There was only one moment on Saturday when it seemed as if Blackpool might delay Arsenal’s progress into the fourth round of the FA Cup. Sadly for Blackpool, who beat their opponents in the competition on the way to the Matthews Final in 1953, it came around three hours before the third round tie between these two famous old clubs even began.
A coach had dropped off Doncaster Rovers’ players at the Marriott Hotel near Preston ahead of their own tie at Deepdale on Sunday and was waiting to take Arsenal to Bloomfield Road when a disaffected Blackpool supporter, protesting at the regime of owner Owen Oyston, climbed on to its roof and refused to budge.
Police were called, the man was dislodged and the rest of Arsenal’s day passed off without further incident. In a stadium with swathes of empty seats caused by an ongoing home fans’ boycott, they cruised past their League One opponents courtesy of a display of great promise, elegance and style by two of their best prospects, Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Blackpool (4-3-3): Howard 7 (Mafoumbi 64); Nottingham 6, O’Connor 5.5, Daniels 6, Bola 5; Spearing 6, Guy 6; Delfouneso 5, Taylor 6 (Pritchard 62), Feeney 5; Gnanduillet 6 (Davies 81 5)
Subs not used: Anderton, McLaughlin, O’Sullivan, Bunney
Arsenal (4-3-2-1): Cech 6; Jenkinson 6, Lichtsteiner 5, Sokratis 6, Kolasinac 5.5; Maitland-Niles 6, Elneny 6.5, Ramsey 6.5; Willock 7.5, Iwobi 6(Saka 84 6); Nketiah 7(Lacazette 64)
Subs not used: Torreira, Martinez, Guendouzi, Smith-Rowe
Scorers: Willock (11, 37), Iwobi (81)
Referee: Mike Dean
Nketiah missed a hat-trick of chances but still managed to ooze class as his running and intelligence pulled Blackpool’s defence to pieces. And Willock, an attacking midfielder who reads the game beautifully and is a master of cleverly-timed runs, made up for his fellow teenager’s profligacy by scoring the two first half goals that were already taking Arsenal through before Alex Iwobi scored a late third.
It was a strange introduction to the FA Cup for Unai Emery, Arsenal’s manager, who was keen to avoid an upset in his first match in charge in the competition, which Arsenal have won three times in the past five seasons.
Blackpool are a club riven by dissent and gripped by disillusion and dismay and Arsenal were pitched into the middle of a stand-off where thousands of fans have been staging a boycott to protest at the continuing presence of Oyston as the club’s majority owner.
Oyston has become one of those cartoon villains that pockmark the lower reaches of the Football League from time to time, men who claim to love their clubs while simultaneously appearing to be driving them relentlessly towards ruin.
Even though Oyston has been ordered to pay £25m to former director Valeri Belokon, he is still clinging on to power. Many supporters have vowed never to enter the ground again until Oyston is removed and have pledged to pay ‘not a penny more’ to support the current regime.