Arsenal bested Blackpool 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup. It should have been a boring match - Arsenal was doing enough to win and Blackpool wasn’t offering much in the way of resistance. Everything changed, however, when Matteo Guendouzi picked up his second yellow in the 56th minute with Arsenal up 2-0. Blackpool scored 10 minutes later and almost evened the match on yet another Petr Cech dribbling blunder. In the end, Arsenal held on, but things were much more difficult than they should have been.
Unai Emery deployed an experienced side for tonight’s match but did include three younger players - Emile Smith Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (making his first-team return from injury), and Julio Pleguezuelo (making his senior debut). Petr Cech also returned to the lineup, having missed the last month with a hamstring injury. Also of note, Carl Jenkinson made his first Arsenal appearance in two years.
The first half was a tepid affair. Arsenal dominated the possession. Blackpool bunkered-in and kept 10 men behind the ball. All told, the Gunners were a bit sloppy - misplacing passes, controlling balls poorly, and looking uncomfortable in the formation for most of the half. The Seasiders even managed a handful of half chances - more than the Gunners should have allowed.
Things opened up after Matteo Guendouzi’s lofted ball connected with a sliding Stephan Lichtsteiner to give the Gunners a 1-0 lead. It was a well-taken goal. Guendouzi’s chip found a pocket of space for the defender to run into, and Lichtsteiner timed his run to perfection. Arsenal controlled the play even more after scoring but were unable to add a second goal before the half.
Emile Smith Rowe doubled the Arsenal lead just minutes into the second half. Danny Welbeck found the long, overlapping run of Carl Jenkinson whose cross / shot (still not sure what he intended) handcuffed the Blackpool keeper who did his best to beat it away. Unfortunately for him, it fell right to Smith Rowe who volleyed it straight into the ground with enough power that the bounce found the back of the net.
It looked as if Arsenal would cruise to a win, but when Matteo Guendouzi picked up his second yellow, Blackpool came to life. It was a youthful mistake from the Frenchman to pull an opponent back carrying a yellow, but I’m not sure it was enough to merit a second caution. Regardless, Guendouzi shouldn’t have committed the foul - he’ll learn in time.
Unai Emery immediately brought on Lucas Torreira to shore up the defense, and eventually Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try to get another goal. The introduction of the two fresh attacking players seemed to enliven the Gunners, who were able to see out the match. Arsenal were helped, no doubt by Paudie O’Connor’s 84th minute red card challenge on Aubameyang that brought Blackpool down to 10 men.
Arsenal will face Spurs in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals on either December 18th or 19th. The Gunners are next in action against Liverpool at the Emirates on Saturday.