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Blackpool 1 Arsenal 3

It`s a well worn cliché, but this genuinely was one of the first fixtures I looked for last June when the schedules were released. Bloomfield Road has remained something of a mill around my neck since that time as it remained the only Premiership ground I hadn`t visited. But it was certainly no bad thing that the game did eventually fall on the hottest weekend of 2011 so far. Unfortunately, due to television`s fannying around with the date amidst possible Champions League participation, we were in no position to book train tickets until four weeks ago, meaning the chance of any cheap deals rather drifted off with Sky`s avarice. Nevertheless, we were undeterred and four of us decided to indulge for a weekend in the North West seaside town. We travelled up n Saturday morning with our party packs in tow and a throng of fellow Gooners appeared to take the same option. Though our arrival in Blackpool ushered in some light labour before the frolics could begin. The B & B I booked was some three and a half miles away from the town centre, but reassuringly close to a tram stop serving both the train station and the town centre. What the brochures did not mention was the fact that the tramline has been taken out of service until July. So the few tins consumed on the train were rather sweated out in the three and a half mile walk along Blackpool promenade in the stifling early afternoon heat.

Nevertheless, after our Herculean hike, we decided first to attack the Big One- the world`s highest rollercoaster- before more Bacchalian activities could commence. (Getting on an immense rollercoaster after several tumblers of Jameson`s didn`t strike me as a fantastic idea). With Tim, Terry and I suitably satisfied by the ride we met with Luigi and set off to the nearby Dutton Arms to talk culture, sociology and fine arts over a snifter of sherry. (N.B. This might not be a 100% accurate recall of what happened, for some reason, my memory of the day is fuzzy in retrospect. Strange that). From the Dutton Arms we ordered a taxi with the only instructions for him to "take us to the town centre." About half way through the journey, he pointed his head to his left and informed us, "There`s a brothel over there lads, I`ll take you if you want?" We declined his kind offer and moved into the town centre for yards and yards more nectar. After Terry`s amusingly impassioned rant to us about how we were still going to win the title, at around 2am we intended to find another club that was open. Our instructions to the next taxi driver were to take us somewhere that was lively and still open. So of course, without warning us in advance, he drove us to the brothel. Before you ask, none of us indulged! Not made of money you know…..

The next morning saw the reinforcement of a hangover slaying bacon butty called for as a matter of urgency, before meeting up with the rest of our nine strong away scheme contingent in the Manchester Bar, just a short stroll from Bloomfield Road for a few pre match liveners. The bar was packed solid with Gooners who appeared to likewise be in differing stages of a hair of the dog session. Shades and shorts were out in full supply as the sun kissed the stadium. As we made our way into the hastily assembled East Stand, news had filtered through that Manuel Almunia had been injured in the warm up and that Jens Lehmann would make an extraordinary Premiership comeback. I wonder what odds you could have had on Lehmann appearing in a Premiership fixture for Arsenal back in August. His popularity amongst the travelling contingent was affirmed in the opening sages, when Adam`s corner saw Ian Evatt arrive unmarked to head the ball over. Jens, as is his wont, went utterly postal at Diaby for having let his man go, which drew cheers of approval from the away end. But what a fair few people didn`t spot was that, as the Arsenal players celebrated their third goal, Lehmann ran forty yards to congratulate Diaby for his part in it.

Though Arsenal started slowly they stumbled upon a weakness in the Seasiders and began to exploit it ad infinitum. Whether it was porous defending on the Tangerines` part or the bright sun in their eyes, the Gunners were finding the lofted pass to van Persie was coming up pay dirt again and again. The Dutchman received an inch perfect lofted pass from Wilshere, but unusually, his touch let him down and the ball dribbled through to Kingson. The away side were slowly settling into the game and cemented their advantage after 17 minutes. Diaby won the ball in the centre circle, allowing Wilshere to release van Persie, who had peeled away to the left. Van Persie sent in a low cross and Charlie Adam had rather given up his tracking of Diaby`s driving run, allowing him to stroke the ball home from close range. Three minutes later, Arsenal doubled their money when Wilshere played a neat one two with Eboue in the channel, Eboue cut inside of Baptiste, before putting his laces through the ball with his left foot and powering the ball into the net.

Blackpool didn`t look like they were going to crumble so much as they looked fit to burst. Arsenal should have had the game finished well before half time but lack of precision in the finishing is becoming a familiar foe. Against Blackburn last week we had 22 shots. Only four worked Paul Robinson. Some shooting practise in training this week methinks. Fabregas was splitting Blackpool open at will, firstly when his lofted pass found van Persie, who provided the chest trap, but couldn`t get the ball out of his feet and hopefully stabbed the ball straight at Kingson. Cesc was the architect again as another flighted pass sliced Blackpool in twain, but Nasri`s subsequent volley bounced out to safety via the foot of the post. Yet another Cesc pass had the home defence hoping for an offside flag in vain as van Persie rounded Kingson, who had come out of his box and nudged the ball to Diaby. But Diaby opted to try and beat Evatt rather than just slotting the ball into an open net, which allowed Evatt to come back with a saving tackle. Only Arsenal can over elaborate in a two on one with a goalkeeper out of his area.

But the home side did give Arsenal a brief scare in first half stoppage time. Gary Taylor Fletcher smuggled the ball to the by line and cut back for Luke Varney, he prodded the ball goalwards but the ball`s progress was halted by a mixture of Koscielny and Lehmann`s legs- with Fabregas left to clear the danger. Ian Holloway obviously instructed his charges to press Arsenal a lot harder and a lot higher up the pitch. Blackpool nearly halved the deficit immediately after the half began when Charlie Adam`s clever low free kick caught the Arsenal defence off guard and Luke Varney prodded the ball just wide. But the home side soon did capitalise on the away side`s weakness and reduced the deficit when Jason Puncheon`s through ball found DJ Campbell, Lehmann was left with little recourse but to come out and he felled Campbell, but Lee Mason played an excellent advantage and allowed Gary Taylor Fletcher to caress the ball into an open net. A penalty might well have seen Lehmann sent off, with no reserve keeper on the bench, it might have left us dreadfully exposed.

Arsenal began to rock worryingly and were fortunate to be on the end of a less praiseworthy piece of officiating when Lee Mason somehow contrived to miss Laurent Koscielny`s blatant trip on Gary Taylor Fletcher in the area. It will be of no comfort to Blackpool to point out any decisions that have gone against us in recent weeks; we got lucky on this occasion and no doubt. Arsenal`s serendipity was extended as the charm lease on their goal was extended sufficiently to see Jamie Southern somehow head Baptiste`s cross wide from six yards without an Arsenal defender in spitting distance. Buttocks were vibrating amongst all those in Arsenal yellow. But gradually Arsenal settled back into their flow and could have scored when van Persie`s run into the channel showed up on Nasri`s radar, but van Persie could only pull his shot across the goal and wide. Van Persie then sent a stinging first time volley over the bar from Walcott`s cross which would have troubled the Goal of the Season panel had it sailed six inches lower and nestled into the top corner.

But with an assured grip on the game once more, Arsenal did restore their two goal cushion. Squillaci made a vital interception in his own area and the ball broke loose for Diaby, who protected it well despite the ravenous attentions of Gary Taylor Fletcher on the touchline. Diaby showed the strength and poise to outmuscle him and deliver a pass to Cesc on the halfway line; he touched it first time into the path of Walcott who sprinted clear, finding van Persie with an early low centre which van Persie easily converted. 16 goals and 8 assists in 18 starts in the league this year, giving him a direct goal involvement every 63 minutes. Better than any other player in the league. The goal was also a carbon copy of the one that finished off Wolves, the last time Arsenal won a weekend fixture on February 12th. Walcott always keeps his head and plays the ball early in those situations and makes the finisher`s job markedly easier.

Of course just as some of the more absent minded away fans began to "ole" Arsenal`s passing (the same ones that would accuse the team of complacency if they let a lead slip), Blackpool gave us another miniature scare when Clichy had another of his brain freezes and allowed Taylor Fletcher to dispossess him on the edge of his own box. Taylor-Fletcher played the ball to DJ Campbell, putting him through one on one with Lehmann, but the German spread himself well to make the save. Fabregas headed a Nasri corner narrowly wide, but the rest of the match passed largely without incident. It was a rather frantic game as you`d perhaps expect between two such enterprising sides, there was evidence of defensive weakness and poor finishing from us, but ultimately, with the exception of one ten minute spell, we dominated the match and, at this point, with confidence this low, the points on the board were the most important thing. Of course, by the time we had boarded our train back to Euston, a rather different type of board was at the forefront of the discussion other than the points one.LD.

