Arsenal make light work of Blackpool after more protests
A double for youngster Joe Willock set the Gunners on their way at Bloomfield Road
Joe Willock of Arsenal celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s first goal during the FA Cup third round win over Blackpool. Photo: Mark Robinson/Getty Images
Blackpool 0 Arsenal 3
A journey that began with a Blackpool protester sitting on top of their bus ended with Arsenal comfortably booking their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
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 3-0 victory.
Most of the drama happened two-and-a-half hours before the match at the Marriott Hotel in Preston, 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 high-profile match of the season offered an opportunity to draw wider attention.
The protester, who came down after 40 minutes, was arrested on suspicion of an offence under the Trade Union Act and remained in police custody at kick-off.
The incident did not delay the match, with Arsenal finding a replacement vehicle before being escorted into the ground via a back entrance, with more protesting fans outside the front.
Those supporters headed for home when the match began as they continue to boycott games at Bloomfield Road, and the travelling Arsenal fans comfortably outnumbered their counterparts — making up 5,218 of the 8,995 crowd.
In the eight seasons since their one campaign in the Premier League, Blackpool have sunk all the way to the bottom tier before managing one step back up last season.
Currently midtable in Sky Bet 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, Alex 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, who was again implored to stay by the Arsenal fans. The Welshman’s 20-yard effort took a slight deflection from Jay Spearing in the Blackpool wall before rattling against the angle of post and crossbar and Willock had the simple task of nodding in.
It was a second senior goal for the teenager, who scored in the Europa League earlier this season, and 26 minutes later he grabbed another, forcing the ball in at the back post after Nketiah flicked on Carl Jenkinson’s fine cross, with Blackpool’s defence again 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 frantic opening 10 minutes, and the French-born player was using his size well to cause a number of problems on the poor playing surface.
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 bar.
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 hat-trick by the offside flag but moments later Iwobi tapped in after Ramsey’s shot was saved, while Mafoumbi then prevented the forward adding another.