Blackpool 1-3 Arsenal: Arsenal continually exploit Blackpool’s high defensive line
Arsenal had some nervous moments, but attacked intelligently and were comfortable after their third goal.
Ian Holloway kept his back four unchanged, but brought four players into the side, with only Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher surviving from the side which lost 3-0 to Fulham last weekend. DJ Campbell returned after suspension.
Arsenal had Abou Diaby in for Alex Song, and also had a late change in goal, where Jens Lehmann returned after Manuel Almunia went down with an injury shortly before kick-off.
This was a strange game, where the pattern of play seemed to be identical in both halves. In that respect, it was perhaps ‘two halves of two halves’, with a high tempo from the home side in the first minutes of the two periods followed by a period where they put no pressure on Arsenal’s midfield, and were opened up easily.
For the first ten minutes of the game, Blackpool were on top. Whether this was a deliberate Arsenal strategy – to sit back and play on the break – is questionable, but either way they wouldn’t have wanted to invite quite so much pressure early on, especially with Lehmann back in goal. Blackpool whipped in a couple of corners into the six yard box (something Lehmann always used to be uncomfortable with), and Arsenal looked nervous.
Blackpool’s strategy with the ball was the usual – they played lots of long diagonal passes, which is certainly the defining feature of their game. That said, Premier League teams seem to have figured out Blackpool’s way of playing, having initially been surprised by the slightly unusual approach, and Blackpool’s pass completion figures (and results) have dipped in recent weeks. Adam was their main playmaker – he sat deep and hit balls to the flanks, but only completed 54% of passes, bringing a premature end to attacking moves.
Blackpool’s best work came without the ball – they were energetic and closed Arsenal’s midfield down quickly, preventing Wenger’s side from playing their quick, sharp passing game in the opening stages.
At some point, Blackpool’s pressure on the man in possession suddenly stopped, and soon after, Arsenal took the lead. Cesc Fabregas, having spent the first few minutes unable to exert an influence on the game, dropped deeper into midfield to pick up the ball, which helped Arsenal retain possession deep in midfield – and also meant he could hit long balls over the top to Robin van Persie, who peeled away to the left.
Blackpool were attempting to play a stupidly high offside line, which in combination with the lack of pressure in midfield, meant Arsenal were able to cut Blackpool open at will. Two early chances fell van Persie’s way (one pass he miscontrolled, the other shot was saved by Richard Kingson), and he also received a ball over the top to cross for Diaby for Arsenal’s opener. Samir Nasri also had a chance in a similar situation, where he hit the post. Soon after the first goal, a quick Arsenal passing move made it 2-0, through Emmanuel Eboue.
Blackpool came out for the second period fired up, again closing down quickly in midfield and attacking well. They got a goal back in the 52nd minute through Taylor-Fletcher, after Jack Wilshere was beaten in midfield and the home side broke speedily. This hinted that Arsenal were going to suffer another second half collapse, but Blackpool were unable to keep the game at a high tempo, and Arsenal’s ball retention became much better as the second half went on.
The lack of pressure on the ball again resulted in Blackpool becoming vulnerable to the ball over the top – though the defence played deeper after the break. Still, the introduction of Theo Walcott was always likely to cause problems, and a direct attack down the right ended with Walcott squaring for van Persie for the third goal. It was similar to Arsenal’s second goal against Wolves recently, and another good example of a forward staying in an offside position as the move develops, then becoming onside when the winger catches up with him, as outlined before.
Blackpool didn’t really recover from the third goal, and aside from mistakes by Lehmann and Gael Clichy late on, Arsenal were fairly comfortable.
A game dominated by one key aspect – Arsenal being able to play direct passes to exploit Blackpool’s high line. For much of the first half, it was amazingly easy for Arsenal to create chances through this route, reminiscent of Newcastle’s suicidal defending away at Manchester City earlier in the season.
With both sides playing high lines, the game was congested in the midfield, and was a bit of a scrap in that zone. Arsenal sometimes struggle with that sort of game, but both Diaby and Wilshere were impressive when it came to physical challenges.Blackpool 1-3 Arsenal: Arsenal continually exploit Blackpool’s high defensive line