13.LEHMANN, 27.EBOUE, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 2.DIABY, 19.WILSHERE, 4.FABREGASc (16.Ramsey `87), 8.NASRI (28.Gibbs `85), 23.ARSHAVIN (14.Walcott '600, 10.v.PERSIE. Unused: 7.Rosicky, 29.Chamakh, 52.Bendtner.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday April 11 2011

Time: 5:13PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Nice write up LD, sounds like a belter of a weekend. Perfect. Perfect result too (though a clean sheet woulda been nice but now I'm getting picky). A real monkey off our back. If we can get a win on Sunday we can make a push and hopefully be in a good place to capitalise in the unlikely even United capitulate.
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11/04/2011 19:25:00

Usual great write up Tim. I did not see the game, but sounds like there were the usual defensive shortcomings - but another three points nearer to a Champions league place ( just being realistic!). At least Lehmann issued some defensive rollickings which is one of the missing ingredients at the back.
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11/04/2011 21:07:00

Sounds as though the trip to Blackpool was well worth waiting for. The result we needed while there is still something to play for, a few players showing some form, both teams making a game of it all with the sun shining down on everyone. There'll have been worse trips.
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11/04/2011 21:21:00

True we could have had our keeper sent off for that tackle on Campbell; possible pen, as well, with Kos' tackle (gosh! someone should be speaking to him about those, no?), but I thought we were due some lucky breaks with ref decisions, anyway. Some sides have had their fair share of luck in that regard, so why not Arsenal.
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11/04/2011 23:12:00

Naijagunner - I was gonna say the same thing about Kos, his tackles in the area have already cost us a few pens against this season, he needs to be a lot more composed. Great to see Cesc playing like himself again. Blackpool made the huge mistake of giving Cesc time on the ball, and not many are as deadly as he is with time. RVP looked rather less sharp then his usual self, but he is allowed off games and i'm glad he chose to do it against Blackpool.
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12/04/2011 01:07:00

If RvP had an off game against Blackpool then he must be some player. It was his movement and intelligence that carried our attacking threat throughout the game. One goal, one assist and numerous attempts himself and created for others isn't a bad contribution for a player having an off day.
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12/04/2011 08:57:00

The Diaby we saw yesterday was the one that only appears 5-6 times in a whole season. Why can he not get his game head on and play like this more often, injuries permitting...
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12/04/2011 10:01:00

Actually, FuiKaka, I'd say Cesc (or Wenger) has worked out how to create space for himself. Lately, he has been played in a more (deceptively) defensive midfield role, rather than his usual offensive position, which makes him appear harmless and thus, relatively unmarked. With RvP and he having a near telepathic understanding, he has been devastating from that position, going long with his range of passing these days. I hope our rivals don't pick on that too soon.
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12/04/2011 10:05:00

I really do think injuries might just be the entire problem with Diaby- he just can't string the games together to get a rhythm. The only time he came close to managing it was a period either side of Xmas last season when he began to really play well- until he got injured again. He does have cranial diarrhoea at times (as evidenced by his stupid booking on Sunday- if stories are correct, I'm glad RvP had a pop at him for that at half time), but I really do think those kind of things tend to leave your game the more often you play.
Little Dutch
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12/04/2011 10:18:00

Especially after his sending off cost us Newcastle
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12/04/2011 10:47:00

I'm as big a Diaby fan as you'll find; on his day he's one of THE most talented players in the league but as we all know it doesn't happen enough. Although I agree with LD that it's more down to injuries than anything else. Great if Robin did indeed have a word with him but immediately after the incident, Cesc gave him a clip round the head and pushed him as if to say "sort your self out you thick ****" which, one must admit, is a statement difficult to disagree with. Still, good to see the more mature, experienced players know what to do and how to deal with airheads like Diaby. Having said that, give Diaby a full season in the side, injury free, and I guarantee he'll be a fan favourite. Love him or hate him, he's a matchwinner, and United, Chelsea and City don't have backup midifelders who can turn the tide of a game like he can.
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12/04/2011 11:43:00

