The Gunners edged Blackpool 2-1 on Wednesday to next play Tottenham in the League Cup quarterfinals. They made life difficult for themselves with a silly red card in the second half. The third-division Seasiders proved toothless in the first half, giving Arsenal plenty of time on the ball. After Guendouzi’s ejection in the 56th minute, Blackpool started pressing high up the pitch and could have equalized to force a penalty shootout.
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Emery made 9 changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace on Sunday with only Mustafi and Guendouzi retaining their starting spots. In a 4-3-3 formation, Guendouzi played behind Ramsey and Maitland-Niles in midfield while Smith-Rowe teamed up with Mkhitaryan and Welbeck in the front three. The numerous changes led to a lack of fluency in Arsenal’s passing game. The Gunners also lacked penetration in the final third as they had no natural dribbler in their starting lineup.
- Smith-Rowe is making an impact
The English teenager scored the winning goal with an awkward effort in the 50th, volleying a rebound into the ground, but the ball looped over a defender and into the net. I’ve already said that Smith-Rowe reminds me of a young Raul because of his flair for finding good positions in the final third. Some fans have suggested that he could be a replacement for Ramsey in midfield but I think second striker will be Smith-Rowe’s best position.
- Guendouzi showed his immaturity
Traditionally, you play a ballwinner as your holding midfielder because you want protection for your defense. But in the modern game, more and more managers like to have a deep-lying playmaker in the No. 6 role to build play from the back. That can become a problem when the deep-lying playmaker has poor defensive instincts.
Knowing that Guendouzi had a history of making silly fouls at Lorient, Emery gambled again by playing him as a holding midfielder. The French teenager was booked in the 21st for a late challenge on Thompson. He then received a second yellow card for pulling back the Blackpool midfielder in the 56th.
Some fans complained that the referee was too harsh. But at least the referee showed consistency by sending O’Connor off in the 84th for a late tackle on Aubameyang. To Guendouzi’s credit, he created the opening goal in the 34th with a cross that Lichtsteiner diverted home.
- Cech made another blunder
In his return from injury, Cech had a poor game. He was in no man’s land when O’Connor headed a corner against the bar in the 53rd. Then Cech lost possession while trying to dribble past Spearing inside the area in the 70th. The ball fell to Delfouneso, who scored into an empty net, but the goal was disallowed for an offside position.
The crowd had jitters each time the ball was played back to Cech. It wouldn’t make sense for Emery to start Cech in the Premier League after Leno’s recent string of good performances. Cech was the player who made the most errors leading to a goal in the Premier League last season. Emery could limit the damage by using Cech in the Europa League and the cup competitions.
- Jenkinson could be the last of the Mohicans
A few years ago, Jenkinson was part of the British core with Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs. Four of them have departed the club and Jenkinson will be the only one left next summer if the Gunners don’t renew Ramsey’s contract. It was a mistake from the staff to extend Jenkinson’s contract because he was arguably the most limited player in that British core. Arsenal must sell him next year otherwise Jenkinson will leave for free in 2020.
In his return from injury, Jenkinson created the second goal with a cross-shot that Howard palmed into the path of Smith-Rowe. Emery will certainly be upset that Jenkinson gave away 3 free kicks with unnecessary fouls from behind in midfield. If the Spanish manager needs an alternative at leftback, he should give a chance to Pleguezuelo, who had a good game at centerback. Pleguezuelo showed good composure and was comfortable on the ball. But at 5’11, he’s unlikely to shine as a centerback, especially in the Premier League.
- Maitland-Niles gives Arsenal more options in midfield
After breaking his leg in August, Maitland-Niles made his return from injury last week by playing with the U23 team. On Wednesday, Maitland-Niles played 60 minutes before Emery yanked him off to send on Torreira in an effort to protect the defense. Maitland-Niles made a decent cross for Ramsey in the 44th but the Wales midfielder missed the target from a tight angle. He’s definitely an interesting option on the bench because he doesn’t have the same profile as Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Ramsey or Elneny.
- Mustafi keeps disappointing
He was supposed to become the next leader of the Arsenal defense when the club signed him in 2016. But Mustafi has mixed decent performances with poor ones since then, struggling in his positional play and making reckless challenges. Mustafi lost the key duel that led to Blackpool’s goal in the 66th as O’Connor beat him to the ball to head in a corner.