Joe Willock struck two first half goals to ensure that Unai Emery’s first taste of the FA Cup did not end in an upset as the Premier League side negotiated the third round tie with the minimum of fuss.
The 19-year-old helped remove any suggestion of Arsenal nerves or the Premier League side being unsettled by the bizarre pre-amble to their cup visit to the League One side.
Blackpool supporters’ season-long protests against their club’s unpopular ownership had led to thousands boycotting games on a regular basis and one fan took the dissent to a new level by climbing onto the roof of the Arsenal team bus at their Preston hotel a couple of hours before kick-off.
Pre-warned about the possibility of protests, Arsenal had a reserve coach lined up, managed to arrive at the stadium on schedule and showed no signs of being affected by the disruption.
Willock took just 11 minutes to open the scoring after Michael Nottingham tripped Eddie Nketiah on the edge of the Blackpool area and Aaron Ramsey’s free-kick deflected off the wall and struck the right-hand post.
That left the unmarked Willock free to stoop and head into an open net, coincidentally in the process becoming the youngster Arsenal goalscorer in the competition since Ramsey himself nine years ago.
The teenager doubled his tally, and the lead, after 37 minutes following a fine flowing attack by Arsenal, one which ended with Alex Iwobi finding Carl Jenkinson whose near-post cross was helped on by Nketiah. That left Willock with the chance to squeeze the ball past Mark Howard and a defender at the far post.
Jenkinson had only been drafted into the starting line-up, after Laurent Koscielny was injured in the pre-game warm-ups, and, considering the disruptions that had plagued Emery’s preparations, it was an impressive effort from a young Arsenal side.
But the two-goal deficit was a sickening blow for the League One side who appeared to have emerged from Arsenal’s pacy and dangerous start and begun to assert a degree of control themselves.
Early on, Nketiah should have turned in from Willock’s through ball but only found the side-netting and then Nketiah shot wide at full stretch, from a more difficult opening.
But Blackpool, cheered on by the largest home following of the season, with some 3,700 home supporters in a crowd of around 9,000, at least made a contest of the cup tie.
With the game still scoreless, Petr Cech had been forced to save from Armand Gnanduillet at close range before Sokratis hacked the ball clear.
And, having been subjected to that early Arsenal storm, the hosts gave a good account of themselves over the remainder of the first half with Chris Taylor, Nathan Delfouneso and Liam Feeney all directing shots on goal without unduly troubling Cech.
Nketiah should have put the tie to bed before the interval, with his third decent chance of the half, racing clear with only Mark Howard to beat but seeing the Blackpool keeper dive to steer his effort wide of the post.
But, while Arsenal started the second half asserting the same degree of control they had for much of the first, there was less urgency in their play. Game management is a skill Emery clearly wants his youngsters to learn from such scenarios.
It might have been different had Nottingham not rushed an effort over from 15 yards just before the hour, the start of a spell of home pressure that also saw Cech almost lose the ball to Gnanduillet.
Yet Arsenal survived that period comfortably enough and when Blackpool keeper Howard was forced off through injury after 69 minutes, their momentum was spent.
It was left to Iwobi, therefore, to complete the rout eight minutes from time, tapping in after Alexandre Lacazette had sent Ramsey clear and his shot had been fumbled by substitute keeper Christoffer Mafoumbi.
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