Arsenal 2-1 Blackpool: Matt Scrafton’s match verdict on Seasiders’ gutsy Carabao Cup exit

Paudie O'Connor celebrates after pulling a goal back for Blackpool
Paudie O'Connor celebrates after pulling a goal back for Blackpool

When a lower league side comes up against a Premier League giant, using the term “brave” to describe their performance is usually a patronising term which only serves to belittle the underdogs.

But on Wednesday night at the Emirates Stadium, brave is exactly the right term to describe the Seasiders’ superb, gutsy display.

Not because they defended for their lives, won headers, produced last-ditch blocks and tackles and ran further than ever before. Those are the type of physical attributes that are typically referred to.

But Blackpool were brave in their approach, there was no hit and hope. They took the game to Arsenal, they were brave on the ball and they were brave in how they stood toe-to-toe with their Premier League opponents. This wasn’t a case of sitting back and holding on for as long out for as long as possible.

The two goals Arsenal scored were their only two clear-cut opportunities on goal. Prior to Stephan Lichtsteiner breaking the deadlock on 35 minutes, Blackpool had been the better side and had created the clearer chances.

Nathan Delfouneso, given the unforgiving task of leading the line on his own, got in behind on a couple of occasions with some promising openings.

Arsenal prodded and probed but Blackpool remained disciplined. Until the 35th minute, anyway, when the Gunners cleverly carved the Seasiders open with a clever through ball from Matteo Guendouzi which Lichtsteiner diverted beyond Mark Howard and into the back of the net.

After the second, which was a fortunate, scuffed finish from Emile Smith Rowe, the Seasiders rallied again and posed problems every time they came forward. Those problems only worsened for Arsenal when they were rightly reduced to 10 men.

Guendouzi can have no complaints. Why risk a second yellow with a blatant pull back?

It’s a shame Blackpool were also reduced to 10 men with five minutes to go after Paudie O’Connor, who had earlier pulled one back with a well-taken header from Jordan Thompson’s corner, saw straight red.

At the time Blackpool were well on top and a late equaliser certainly looked on the cards. If the unbelievable happened, penalties would then have settled the game.

Prior to O’Connor’s dismissal, Arsenal knew they were on the back foot and in danger of suffering an embarrassing cup upset, hence why they brought on £56m striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in an attempt to kill the game off.

That was after the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Danny Welbeck had failed to produce a killer blow.

As it was, Unai Emery’s men clung on to the win that sets up a quarter final clash against North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

For Blackpool, they must now take confidence from this as they return to the bread and butter of league affairs against Bristol Rovers on Saturday, as they look to get back to winning ways after last weekend’s defeat to Fleetwood Town.

O’Connor and Ben Heneghan, unexpectedly thrust into the side following a recent injury to Donervon Daniels’ injury and Curtis Tilt’s suspension, were magnificent in the centre of defence.

A word for Ollie Turton, too, who continues to produce consistent performances wherever he is deployed on the pitch. This time it was at both right back and in the centre of midfield.

Every single Blackpool player can hold their heads up high following last night’s display. Things are clearly bleak off the pitch, but what last night proved is that there’s still plenty of life left in the old dog on it.