Blackpool v Arsenal | Saturday 5th January 2019, 17:30 | BT Sport
When Blackpool last met Arsenal, as recently as October, they produced a wonderfully spirited performance at the Emirates Stadium and received all the plaudits in a 2-1 defeat.
In this re-match at Bloomfield Road, can they repeat that display? And could they even better the result?
Terry McPhillips’ side went into that previous meeting off the back of a run of just one defeat in 15 in all competitions, excluding the EFL Trophy.
Morale was high and McPhillips had managed to cultivate a siege mentality among supporters who had stuck by the first team, rather than boycott against the Oyston regime.
This time, the scenario is different, even though Blackpool have come advantage.
They have lost five of their last seven league games, following a 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland on New Years’ Day.
Their path to this round of the FA Cup could be described as fortuitous, with tight refereeing decisions favouring them in a Second Round tie with Solihull Moors, in which they needed a replay to progress.
Forwards Nathan Delfouneso and Armand Gnanduillet, both goalless since Christmas, are not interchanging with the fluidity we saw before the festive period.
Midfielder Jordan Thompson has been sidelined along with utility man Oliver Turton, speedster Joe Dodoo has also been affected by injury while key defender Curtis Tilt has not played for two weeks, perhaps owing to rumours of a move to Wigan.
All in all, they are not in the greatest shape to take on a team of Arsenal’s pedigree.
Arsenal’s young talent
Arsenal have some exciting, young players in their squad, as we have seen in their Europa League campaign and this game gives us another opportunity to sample the talent that lies within.
Speedy wide forward Bukayo Saka was handed a late cameo in New Years’ Day’s 4-1 victory over Fulham and could be given an opportunity to shine here.
Centre-back Julio Pleguezelo, who started in the EFL Cup fixture, might play once again while 19-year-old midfielder Joe Willock, who has scored four goals for the Gunners in all competitions, could feature in midfield.
Although there might be question marks over the long-term futures of Petr Cech, Stefan Lichtsteiner, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny for various reasons, they could offer the knowhow required to help younger players navigate this tie.
The Tactics Board
The availability of personnel means McPhillips will have to pick a 4-4-2 formation, rather than the 3-4-3 we saw a few weeks ago.
He could make two changes from New Years’ Day; fit again Dodoo may come in for Gnanduillet to potentially offer a counter-attacking outlet, while the athletic Michael Nottingham could start on the right ahead of Chris Taylor for extra emphasis on defence.
The challenge for Arsenal, most likely in a 4-2-3-1, will be to cut off lanes into Dodoo and Delfouneso and ensure a sizable gap between Blackpool’s front duo and their defensive unit of eight.
The energy that could be provided by the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah will potentially aid their pressing.
However, attacking players will also need to show an element of care and intelligence on the ball, because any goals that Arsenal score are likely to come through prolonged spells of possession.
The Betting Angle
Arsenal have a full seven days between this match and the following clash, a trip to West Ham.
We can therefore expect them to seek a substantial lead if they go two goals ahead, rather than simply retain possession to conserve energy.
Besides, young players that come off the bench will need to do something special if they are to force their way into Unai Emery’s long-term plans.
With Blackpool in a worse position than they were three months ago, the value is with a very comfortable away win.
Arsenal to win -2 handicap (9/5 Betfair)