0 - 1 Diaby 17'
0 - 2 Eboue 21'
1 - 2 Taylor-Fletcher 52'
1 - 3 van Persie 76'
Arsenal overcame a spirited and dogged Blackpool side today by a final of 3-1 to get back to winning ways after three straight Premier League draws. The match was mostly sloppy, but Arsenal managed at times to string together magisterial counterattacks, abetted by Blackpool's wildly high line, and managed to make it tell. Blackpool, for their part, pressed Aresnal hard at the start of both halves and made a breakthrough early in the second half, but ultimately find themselves no safer from relegation than they were at the start of the weekend.
The early story was the return of Jens Lehmann, making his 200th appearance for the club about four years after his 199th. Manuel Almunia had sustained a knee problem in the warmup, and the 41-year old madman was back in goal with nobody as his backup.
The Tangerines came flying out of the gate, not letting Arsenal maintain leisurely possession, and as a result, the Gunners had a hard time passing in the first fifteen minutes of the match. Blackpool had more possession and more threat, but Arsenal hinted at what was to come ten minutes in, as Cesc Fabregas lofted the first of his passes over Blackpool's high line for Robin van Persie. Richard Kingson came out quickly to smother the Dutchman's attempt, but it would not be the last.
In fact, the next one was telling. Abou Diaby, who was largely good on the day, fed Fabregas in midfield and took off towards the penalty area. Fabregas, meanwhile, chipped a pass over Blackpool's defense to van Persie, moving down the left. van Persie looked up and fed a low cross between Blackpool's retreating defense and Kingson, and Diaby popped up to tap it in with ease. It was an excellent, quick counterattack, exploiting Blackpool's risky defense, and Arsenal moved ahead 1-0.
The Gunners would not take long for their second. Blackpool's intense pressing of the first fifteen minutes had faded, and Emmanuel Eboue was able to pass to Wilshere on the right before bursting through into the box past the opposing left back. Wilshere returned the pass to Eboue, the center half was nowhere to be found, he took one touch and crushed a left-foot shot past Kingson from 12 yards. It was a perfect example of how Arsenal can use width effectively, although with how Blackpool were defending, it wasn't much of a test case.
After that goal, the match became sloppy again. Fabregas found van Persie over the top every couple of minutes, like clockwork, but Kingson was active and smothered opportunities. Samir Nasri got in on the act, volleying just off the outside of the far post from a Fabregas lob. Jack Wilshere nearly chipped Kingson from short range, but the Ghanaian managed to adjust and pluck the ball out of the air.
Blackpool, for all their wildness, nearly pulled one back at the half. Lehmann and Laurent Koscielny managed to put Gary Taylor-Fletcher just off of Luke Varney's cross, and the ball trickled towards the open goal, but Fabregas was on hand to sweep it off the line just in time. Half time arrived after Fabregas tried to score from halfway.
Ian Holloway must've yelled at his wards something fierce in the changing room, because Blackpool came out for the second half more energetic than they had in the first. Pressing hard again, they forced Arsenal to lose their cool a bit, Jack Wilshere sliding in late as DJ Campbell burst into the area. Lehmann came flying out and took him down, but not before he'd fed Taylor-Fletcher on the right, who buried the ball to make it 2-1 Arsenal. Wilshere was shown a yellow as Bloomfield Road exploded, and Arsenal were on their heels a bit.
Nasri misplaced a pass horribly after the restart, and van Persie dithered rather than ripping a shot with his right foot after being put free with nobody within 20 yards. The chance went missing. Holloway and Wenger made changes, Andy Reid and Theo Walcott entering in place of Varney and Andrei Arshavin.
The game settled into a pretty scampery back and forth for the next little while, both sides scraping half-chances and free kicks. Van Persie put a volley narrowly over from a Fabregas lob over the top before Taylor-Fletcher shot well over at the other end.
Then it was three.
Diaby showed great strength on the ball in his own end, working in the corner to hold off the Tangerines before spinning away, looking up, and spotting Walcott streaking up the right. He placed a long pass which Fabregas turned in front of the Englishman, who calmly dribbled towards the area before sliding a cross in front of Kingson for van Persie to redirect the other way into the back of the net. It was an excellent counter by all four players, and it settled Arsenal a bit.
This did not stop Taylor-Fletcher from nearly scoring again, but Lehmann smothered well. The game at this point began to peter out, Nasri coming off for Kieran Gibbs with a bit of a knock and Fabregas for Aaron Ramsey, but without further event, the match drew to its end and a 3-1 final in favor of the Gunners.
If Arsenal win their game in hand, they will be four points behind Manchester United with a game against the latter still to come at the Emirates. Seven more chances to take all three points; there is still much work left to be done.