Tuesday 27 June 2017

Wenger shakes Gunners into life

Blackpool 1
Arsenal 3

Henry Winter

The wake is over, the chase is on. Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal have finally stopped mourning their demise in the Carling Cup, FA Cup and Champions League and can catch Manchester United in the Premier League.

But, rather like the builder contracted to do the scaffolding on the Blackpool Tower, it remains a tall order. Still, this was Arsenal's first win in six during a harrowing period when they have slumped out of those three competitions.

"It was a massive disappointment," reflected Wenger. "We go through a period of grief and denial and then you have to start showing the mental strength to respond. This team has done that remarkably well. There are still seven games."

Hardly easy ones, though. Now seven points behind with a game in hand, Arsenal's next three fixtures are at home to Liverpool before tricky trips to Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers. United could conceivably clinch the title at the Emirates on May 1.

As Arsenal peer upwards, Blackpool glance nervously over their shoulders. "It's the toughest league," said Ian Holloway, whose team lie only a point above the relegation zone. "I feel like a gladiator going into an arena with a toothpick. I want to chop down a tree and make a lance.

"I revere these people. This is Wenger. I watched them. I wanted to be up against them. I am now up against them. I'm Blackpool. It's a joy. But I want to stay in this level."

Invariably animated, Holloway was particularly aggrieved by Lee Mason's failure to award Blackpool penalties for a handball by Abou Diaby and particularly a challenge by Laurent Koscielny on Gary Taylor-Fletcher.

"I went to see Mr Mason afterwards and he said he'd given us penalties earlier in the season," said Holloway. "He gave us one at Newcastle. But there was a handball. There was a foul on Taylor-Fletcher. That could have made a huge, huge, huge difference to our season."

Arsenal were deserved winners overall, although they had to negotiate some awkward moments on a balmy day. When Manuel Almunia tweaked his knee in the warm-up, forcing him to retreat to the dug-out with an ice-pack on his knee, Jens Lehmann started.

"Sometimes life is about surprises, and that happened to me," said Lehmann of his chance to make it 200 appearances for Arsenal.

If he features against Liverpool, the German will become Arsenal's oldest player, eclipsing Jock Rutherford, the winger aged 41 years and 159 days against Manchester City in 1926.

Lehmann had little to do in the first half and the thought occurred that Arsenal could have brought Bob Wilson back. The Gunners soon took control, helped by Blackpool's seemingly scant understanding of offside and failure to stick tight to Cesc Fabregas, outstanding on his 300th club appearance.

When Diaby nicked the ball after 18 minutes, Fabregas took charge, sweeping a pass left to Robin van Persie and Diaby applied the finishing touch to the Dutchman's cross.

Like the local hostelries, Blackpool's defence clearly offered a two-for-one deal and Arsenal swiftly helped themselves to a second. Emmanuel Eboue exchanged passes with Jack Wilshere before shooting powerfully home.

Blackpool were a different force after the break, clearly stirred by Holloway's words and halving the deficit within seven minutes.

Advantage

Following a foul by Wilshere, Mason played good advantage as Blackpool were racing upfield. Jason Puncheon squeezed the ball through for DJ Campbell, whose journey was ended by Lehmann's challenge, but Taylor-Fletcher slammed the loose ball in.

Yet if Mason had punished Lehmann, then Blackpool would have fancied their chances with Charlie Adam so adept from the spot, against 10 men and with no back-up 'keeper on the bench.

Blackpool kept going and Keith Southern wasted a simple chance, heading wide.

Arsenal woke up really only when Theo Walcott arrived. Found brilliantly by Fabregas' volleyed pass, Walcott raced down the right and squared to Van Persie to end Blackpool's hopes of a comeback. Arsenal's hopes of catching United remain alive, but only just. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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