He needs a run of games undeterred by injuries as LD said. I have always thought he is one of the most talented players in the world. He lacks a little bit of application and urgency. That will come with playing regularly and experiencing the rigours of PL football first hand. Also during the game I thought he, Cesc and Jack offered very little protection for the back four. Not one of them is suited for the DM role. Nor is Denilson. The only proper DM we have at the club is Song and when he's out we find it very very difficult to protect that back four. So we really do need to find a replacement for him when he gets injured.
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12/04/2011 14:19:00

LD, I thought it was Squillacci & Jens who kept kept the ball out of our goal in that late first half goal scramble (before Cesc got to it), not Kos & Jens. I've said many times before that for me--when Diaby is up to it, injury-free and in form-he is the most exciting player we have. Yes, even more exciting than Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, Arshavin at their best. In the early fall of last year the French were seriously talking about him being their first choice midfielder with both attacking & defensive duties after he'd put in 3 terrific displays for the national team from midsummer-early fall. Then he got injured again for a long time and all that talk went by the wayside. Apart from his injuries, Diaby's other problem is his rashness. Problem is he never has a consistent run of games so he never has a chance to get that out of his system. Kills me to see what I've always thought could be an immense player for us (& for France) just languish season after season, reduced to a few appearances here and there, show some great displays, get booked and injured again. And kudos to Robin & Cesc for barracking Diaby on his stupid booking. Glad we finally got a win after a long period of recovering from the CC final-let's just hope this squad can deal with Suarez, Carroll, etc. on Sunday. Hopefully Sczeszny & Djourou will play, they're both in training now.
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12/04/2011 19:26:00

Hope it won't be too soon for JD unless a match can be arranged for him behind closed doors in the week....and we do need his height and leaping against Carroll.
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12/04/2011 23:09:00

Amos - i didn't particually mean 'off game' in general (granted i did say that) ...i just meant he wasn't as sharp and clinical infront of goal as his usual self - and i think without Blackpools poor defending (Diaby ran half the length of the pitch without getting picked up for the first goal) we wouldn't have been so lucky. I can't agree with the Diaby comments - one of 'THE most talented players in the league' ...really? He's got skill on the ball, definately, but his decision making is awful, he holds onto the ball a lot longer then he needs too. Everytime he's featured in one of the bigger games (ManU, Chelsea, Barca last year) he's been dreadful because he can't run around them like he does to the lower teams. Diaby is no match winner, he gets the ***** taken out of him constantly by none-arsenal supporters (even by the ones that don't hate us) ...skill on the ball is nothing when you can't figure out what to do with it. I'd happily accept a semi-reasonable offer for him this summer. United don't really have 'back-up' midfielders because they rotate their squad so much, but as much as i hate united i'd take most of their midfielders in-place of Diaby. I don't think it's the injuries because we've had a lot of players injured as much as him, he's just not champions-league winning/premier league winning quality.
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13/04/2011 02:48:00

I think the point about Diaby is that he has never had to chance to settle in the side as he’s always coming back from injury and trying to play himself back in again. He needs to play in order to literally get up to speed physically. This applies mentally as well so that the air in his head might be encouraged to turn into a brain. It’s very frustrating because when on form he is terrific to watch and makes an important contribution only to get injured shortly after. I’d like to see him injury free for a decent period starting from now otherwise, as exciting as he is, we should cash in and find someone who can.
Sir Henry
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13/04/2011 14:21:00

I agree, I think Diaby and Walcott are similar in that they are progressing only half as quickly as they should, simply because they spend so much time out injured. I think Diaby is much more likely to stay than some of the others rumoured to be heading out the door, because he has such huge potential.
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14/04/2011 01:06:00

Unfortunately players built like Theo and RVP are alway going to suffer injuries. There has to be an allowance in the squad make up to compensate; you are only going to get twenty PL starts a season from them and realistically they are squad players because of this. Contrast someone like Rooney who is the proverbial outhouse and his injury record.
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14/04/2011 21:31:00


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