Arsenal 6 Blackpool 0
The first home game of the season always feels like proper confirmation that the season has begun, as old routines are brought down from the loft, dusted off and reintroduced. So it was back to the Tavern to renew winter acquaintances. Though we did buck one trend, by arriving into the ground fifteen minutes before kick off as opposed to our usual fifteen seconds. The club officially unveiled the new Clock as well as the renamed stands, together with one of those slow motion montage type things that are cheesy as all hell but you know you love them. It certainly seemed to get the crowd going, together with the announcements of the names Fabregas and van Persie amongst the substitutes. The visiting support added to the cacophony that greeted the two sides as they were introduced to the inner circle of the Premiership`s VIP lounge.
In truth, the day out will be all Blackpool will be able to take from the game Arsenal simply overpowered them from the first minute to the last. After 12 minutes, any nerves were settled as the Gunners assumed the lead with a wonderful team goal. Arshavin played a one two with the kinetic Chamakh on the left touchline; Arshavin continued his run and Rosicky flicked the ball baletically into his stride with a beguiling flick of the boot; Arshavin found Walcott in an acre of space on the right hand side of the box and Arshavin`s measured pass was met with a precise finish for Walcott`s first of the season. However, Blackpool nearly planted a giant orange spanner in the works when they missed a glorious chance to equaliser just three minutes later. Stephen Crainey, for once free of the torment of Walcott, was given ample time to swing over a cross from the left; but Gary Taylor Fletcher inexplicably headed wide unmarked and six yards out. That was about as good as it got for the visitors, who spent the next 75 minutes firmly on the back foot. Vermaelen`s sweeping cross field ball found Walcott, he headed the ball to Rosicky, who in turn played a first time pass back to Walcott on the right. Theo tore down the line and picked an excellent ball to Arshavin on the back post, but his half volley was beaten out by Gilks. Wilshere then found Chamakh dropping off into space, who fed Rosicky with his back to goal. Once again, Rosicky touched the ball beautifully into the path of Walcott who made a beeline for goal, but smashed his shot over the bar.
It wasn`t long before Arsenal found a second and the game was officially over as a contest. The omnipresent Rosicky found a loose ball in midfield and made haste as the back peddling Tangerines back line, he fed an intricate slide rule pass through to Chamakh. But Ian Evatt hooked the Moroccan`s leg just as he shaped to shoot. Referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot and brandished a red card. I thought the tackle was half a yard outside the box and that the referee was perhaps hasty in his decision- he certainly pulled the card out very quickly. His assistant should have seen that the contact came outside the box. Arshavin stepped up and despatched the penalty to Gilks` left. With a two goal cushion and a man advantage, it was now only a question of how many Arsenal would win by. It was only another eight minutes before the home side stretched their tally further. Once again it was Rosicky who began the move, finding Walcott in the centre; he touched the ball wide to Chamakh who in turn found Wilshere in space on the edge of the box. Wilshere played the ball into Walcott with his back to goal. In one swift pivot, Walcott had turned and struck the ball into the bottom corner. Walcott and Chamakh swapped positions intelligently throughout the game and it was illustration of the kind of movement Blackpool could not live with.
The Gunners showed no sign of relenting in the second half either, demonstrating ruthlessness by moving into a four goal lead just minutes into the second half. At this stage I shouldn`t have to tell you that the move was started by Rosicky, who played an inch perfect pass to the onrushing Sagna. The pass was weighted so perfectly that it took the hapless Crainey out of the game as Sagna skipped beyond him; looked up and cut the ball back to Diaby who brilliantly steered a half volley into the bottom corner. The goal elucidated the improvement in Sagna`s delivery over the last 18 months- not that anyone credits it. Last season he finished with 5 assists, more than any other right back in the league. Walcott soon completed his afternoon`s sterling work by grabbing his first top flight hat trick. Diaby saw Walcott`s run behind the Blackpool full back; Diaby played the ball into his path and Theo took it right into his stride, slaloming past two players before placing the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot. Of course, when you`re leading by five goals against ten men at home, the last thing your opponents want to see is the sight of Fabregas and van Persie standing on the touchline hungry to enter the fray. But before they did enter the party to deafening applause, the Gunners should have made it six.
Rosicky`s pass down the line for Arshavin was as inch perfect as his other umpteen defence splitting passes that preceded it. Arshavin galloped past Cathcart and played a low cross which cut Gilks out, only for the sliding Marouane Chamakh to get under the ball and lift it over the bar from a couple of yards. As a rusty van Persie and Fabregas entered the fray, the Gunners rhythm seemed to desert them slightly. Rosicky took a more conservative role with Fabregas on and he wasn`t able to run the match in quite the same way. Substitute Carlos Vela added a party piece, juggling the ball over Baptiste`s head with a deft flick, before lobbing Cathcart and Crainey in turn on route to goal. Unfortunately, Vela was then left with no other option than to actually use his right foot and quite frankly, the embarrassing swing he took with his wrong foot should shame him into working on his weaker foot in training. It was a quite shameful sight to see a professional footballer not able to kick a ball properly. But from the resulting corner, van Persie`s delivery was met with a firm header from Chamakh, who had muscled his way above the static Blackpool defence. After his earlier contender for miss of the season, it is reassuring to know that he didn`t allow it to play on his mind and there should be a good deal more freedom in his play now he is off the mark in an Arsenal shirt. His movement was very intelligent all afternoon and the goal showed a little bit of that aerial prowess he will give us.
Arsenal nearly planted a cherry on top of the icing with a 7th, Fabregas found the run of Wilshere in the area, Jack stumbled around two challenges but managed to stub his foot into the ground with just the keeper to beat. The final whistle was punctuated by the familiar strains of Curtis Mayfield and it was back to the Bank of Friendship for a few more jars. The performance was incredibly pleasing; there will be those that scoff at the quality of the opposition and, to a degree, they have a point. But if we are to sagely nod at Chelsea walloping six past relegation fodder, it is only right we celebrate our own ruthlessness. I think two years ago, Arsenal would have stopped playing at 2-0. Theo Walcott will face tougher full backs, but it was satisfying to see him getting the basics right; his delivery, the choice of pass, keeping the ball under control at high speed. But for me, the man of the match was Tomas Rosicky who, having changed the game at Anfield last week; stepped into the Cesc role with aplomb and was at the heart of everything we did. The quality and vision of his passing was sublime; all first time layoffs and cutting slide rule passes. It`s the Rosicky of 2006 and a welcome change to the conservative, stale looking Rosicky of last season. Nobody in their right mind has ever questioned his ability, but since coming back from injury I have been vocal about his application of that talent. Let`s hope that a decent pre season makes all the difference and that he stays fit and in form. When he`s playing as directly as in his last two appearances, he is undroppable. In the meantime, a very pleasing three points and some ruthless play in front of goal should stand us in good stead for the far tougher test of Ewood Park next week.LD.
1.ALMUNIA(c), 3.SAGNA, 17.SONG, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLIHY, 2.DIABY (4.Fabregas `63), 19.WILSHERE, 7.ROSICKY, 14.WALCOTT (11.Vela `66), 23.ARSHAVIN (10.v.Persie `63), 29.CHAMAKH. Unused: 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs.