Blackpool 0 Arsenal 3
Unai Emery's first taste of the FA Cup began with a disgruntled Blackpool fan sitting on top of the Arsenal team coach but ended with a comfortable journey into round four. Teenage midfielder Joe Willock scored twice as Arsenal made light of Blackpool protests off the pitch and their determination on it to confirm Premier League superiority.
Willock, the 19-year-old England under 20 international, gave Emery's side a comfortable interval lead before Alex Iwobi provided the cushion of a third late on. Terry McPhillips's team were by no means overawed but an upset never appeared likely.
The toxic ownership of Owen Oyston sullied what should have been a showpiece occasion for the League One club. Only two sides of Bloomfield Road were occupied by outnumbered home supporters, and swathes of empty orange seats were visible as the Blackpool fans' boycott of home games held firm. Some gathered as usual outside the main reception in protest, and even Arsenal's arrival at the stadium was delayed by the effort to drive Oyston away.
A Blackpool supporter climbed on to the roof of their coach outside the team hotel to stage a sit-down protest against the club's owner. "He was spoken to by officers and came down after around 40 minutes," said a spokesperson for Lancashire Constabulary. "A man has been arrested on suspicion of an offence under the Trade Union Act and remains in police custody."
The late arrival had no impact on Arsenal's performance, and neither did the late withdrawal from the starting line-up of Laurent Koscielny.
Emery's changed team were quickly in control of proceedings and could have been two goals ahead before taking the lead in the 11th minute. Teenage striker Eddie Nketiah had two clear openings in the early exchanges but dragged a poor finish wide when sent clear by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and was also off-target when connecting at full stretch with a low cross from Carl Jenkinson, Koscielny's replacement.
Despite their clear superiority Arsenal were vulnerable defensively throughout the first half and Petr Cech saved well from Armand Gnanduillet when the powerful forward burst through a crowded penalty area. The goalkeeper also saved from Chris Taylor, who just missed an inviting cross from Nathan Delfouneso.
Arsenal deservedly took the lead after Nketiah, a quick and dangerous presence, was fouled yards outside the Blackpool area. Aaron Ramsey's resulting free-kick struck the inside of Mark Howard's post via a slight deflection off the Blackpool wall and Willock was on hand to head the rebound in to the unguarded goal from close range. It was the midfielder's second goal in three senior appearances for Arsenal this season, and he made it three from three before the interval.
Jenkinson broke down the right wing and exchanged passes with Iwobi, who appeared to handle in the build-up. Nketiah met his low cross at the near post but was unable to convert. His shot squirmed across goal for Willock who, arriving unmarked at the back post, managed to squeeze his finish past the despairing lunges of Michael Nottingham and Howard. It should have been three before half-time but the Blackpool goalkeeper produced a fine save to deny Nketiah in first-half stoppage-time.
The young striker may have lacked a clinical touch but his tireless effort and intelligent movement earned him strong backing from the 5,218 travelling supporters. There were also chants of "Aaron Ramsey, we want you to stay" with the Wales international seemingly headed for Juventus when his contract expires this summer.
The Arsenal contingent had some anxious moments too in the second half as Blackpool delivered a far more threatening display that should have reduced the deficit.
McPhillips's side squandered an excellent chance when captain and former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing released Marc Bola down the left. His low cross evaded everyone inside the penalty area but fell perfectly for fellow full-back Nottingham who, unmarked and with time to pick his spot, side-footed high over Cech's crossbar.
Gnanduillet almost capitalised on a slip by the Arsenal goalkeeper, Liam Feeney produced an air shot when shaping to volley home, and Paudie O'Connor headed well wide from a corner.
Blackpool were made to pay for their profligacy. Willock had been denied a memorable first hat-trick by an offside decision against Sead Kolasinac when the defender teed him up for another close-range finish.
Seconds later Iwobi sealed victory with a tap-in when substitute goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi, on for the injured Howard, saved well from Ramsey's angled drive only for the rebound to spill into the path of the winger.
Sunday Indo Sport