Saturday 21 September 2019

O'Connor's red card eases late nerves for Gunners

Arsenal 2 Blackpool 1

Emile Smith-Rowe of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Emile Smith-Rowe of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Sam Dean

It was a night of old legs and young heads for Arsenal, who returned to winning ways despite surviving a considerable fright against a group of spirited Blackpool players who had scented an upset.

There were strikes from 34-year-old Stephan Lichtsteiner and 18-year-old Emile Smith Rowe for Unai Emery's side, a cross-generational pair of goalscorers if ever there was one, but there was also a hot-headed red card for Matteo Guendouzi that created so many of their problems.

Paudie O'Connor of Blackpool scores. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Paudie O'Connor of Blackpool scores. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The record books will show that Arsenal won their 12th game in 13 here, but the scoreline does not begin to encapsulate the nerviness at the Emirates following Guendouzi's dismissal.

The 19-year-old Frenchman has been so impressive since arriving in the summer, and he was instrumental in the opening goal here, but his needless red card temporarily changed the tone of this match from comfortable to frightful.

By the end, Emery was forced to turn to two of his key players, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lucas Torreira, in order to regain control. It was only when Limerick youngster Paudie O'Connor, the scorer of Blackpool's goal, was shown a red card of his own that Arsenal could truly breathe again.

With Saturday's match against Liverpool looming, Emery made nine changes from the draw at Crystal Palace. The lesser-spotted Carl Jenkinson came into the side to make his first Arsenal appearance for 701 days, and there was also space in midfield for Aaron Ramsey.

Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal jumps for the ball. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal jumps for the ball. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The Welshman saw plenty of the ball as Arsenal took immediate control against a Blackpool side who are currently 12th in League One. Henrikh Mkhitaryan slid the first shot wide, while Danny Welbeck looked dangerous in attack. Blackpool have not defeated Arsenal away since November 1958, when Stanley Matthews was in the side.

This was their 15th attempt since then, and the task was made considerably harder when Lichtsteiner diverted Guendouzi's excellent pass beyond Blackpool goalkeeper Mark Howard for the opening goal. At 34, he is the oldest player to score for Arsenal since Sol Campbell in 2010.

Blackpool had enjoyed a few moments of their own, with Nathan Delfouneso causing a few problems with his pace in behind. A second was always likely for Emery's side, and it came when Welbeck and Jenkinson combined down the Blackpool left. Jenkinson's cross was palmed down by Howard, but only as far as the waiting Smith Rowe.

Blackpool pushed forward and O'Connor struck the woodwork with a fine header before Guendouzi was shown a second yellow card for a tug on Jordan Thompson.

Arsenal soon paid the price for Guendouzi's ill-discipline as O'Connor headed home from a Thompson corner.

Now they pushed, but the Blackpool defender was pivotal again as he hacked down Aubameyang, subsequently receiving a straight red card. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport