Petit's corner broke off a defender for Overmars and his driven cross was turned smartly into the net by Adams.

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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