Blackpool in the Premier League 10 years on: Seasiders ponder what might have been after Arsenal defeat

It’s 10 years since Blackpool graced the top flight and we’re retelling the story week-by-week of that sensational season in the big time.

Friday, 9th April 2021, 3:00 pm

A decade ago, Arsenal departed Bloomfield Road with a 3-1 win but, as STEVE CANAVAN reported at the time, the Seasiders could feel hard done by…..

As has been the case in nearly every home game this season, it was hard not to leave Bloomfield Road with an immense feeling of pride.

After being given the complete runaround in the first half by an Arsenal side that is one of the best teams on the planet, it seemed as though Ian Holloway’s men would be severely embarrassed and on the wrong end of a thumping.

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Amazing then – and great credit to the Seasiders – that by the full-time whistle, Arsene Wenger was more than a trifle relieved at emerging with the points.

Pool were superb in the second period, scored one, and created opportunities to get more.

Like the games against the other top Premier League clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea, a penalty decision – or, to be more accurate, a lack of one – did for them.

Against United, Luke Varney was fouled in the area with Pool 2-0 up. Ref gave nothing.

Against Chelsea, Salomon Kalou collapsed under the slightest contact with the contest delicately poised. Penalty given.

Here, the Seasiders back in the game at 2-1 and on top, Gary Taylor-Fletcher was fouled in the area but the official, Lee Mason, gave nothing.

With hindsight this was the wrong time to play Arsenal.

After a month when the Gunners had lost the Carling Cup final, been knocked out of the FA Cup and Europe, and seen their Premier League challenge falter, they were clearly cheesed off.

Just to make it even worse, Cesc Fabregas picked this day to make his return after a hamstring injury.

He and Jack Wilshere in the middle were outstanding without even breaking sweat, or so it seemed.

Holloway made four changes from the horror show at Fulham, DJ Campbell back from suspension, Jason Puncheon and Luke Varney recalled and Keith Southern in for the injured David Vaughan.

It wouldn’t have mattered who the manager picked in the first half, Arsenal were magnificent.

The sad thing was that Pool had started brightly.

Ian Evatt missed a great chance to score with 120 seconds on the clock, getting on the end of Charlie Adam’s corner but heading over.

With Taylor-Fletcher in good form and Campbell as enthusiastic as you’d expect from a man who has spent the last six weeks sitting on his backside doing sudoku puzzles, the Seasiders were on top in the opening stages.

Alas, it turned out Arsenal were just toying with Pool, and after 18 minutes clearly thought, ‘right, these tangerine lads have had their fun, now it’s our turn’ – and scored twice within three minutes.

Both were good goals, though the visitors didn’t have to work too hard to score.

Abou Diaby struck the first blow after 18 minutes, though so beautifully was he teed up by Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, Diaby could have been wearing a clown’s outfit and high heels and he wouldn’t have missed.

Emmanuel Eboue doubled the depression for the home fans soon after when he exchanged passes with Wilshere and hammered past Richard Kingson.

Beautiful football but far too easy. Pool’s defending could and should have been better.

Then again, this is Arsenal at Bloomfield Road, not Scunthorpe. It was never going to be a walk in the park.

Arsenal bossed proceedings and should have been out of sight by the break.

Van Persie was sent clear by Fabregas but shot too close to Kingson.

Then the Dutch striker beat the offside trap for the umpteenth time and unselfishly allowed Eboue to slot into an empty net, only for the defender to dally too long.

Van Persie then had a goal disallowed, while Nasri came close twice within a few seconds – forcing Kingson to save, then hitting the post.

Incredibly, Pool could have scored on the stroke of half-time when Campbell looked like he had bundled in Varney’s cross, only for Sebastien Squillaci to make a terrific goal-saving block.

A huge pity as 2-1 at the interval, considering the balance of play, would have felt like a victory.

A colleague in the press box pointed out Arsenal had led Wigan 2-0 after 45 minutes last season, and lost 3-2. “Same could happen again, ” he said.

We looked at him like he was a nutter... but not for long, for the Seasiders embarked on a storming start to the second half.

Varney had already missed a great chance – shooting wide from Adam’s clever, low free-kick – when Pool pulled a goal back on 51 minutes.

Puncheon was the creator, running the length of the pitch and stroking a beauty of a pass into the path of Campbell.

The frontman beat Jens Lehmann to it and was fouled, but the loose ball ran into Taylor-Fletcher’s path and he tapped in.

A pity Taylor-Fletcher was there in some ways – if he hadn’t Pool would have been awarded a penalty, Adam never misses, and Lehmann would have walked.

Pool flooded forward in droves and Taylor-Fletcher, suddenly looking like Stanley Matthews reincarnated, jinked into the box and was clearly fouled by Laurent Koscielny.

A penalty all day long, as everyone in the ground could see. Apart from the referee that is, Mason mysteriously waving play on.

Pool had been robbed but the wound would have been healed had Southern made any sort of connection with a Taylor-Fletcher cross.

It proved costly as Arsenal, after a wobbly 15 minutes, found their sea legs again.

Van Persie twice came close before eventually getting on the scoresheet.

Pool were caught pushing forward and paid the price when Theo Walcott broke down the right and crossed for van Persie to guide home.

Even then, Holloway’s men should have hit back. Taylor-Fletcher won possession and sent Campbell clear but the striker’s shot was well blocked by Lehmann.

Disappointment at the end but Pool played well and can be pleased with themselves.

Then again, feeling good won’t help in the battle to stay up: only points will sort that.

However, this match against Arsenal was always one of those where any kind of result would have been a bonus.

It is the next three games – Wigan, Newcastle and Stoke – which will decide the Seasiders’ fate.

Next Saturday in particular will not be for the faint-hearted and a result in that contest is essential.

Play like they did second half and, with a fair wind and a ref who can spot stonewall penalties, they will get one.

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