Fan’s protest fails to stop Willock
AJOURNEY that began with a Blackpool protester sitting on top of their bus ended with Arsenal comfortably booking a place in the fourth round.
Joe Willock, one of two teenagers in the Gunners’ starting line-up, scored twice in the first half and Alex Iwobi added a third in the 82nd minute to secure a routine victory.
Most of the drama happened before the match at the Marriott Hotel, where Arsenal’s players found they were unable to set off for Bloomfield Road.
A large number of Blackpool fans have been trying to force Owen Oyston to sell the club for several years, to no avail, and their most highprofile match of the season offered an opportunity to draw wider attention.
The protester, who came down after 40 minutes, was arrested, but the incident did not delay the match, with Arsenal finding a replacement vehicle before being escorted into the ground via a back entrance. Those supporters headed for home when the match began as they continue to boycott games at Bloomfield Road, and the travelling Arsenal fans made up 5,218 of the 8,995 crowd.
Currently mid-table in League One, the Seasiders are all-too used to playing in front of sparse crowds, but the away fans were soon in good voice as their front four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Eddie Nketiah and Willock set about the Blackpool defence.
Nketiah should have scored twice before Willock made the breakthrough in the 11th minute, but shot wide both times from close range.
Willock’s goal was the result of a fine free-kick from Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman’s 20- yard effort took a deflection from Jay Spearing, before rattling against the angle of a post and crossbar and Willock had the task of nodding in.
It was a second senior goal for the teenager and 26 minutes later he grabbed another, forcing the ball in after Nketiah flicked on Carl Jenkinson’s cross, with Blackpool’s defence found lacking.
Having originally made six changes to the team that defeated Fulham in midweek, Arsenal boss Unai Emery was forced into a seventh in the warm-up, with Jenkinson replacing Laurent Koscielny.
The Arsenal defence looked vulnerable, with Petr Cech saving from Armand Gnanduillet in the opening 10 minutes, and the French-born player was using his size well to cause a number of problems.
But, even if the hosts had managed to find a goal, Arsenal would surely have managed to break through again, as they nearly did just before half-time, when Mark Howard denied Nketiah.
Blackpool improved after the break and Michael Nottingham probably should have capped their good spell with a goal, only to fire wildly over.
The hosts were forced to make a change in goal when Howard picked up an injury, Christoffer Mafoumbi eventually replacing him after a lengthy delay.
Willock was denied a hattrick by the offside flag but, moments later, Iwobi tapped in after Ramsey’s shot was saved.
DANCING FEET: Blackpool’s Liam Feeney takes on Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson