Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
April 10, 2011, 17:55 PM IST
Arsenal travel to Blackpool’s home turf for the first time in forty one years, looking to overcome their stuttering form and getting the title challenge back on track. While Blackpool are just above the relegation zone, they are not safe from demotion and will have to slug it out in all the remaining games for another shot at top division; Arsenal on the other hand are mathematically in the title race, but like the seasons before, their title challenge looks to be waning from the onset of March. With two attacking teams giving their all for the game, especially for Arsenal to prove a point to their fans, it could be a very engaging affair, unless Arsenal strike gold and repeat their 6-0 thrashing of the same team earlier this season.
Ian Holloway’s men have been playing adventurously this season; while their attacking flair provides a visual football treat, they have displayed the characteristics of a newly promoted team, fighting to stave off relegation; they are rather unpredictable, losing against fellow lower-table teams but procuring occasional inspired wins, including a double over Liverpool and a home win against Spurs. Most of their results have come in the presence of captain Charlie Adams, whose dead ball delivery has secured many a goal for the Tangerines. With games against Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United in the pipeline, they have to ensure they snare maximum points in April and May to remain afloat in the league.
Arsenal are going through a horror run following a promising campaign till mid-February. The exit from three of the four tournaments in contention knocked the wind out of the Gunners, and they are yet to recover from the blows dealt by these results, both mentally and physically. Since their 5-0 thrashing of Leyton Orient, they have never won in the next five games. The stalemate against Blackburn last weekend let to the players being booed by irate fans for their flat performances on the pitch, having failed to make any sort of dent on Blackburn’s defense. Wenger uncharacteristically retaliated to the public reaction in Friday’s press conference, claiming that trophies were not everything and that the fans’ claims about Arsenal’s season being a disaster were overboard – he pointed out that a consistent run in the top 4 of the Premier League and Arsenal’s qualification for Champions League in last 15 years were proof that the club was always in the right track. His comments are certain to make Gooners more cynical and reinforce his stubborn and ‘turn a blind eye’ image, and chairman Peter Hill-Woods’ tirade against the fans has certainly removed the focus on Sunday’s all important game.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Ian Holloway has no major injury worries and will have his best players at his disposal. Gilks and Clarke have been on the sidelines for a while but will return to action later this month, while Basham is recovering from a broken leg.
With Charlie Adam in the team, the odds of beating Arsenal are slightly better for the home team. Given the Gunners’ well documented weakness in defending set pieces, the Tangerines will attempt to bombard them with long balls and look to score from Charlie Adam’s corner kicks. The ’30-million-rated’ midfielder was instrumental in handing Blackpool a 2-0 lead in the first half against Manchester United from his set pieces, and he will be the man Arsenal have to keep a careful watch on. Vaughan, Ormerod and Taylor-Fletcher will complete the midfield, with Beattie and Varney starting upfront to test the centre back duo of Koscielny and Squillaci. Arsenal will be looking to get their attacking form back and press for the title, and Blackpool’s defenders will have to focus for the entire 90 minutes to keep out the likes of Nasri, Cesc and Van Persie. If Walcott is fit to start, then left back Alex Baptiste will need support to keep the marauding winger in check.
Probable Starting XI: Kingson; Evatt, Cathcart, Crainey, Baptiste; Adam, Vaughan, Ormerod, Taylor-Fletcher; Beattie, Varney
The visitors have been besieged by injuries once again, with Alex Song sustaining a knee injury in the Blackburn game and Walcott taking a knock on his ankle. However, Wenger confirmed that Fabregas is fully fit and will start in the game, while Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott face late fitness tests. Sagna is suffering from a niggling knee injury and in all probability will sit out of the game. What remains to be seen is who will take up Song’s position, considering Denilson’s clueless display in defensive midfield in the West Bromwhich game. Diaby might feature in the game, with Cesc and Jack making up the numbers in the midfield; or Jack could start in defensive midfield, while Ramsey forms the offensive outlet with El Capitan.
Arsenal have to be at their alert best to snuff out Blackpool’s chances in corner kicks and free kicks, while the midfielders need to help out the defense in keeping a leash on Blackpool’s attacking players. In short, Arsenal have to be Arsenal and deny possession to the opponent as much as possible, and they certainly need to lift their game and show their mettle to the dispirited fans. While van Persie is an automatic selection, one cant help but feel that Chamakh is necessary as well; a 4-4-2 would make things easier for Arsenal, with Walcott/Arshavin and Nasri on the wings, but it will not happen in all probability. The under-fire Arshavin will desperately hope for his luckless performances to end and get his scoring boots back on, for the sake of the club and his country.
Probable Starting XI: Almunia; Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Wilshere, Diaby, Fabregas; Nasri, Arshavin, Van Persie
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
The midfielder has enjoyed a meteoric rise this season in the league with his one-man-army performances for Blackpool, which even prompted Liverpool to bid for him in the winter transfer window and earned him a place in the Player of the Year shortlist; Ian Holloway even outrageously attached a price tag of 30 million pounds to the fan favourite. His set piece delivery will be a constant nightmare to Arsenal’s defenders, and he will be instrumental in helping Blackpool leave the game with a result.
Blackpool 2-Arsenal 4
Arsenal will not be happy with a fourth consecutive draw and will go all out against the home side. The game will be very open ended and both teams will have plenty of chances to test the other’s defense. Blackpool will play an inspired game to avoid relegation, but the quality of the Gunners squad could put the match in the latter’s favour.