Arsenal were expected to beat Blackpool easily at Ashburton Grove yesterday and they did just that. Racking up a 6-0 victory, it was a fine way to kick off their home campaign and was a critical early boost to their goal difference.
Theo Walcott was the star of the afternoon, notching the first hat-trick of his Arsenal career inside an hour. It crowned one of his more assertive displays for the club. The Seasiders couldn't live with his pace and a far more direct approach from the young winger reaped dividends. After the match, Arsene Wenger praised Walcott's decision-making in delivering his final ball. It was better, but there still is room for improvement. However, it was a performance that he can build on and the real test will be whether he can replicate producing this sort of threat week in, week out over the course of the season and against sterner opposition.
Hat-trick Man Theo Walcott
Walcott's, and Arsenal's, first goal settled any nerves but it was the second goal that ended the encounter as a contest. Ian Evatt was adjudged to have brought down Marouane Chamakh in the area and was given a red card for his trouble. Up stepped Andrey Arshavin to convert the penalty and from there the afternoon became one of damage limitation for Blackpool. And, in truth, reduced to ten men, six-nil was damage limitation. On another day, with sharper finishing, the Gunners might have hit a double-figure total against their beleaguered visitors as the match turned into something more akin to a training game than a top-flight fixture.
As the goals flew in, the match did become more about the Gunners’ goal difference column. With Chelsea winning their opening two games by a six-goal margin, the importance of punishing weaker opposition to the maximum cannot be over-stated. After such a dominant display, it would be churlish to pick holes in yesterday's performance but the only criticism that could be levelled was that the goal tally wasn't higher - because it really could (and maybe ought to) have been. Still, if you cannot be delighted after a six-nil home win then you are never going to be happy. It was a very pleasing afternoon.
Despite the satisfaction of a handsome victory, it has to be said that there had to be a measure of sympathy for Blackpool. After their stunning win at Wigan last week, this was a dose of cold and very harsh reality for Ian Holloway and his team. However, they acquitted themselves with honour and kept trying to play their game even though they were overwhelmingly outclassed. At no point did they resort to simply trying to kick Arsenal off the pitch as a defensive tactic. Their travelling support were also magnificent and though both players and fans will probably experience a few other days similarly tough days this season, there is no doubt that the attitude of everyone connected with the club is absolutely spot on and they will win a lot of friends this year.
So, at the end of the weekend, Arsenal stand second in the table after what has been a solid start. The next two games - against Blackburn away and Bolton at home - will tell us more about the true state of the team than yesterday's game did. We shall also see the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie beginning their seasons in earnest. Though Theo Walcott took the plaudits yesterday, the loudest individual cheer of the afternoon came when Fabregas took the pitch as a 63rd minute substitute. The Spaniard looked a little rusty and short of full fitness but it was a wonderful sight to see him back in action for the Gunners after a summer of speculation about his future.
Elsewhere this week we have had our first real dose of injury news. It feels like Arsenal suffer more than most with injuries but they are part of the game and a key attribute of any team that wins title is the ability to weather the absences of key players - something the Gunners have not managed in recent seasons. Samir Nasri had to have surgery after taking a knock at Liverpool last weekend but the heartening news is though that he is only due to be out for a month, which is far from being a disaster.
Later in the week though, it was announced that Emmanuel Frimpong will be out for the remainder of the season after damaging ligaments in training. One has to feel desperately sorry for the boy. After an impressive pre-season, he looked to be on the brink of making a break-through into the first team and clearly featured in Arsene Wenger's plans.
Think for a moment of the years of hard work and effort that he has put in just to get himself the point where he is in contention for Arsenal‘s first-team squad. Now, instead of embarking on the most important and exciting season of his career so far, he faces nine months of uncertainty as he undergoes rehabilitation and has to live with the hope that, not only will he make a full recovery, but that his chance will come again. It must be heart-breaking for him. We can only wish him well and hope he returns better and stronger for the start of next season.