Theo Walcott led the demolition of a Blackpool side brimming with confidence carried over from their impressive win away to Wigan (a team we embarrassingly capitulated to last season after being 2-0 up at the DW stadium) last week.
On a humid, overcast afternoon with a blustery wind that stopped the atmosphere from feeling too suffocating the first sign of a change in the stadium since my visit at member’s day a little over a fortnight ago was additional signage above the entry points of each block. So as I entered block 11, a compass point motif, with the upward pointing part of the quadrant symbol highlighted in red was labeled “North Bank.”
My seat was at the corner flag to the right as the players faced the North bank where I observed our team warm up and the first thing I noticed was Song limbering up, with a slight limp in his left leg. This could just have been part of his natural gait as he played the full ninety and must therefore have been deemed match fit.
The pre match routine was unique in that for each of the newly renamed stands a family of three generations of season ticket holders were introduced to the crowd to represent the Clock End, the West Stand, the East Stand and – where I was – the North Bank.
A countdown to the switching on of the power to the clock followed the passing of two banners at both the clock end and north bank up and down the lower tiers after which fireworks were let off as the clock sprung to life at about seven minutes to 3pm.
The only other change was the Elvis song that usually accompanies the teams out onto the pitch was played fifteen minutes before kick off with a different song being played to the teams entrance, Right here, right now by Fatboy Slim. Not my sort of stuff, but I doubt many in the crowd would appreciate my choice, All guns blazing by Judas Priest.
The away support pretty much filled out the allocated blocks and plenty of bouncing and singing was to be had amongst the swathes of tangerine support, tangerine coloured balloons floating above them added to the party atmosphere.
As expected Ian Holloway’s team didn’t adopt the defensive approach that many mid/lower table teams have done at Ashburton Grove and for the first ten minutes or so they showed sufficient forward ambition to explain why they scored so freely last weekend, yet their skill levels in engineering openings were not on the scale of the home team.
I suspect they will score goals home and away as well as continuing the commendable trend for some of the so called lesser lights of the Premier League, such as Wigan and West Brom, to attempt to play an attractive game. Maybe the anti football ground out by the likes of Fat Sam Allardyce teams has finally been found out for the crowd killer it is. This is undoubtedly a welcome trend and a positive thing.
Once our passing game started to take a grip the Blackpool forays up field decreased in frequency and the Diaby-Wilshere portion of the midfield stabilised after a shaky start, both players guilty of losing possession although thankfully on no occasion was this punished.
It became clear after a quiet start that Theo Walcott was having an inspired game, his runs frightened the life out of the Blackpool defence and his crosses into the box were well directed even if Chamakh was not quite on the same wavelength as our number 14 initially. Striking partnerships take a while to form however based on what I’ve seen so far I’m optimistic that the Theo-Chamakh axis will reap many goals.
Once the first goal went in courtesy of precision finishing from Theo a healthy portion of the confidence drained away from the Blackpool midfield and a short while later a surging run from Chamakh led to a penalty being awarded.
As I was at the opposite end of the pitch to where the penalty was awarded few of us in the lower tier of the North bank could see that a penalty had been awarded or that their defender had been sent off. It was not till Arshavin picked up the ball and placed it on the spot that we knew for sure what the outcome was out of penalty, free kick or yellow to Chamakh for diving. A powerfully placed pile driver got Andrey off the mark goal scoring wise for the season and it was only a matter of time till Theo, playing like a man possessed, produced another moment of brilliance – a sharp turn and exemplary close control preceding another accurate, driven finish.
3-0 at half time and the mood around the ground was relief that a potential Hull style banana skin was being avoided.
Special praise to Rosicky and the influence he exerted on the game; while Wilshere and Diaby would show a mixture of skill and mediocrity Tomas was consistently controlling and pushing the midfield forward with the confidence of the seasoned, class player he is. The shame being how little we have seen of him since the 2007-08 season, where his presence in the midfield with Cesc, Flamini and Hleb almost delivered a title to us.
An honourable mention must also be made of Song’s efforts at centre back, while not especially dominating in the air he appeared clinical in the tackle and hard to push off the ball, however we are not playing to his strengths there and against stronger opposition we will need him in midfield.
Theo duly completed his hat trick and by now the Blackpool fans had become less animated although each time we scored, bizarrely, it appeared they were joining in the cheering and celebration. Curious indeed.
The decibel levels rose when our World Cup finalists took to the pitch after a Diaby strike brought up the fifth goal– I can only imagine the panic amongst the tiring Tangerines when they saw Robin and Cesc waiting to come onto the pitch.
“We’ve got Cesc Fabregas, we’ve got Cesc Fabregas” rang out – something a good many Gooners doubted they would hear this season. An extra special cheer for Robin as a losing finalist was heard in recognition of the belief amongst our supporters that he is an Arsenal fan as well as a player – the more of that type of player we have in our team the better.
Of course an appearance by Robin isn’t a bona fide one until he has an injury scare, which he duly provided in the penalty area not more than five yards in front of me. Cesc was his usual self, pulling the strings and creating space for himself in the way he does.
A Robin corner that Chamakh – salmon like – hung in the air for and skilfully craned his neck back to connect to and our sixth goal arrived for a deserving player. Chamakh took time to grow into the match but he will be glad to have started scoring, the only pity was the crowd didn’t have a song to sing for him, the one heard at Barnet was not taken up by the Ashburton faithful on this occasion. Chamakh, already a well integrated team member it looks, went straight over to Robin to thank him for the assist after scoring.
As the game headed to the finish what was surprising to me was the frustration of many in the crowd of the ever present tendency of our forwards to seek another pass instead of trying to shoot.
A strange thing to say after a 6-0 win, but an interchange between Robin and Cesc that resulted in an attack fizzling out (because of one pass too many) was greeted with a pretty scathing response from those around me; while I just groaned a little there were various expletive laden shouts to be heard. I would venture that many are tiring of our reluctance to shoot and the subsequent passing of responsibility of shooting to “someone else.”
Against a newly promoted team playing with ten men this weakness will not be enough to affect the result but against one of the title contenders we could pay for such profligacy via dropped points.
Tougher tests await our team but an away draw at Anfield and a healthy home win are a more than satisfactory start.
Thanks for reading.