Blackpool might have tasted defeat in the FA Cup on Saturday night but there was still one big winner from the occasion – the Not A Penny More movement.
There was to be no huge cup upset on the deteriorating Bloomfield Road pitch, but what the occasion did do was shine a light on Blackpool’s bitter fight with owner Owen Oyston.
When the draw was first made last month, it was feared the game would be a sell out with neutrals and local Arsenal fans alike snapping up tickets, giving the impression that everything was ‘normal’ to those watching from home on BT Sport.
Yet the boycott held firm to a remarkable extent, just 3,737 people filling the home ends for a one-off game against one of the world’s biggest clubs, with Pool fans being outnumbered by those in the away end for the second game running.
Jake Humphreys and his colleagues on BT Sport certainly didn’t shirk their responsibilities and made sure those who made it clear they were remaining outside of the ground – as they have done for so long now – were rightly given a voice.
They weren’t the only ones to do so, though, with several other media outlets – whether that be newspapers, TV stations or radio broadcasters – focusing on the damage the recent birthday boy Owen has done to this great football club.
It is now clear most onlookers outside of Blackpool now “get it”, something which clearly hasn’t always been the case. It has been uplifting to witness the support offered by both Sunderland and Arsenal fans in recent days.
The first headlines of the day emanated from Preston of all places, where the Arsenal team had stayed over on Friday night.
There a Blackpool fan jumped on top of the team coach, looking to delay the start of the match. While a new bus was found and the Arsenal players and staff did arrive on time, just a bit later than originally planned, the damage was already done and the story was plastered over every news website you can find.
There were rumours of other plans to disrupt the cup tie, with drones and a possible late pitch invasion mentioned, but it appears police were well on top of things.
Either way, yesterday’s events appear to have given a new lease of life to those fans who have fought so long to bring an end to Oyston’s dreadful tenure.
I’ve no concrete evidence to back up this assertion, but it seems as though we’re as close as we’ve ever been to ‘Owenexit’ – as Valeri Belokon recently referred to it.
The cup runs are over and even with potential outgoings during this month’s transfer window, any cash brought in will only delay the inevitable. Those funds that are available are and will continue to be used to keep the club afloat on a month-by-month basis.
The club is on life support, which makes it even more remarkable that Terry McPhillips’ players managed to produce another spirited fight against the Gunners, just as they did at the Emirates in the Carabao Cup back in October.
The 3-0 scoreline makes it look comfortable for Unai Emery’s men, which ultimately it was, but it does flatter them a little bit.
Blackpool were well in the game and had opportunities of their own. There were also strong question marks over two of Arsenal’s goals, especially the last one which came eight minutes from time from Alex Iwobi, who was stood in an offside position as he tapped the ball into an empty net from just a few yards out.
The damage had already been done in the first half by Joe Willock’s double. The England U20 international was in clinical mood, unlike his teammate Eddie Nketiah who missed three gilt-edged chances for the visitors.
Willock’s first came on the 11-minute mark and again there was a stroke of luck involved. Pool conceded a needless free kick right on the edge of their own box, allowing Aaron Ramsey the chance to get a shot off at goal. That’s never a good idea.
The Welshman’s effort took a deflection off Jay Spearing in the wall and smashed into the upright, falling straight to Willock who nodded home into the empty net with Mark Howard given no chance.
It could have been so different had Blackpool shown a ruthless touch in front of goal – something they’re clearly lacking at the moment having scored just once in their last five games – when Armand Gnanduillet went hurtling through on goal prior to Willock’s opener.
The striker, who was in impressive form for the Seasiders, looked to play the ball under the onrushing Petr Cech only to see the experienced keeper block the effort with his legs.
Eight minutes before the break Arsenal doubled their lead, Willock getting in on the act again by steering home at the back post for his second.
Despite the body blow, the Seasiders refused to give up and came firing out of the blocks at the start of the second period.
Perhaps their clearest opportunity of the night fell to Michael Nottingham at the back post, but the full back blazed wastefully over the bar after latching onto Marc Bola’s ball across the face of the Arsenal box.
Chances were always going to be few and far between for Pool but the two clearest ones that did come their way were both squandered.
A side of Arsenal’s quality were always going to make them pay for such wastefulness in front of goal, but Blackpool can take heart and confidence from their second affair with Emery’s outfit this season. The same can be said for those off the pitch.