Friday, August 20, 2010

Preview : Arsenal vs Blackpool

Having soared to joint first place in the Premier League table by comprehensively beating Wigan Athletic on the opening day, Blackpool travel to the Emirates for what is likely to prove a sterner examination of their top-flight credentials against Arsenal.

Goals from Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Marlon Harewood – who netted twice – and Alex Baptiste gave the Tangerines a dream debut in the Premier League, and they will be hoping to draw on that momentum to spring a major surprise this Saturday.

Arsenal began their own campaign on Merseyside, where they salvaged a 1-1 draw against Liverpool with help from an uncharacteristically clumsy Pepe Reina. It was not a wholly convincing performance from Arsene Wenger’s side, though a point at Anfield is a decent return, and they should feel happier on home turf where many teams have been eclipsed by the Gunners’ fluent passing game in the four years since they moved into the stadium.

Arsenal have not, though, enjoyed the best of weeks. Central defender Laurent Koscielny, who avoided serious injury from the rash challenge that saw Joe Cole sent off at Anfield, was himself dismissed in the closing minutes when he was somewhat harshy adjudged to have handled the ball deliberately. But while his absence will be temporary, those of two midfielders will be longer. Samir Nasri, who looked sharp in pre-season and also impressed against Liverpool, had to undergo surgery on a knee surgery and is likely to be out for a month, while promising youngster Emmanuel Frimpong injured cruciate knee ligaments in training and has been ruled out for up to nine months.

Meanwhile, Wenger’s efforts to strengthen his squad in the transfer market were frustrated when Fulham rejected a second bid for Mark Schwarzer, meaning that Arsenal’s goalkeeping problems remain unresolved; incumbent Manuel Almunia was beaten at his near post by David Ngog last weekend. Arsenal also reportedly made an offer for Sevilla’s centre-half Sebastien Squillaci in midweek, but at the time of writing no deal has been struck or the France international.

However Wenger shuffles his pack for the Seasiders’ first league meeting with Arsenal since March 1971, he knows that his side must win if their title bid is not to stall early on; the emphatic victories already secured by rivals Chelsea and Manchester United have confirmed that there is no margin for error, especially in home matches.

On a wave of euphoria following their outstanding start to Premier League life at Wigan, Blackpool will be gunning for a bigger scalp in north London this weekend. They may not have beaten Arsenal away since 1958, but that won’t daunt manager Ian Holloway, currently perceived to be a miracle worker at Bloomfield Road. Some concerns were raised about Holloway’s future in midweek following the resignation as chairman and director of the club by Karl Oyston, though the manager himself insists it’s business as usual.

And he succeeded in adding to his squad by signing Israel defender Dekel Keinan from Maccabi Haifa in midweek. Keinan became the Seasiders' seventh summer arrival – along with utility player Chris Basham, striker Marlon Harewood, French trio Ludovic Sylvestre, Elliot Grandin, Malaury Martin and defender Craig Cathcart – and goes straight into the squad for the Arsenal game.

In addition, Bournemouth have accepted an improved bid from Blackpool for striker Brett Pitman, who is now discussing personal terms with the Lancashire club. Holloway said of Pitman: "He epitomises us - we are a bunch of people who need to make a name for ourselves." And that’s what they’ll be aiming to do at the Emirates.

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