The match started with an unpleasant reminder of Arsenal’s lack of defensive depth—Laurent Koscielny, due to start, tweaked his back during warmups and had to be scratched from the team sheet. Unai Emery moved Stephan Lichtsteiner over to center back and put in Carl Jenkinson at right back, leaving Arsenal with an unusual setup on both ends of the pitch (academy players Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock started up front).
It took the new-look defense a few minutes to find their feet, and the offense helped them out by keeping the ball on the other end of the pitch. Nketiah took the first two shots, missing both just wide of the goal, but it was Willock who got on the scoresheet first in the 11th minute of play.
Arsenal won a free kick on the left corner of Blackpool’s box, and Aaron Ramsey thumped his shot over the wall and into the crossbar. The ball rebounded almost straight backward, and Willock reacted quickly, heading the ball past Blackpool goalkeeper Mark Howard.
The patchwork defense held together as Blackpool started to figure it out, with Petr Cech making a couple of good saves, and Willock doubled the tally in the 37th minute. Jenkinson, playing a Bellerin-type role with lots of bombing up the pitch, hit a cross into the box, and after several rebounds Willock found the ball and tucked it away for Arsenal’s second.
Neither club made any substitutions for the second half, but Blackpool was able to make some adjustments, stretching Arsenal’s back line and giving themselves a few good chances. They were all squandered, though, and the Gunners hit right back. Willock almost had had a hat trick with twenty-five minutes to go—his shot went in, but he had gotten the ball from an offside Sead Kolasinac and the goal was disallowed.
Blackpool stepped up their defensive game after that, holding Arsenal to occasional half-chances—until the 82nd minute. Ramsey took the ball up the pitch on a breakaway and drew a great save from Christoffer Mafoumbi (who had replaced the injured Howard ten minutes prior), and Alex Iwobi was there to put away the rebound. Iwobi looked to be half a yard or so offside, but the assistant’s flag stayed down and the goal stood.
With a comfortable three-goal lead, Emery finally brought on a few more junior players—Zech Medley replaced Kolasinac, and Bukayo Saka replaced Iwobi. But with less ten minutes to go, the game was winding down, and Arsenal took their three-goal lead all the way to the final whistle.
With the stadium half empty, it was easy to hear the Arsenal fans serenading Ramsey and the rest of the team, and did Rambo ever deserve it today. Willock was another obvious standout player with his brace, Cech kept a clean sheet, and considering how little playing time he’s had, Jenkinson did a fine job at right back, although he disappeared a bit in the second half.
Arsenal move on to the fourth round of the FA Cup, and they’ll learn who their opponents are at the draw on Monday. The Gunners’ next match is on Saturday, January 12, against West Ham in the Premier League.