x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Too little, too late for pretty Arsenal

Publicly, Arsenal have not given up hope of overhauling Manchester United - but the reality is their pursuit is all but over.

Blackpool's Alex Baptiste challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere during a 3-1 defeat at Bloomfield Road yesterday.
Blackpool's Alex Baptiste challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere during a 3-1 defeat at Bloomfield Road yesterday.

Blackpool 1 // Arsenal 3

BLACKPOOL // With Cesc Fabregas midway through a masterclass of exquisite distribution, his side boasting a two-goal lead that easily could have been bigger and Arsenal's superiority bordering on the embarrassing, a lone fan broke into song. "You know you're going to believe us," he began. "We're going to win the league."

They are not, which is why the remainder of the otherwise vocal supporters who had travelled to the Fylde Coast kept their counsel. In the grander scheme of things, this was too little, too late. For a one-off occasion, it was another wonderful vindication of Arsene Wenger's vision.

Therein lies the quandary. Last week, the Arsenal Supporters' Trust expressed their disappointment about recent results that mean a sixth successive season will conclude without silverware.

Publicly, Arsenal have not given up hope of overhauling Manchester United - "seven games is a long time," Wenger said - but the reality is their pursuit is all but over.

The bigger picture is that others win trophies, but Arsenal paint beautiful miniatures.

Even as a first league win since February was secured, brilliance was marred by fragility; Blackpool's second-half display threatened to make this another of the crushing comebacks that have pockmarked Arsenal's season. Their defending, once again, was fraught.

Instead, Robin van Persie scored the goal that reinforced their grip on second place and rendered Blackpool's position still more precarious.

Ian Holloway's side can console themselves with the knowledge that they have four remaining home games, none featuring opponents with the virtuosity of Fabregas. His influence was apparent throughout.

His delightful cross-field ball was angled into the path of Van Persie, springing the offside trap on the left flank. The vice-captain's low centre was similarly precise and finished calmly by Abou Diaby.

One became two three minutes later, Eboue exchanging passes with Jack Wilshere before hammering his shot past Richard Kingson. On each occasion, Blackpool's defending was awful, gaping spaces inviting opponents forward, runners going unmarked and tackles unmade.

Thereafter, Arsenal's profligacy threatened to cost them. The capacity of Fabregas to loft the ball over the defence and into space was demonstrated delightfully. It led to Samir Nasri hooking a shot against the post, Van Persie and Diaby attempting to walk the ball in and the Dutchman arrowing a gloriously struck volley past the post.

The goal his efforts merited eventually arrived courtesy of Theo Walcott's cross. Typically, however, the most inventive element of the build-up was a delightful flick from Fabregas to release the winger.

Before then, Gary Taylor-Fletcher halved the deficit, sliding the ball into the empty net to spare Jens Lehmann a red card on his return to the Arsenal goal. The 41-year-old German, deputising for the injured Manuel Almunia, had upended DJ Campbell seconds before, with referee Lee Mason playing an advantage that might have benefited Arsenal more than Blackpool.

"That was a big second of the game," said Wenger who, with Almunia sidelined, did not have a goalkeeper among his replacements. A second big call came when Laurent Koscielny's reckless challenge on Taylor-Fletcher should have brought a penalty.

"I can't describe how I feel," said Holloway. "How that isn't a penalty, I don't know." Had it been one, he thought his team would have gone on to win. Instead, their future may lie in the Championship. But the words "what if" will feature prominently in Arsenal's analysis of their season, too.

 

sports@thenational.ae