I’m really looking forward to the visit to Bloomfield Road. They aren’t vintage Oranje just yet, but the Tangerines have a distinctive flavour of their own. This one could turn out to be one of the most exciting games of the season. Blackpool have been playing with gay abandon in their debut season and I hope the current relegation dogfight will not force Holloway to change his approach.
The Seasiders are extremely lethal on their counter-attacks and have made good use of set-pieces. Interestingly, those two are Arsenal’s main defensive weaknesses. I expect the home side to maintain their record of having scored in every game at their ground. Needless to say, the Gunners will need two or more goals if they want three points from this fixture.
Finding the right balance in the absence of Song will be a real challenge for Arsene. None of the other midfielders has the ability to chase the ball all day long and that could expose the defence to fast breaks by the Tangerines.
One approach would be to play a safe game with the defence dropping deeper every time possession is lost. The Gunners have used this fairly effectively in some away games, especially against the likes of Everton, Wolves, and such teams. The midfield would sit in front of the defence and most of the attacks would be created from deeper positions. It’s a strategy that could work against Blackpool because they’re not likely to sit back for a 0-0 draw.
An early goal does make it easier to play a slow, deep-lying, patient game. I hope to see a purposeful start with some quick exchanges. Arsenal have the players to put one in within the opening ten minutes but could easily concede one as well if some of the players are off the pace.
The hosts do have a leaky defence that is by far the worst in the League. They are the only team that is conceding an average of over two goals a game with 63 in 31. I have no doubt the Gunners will create some chances and with some luck they’ll be able to convert a few of those.
With Fabregas coming back into the starting eleven we should see an automatic improvement in the performances of the front three as they receive better service and will always have Cesc available when they need him. From this point on a lot will depend on the way El Capitan plays. His fitness and performances could still have a significant impact on this season.
Up front I expect the trio of Nasri, Arshavin, and Van Persie if Walcott does not pass the fitness test. All three of them will have some scoring chances if they are able to get into the right positions. There is no doubt Blackpool will offer some space if the Gunners are willing to find it.
Wenger will have to make a difficult choice in the midfield. Wilshere and Cesc are sure to start but the third player will be tough to pick. With no truly defensive minded player available for selection, Arsene will have to pick one from Ramsey, Rosicky, or Diaby. Many fans will prefer Rambo but I’m not convinced he is ready for the League just as he showed against West Brom a couple of weeks ago. I’ll go with Diaby with clear instructions to hold back and let the front players dominate the attacking areas. It won’t be an ideal choice but one that seems mandatory given the circumstances.
At the back Sagna is another major doubt. Eboue will most likely come in but we can never be sure which Eboue will turn up. The Ivorian can be lazy and casual in some games or focussed and effective in others. Squillaci and Koscielny in front of Almunia will have to do. Clichy will have his task cut out on the left.
Probably starting line-up,
Almunia – Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Diaby, Cesc, Wilshere – Nasri, RvP, Arshavin.
I expect at least four goals in this game but can’t quite figure out how the teams will share them. United needed a big refereeing gift to get three points at this venue but Arsenal might have to do it with the decisions going the other way. Nonetheless, this should be a memorable game; hopefully, it will be for all the right reasons.