Take over afoot & Jens returns at Blackpool

*Originally posted 10th April 2011

Just when we thought that everything had calmed down at Arsenal and all we had to think about was a game of football against Blackpool everything changed, and it started at Bloomfield Road.
 
The team news, as always came out around about an hour before kickoff and as expected Manuel Almunia was named in goal with Jens on the bench.
 
I’m not sure if anything was picked up by the TV cameras during the players warm up, I wasn’t paying close attention, but mere moments before kickoff it was announced that Almunia had injured himself and Jens Lehmann would be starting in goal for what I think was his 200th start between the posts for Arsenal. So a nice round & efficient number there for the German.
 
If you had walked into a bookies at the start of the season and asked for the odds on the former shot stopper starting a Premier League game for Arsenal I think you could have made a small fortune from placing a pound on it.
 
This was the first time he had played for Arsenal since coming on as a sub, in place of Almunia, against Everton in May 2008 and he didn’t look out of place as you may have imagined.
 
He didn’t look as springy as he once did, yes that’s right, springy, and there was a heart in mouth moment when for a brief second it appeared that he may have given away a penalty and was going to pick up a red card and it was like that night in Paris all over again.
 
We were first told that Almunia was now the sub ‘keeper even if he wasn’t fit enough to play, but it turns out that wasn’t allowed and after the game Robin Van Persie revealed that he would have taken over the gloves had anything happened to Jens.
 
The Arsenal performance was in stark contrast to recent games and the players stepped up to show they still had it in them to keep going.
 
In the 18th minute Abou Diaby won possession in the Arsenal half and laid the ball off to Cesc Fabreags. The captain played a precise ball over the top of the Blackpool midfield which found van Persie. Diaby had continued to power into the penalty area well ahead of any opposition defenders and Van Persie flashed the ball across the goal face for the Frenchman to tap home to put the Gunners 0-1 up.
 
It was the kind of play that we haven’t seen enough of from Diaby, as I said in my previous post much of this has been down to the bad luck he has had with injuries but today he really did take his chance and show a that he is the footballer we all want him to be – a real box to box player with power, strength, an eye for goal who can play a little bit too.
Eboue had come in for the injured Bacary Sagna at right back and had also started brightly, perhaps his midweek trip to Underhill to watch the reserves amongst the fans had spurred him on?
 
Three minutes after Diaby had opened the scoring the Ivorian picked the ball up close to the touchline, he played a neat little one-two with Andrey Arshavin, coasting past a couple of Blackpool defenders and regaining possession in the box where he smashed the ball into the back of the net.
 
It was the kind of run that Eboue always looks as if he believes he can pull off, even if no one else does…
 
Blackpool came into the game more in the lead up to half time but on the whole Arsenal looked far more comfortable then they had in a while and the second half picked up where the first left off, with the home side picking up a little momentum.
 
Keith Southern had a glorious chance to pull one back for the hosts, the goal was at his mercy but the man who has never scored for Blackpool couldn’t direct his header.
 
Just over ten minutes later Blackpool did get a goal.
 
Jack Wilshere brought down a Blackpool player up in their half, it was almost at the feet of referee Lee Mason who allowed play to go on as Blackpool broke forward.
 
A neat ball was played through the Arsenal defence and Lehmann came rushing out of the Arsenal goal and dived at the feet of the on rushing DJ Campbell who was alone in the box, the ball pinged across to Gary Taylor-Fletcher who swept it into the net and it was game on, there was no penalty as the ref allowed the goal to stand but did book Wilshere for the earlier foul.
 
Theo Walcott who had replaced Andrey Arshavin in the 61st minute was causing Blackpool problems but the score stayed at 1-2 until the 76th minute. Emmanuel Eboue battling to keep possession just outside his own area played a long punt down the line to Walcott who used his pace to get into the box well ahead of any defender.
 
For a moment it appeared that he may have taken a touch to many and missed his chance to shoot but he whizzed the ball across the Blackpool area as Van Persie had done for the opener in the first half, this time it was the Dutchman who benifitted, hitting the shot with his left foot without breaking his stride.
 
At that point there was little doubt that Arsenal would be taking away the three points they so badly needed to keep their title dream alive, however Blackpool certainly felt aggrieved that they had two penalty shouts turned down. On another day they could have easily been given but thankfully luck was well and truly on our side it seemed.
 
Whilst still looking shaky I do think it appeared that the Arsenal defence were more confident with Lehmann behind them, he certainly appeared to have total command of the area and it was also refreshing to see that with the ball in his grasp in the 92nd minute the German stopper was screaming at Walcott to make a run in order for him to launch the ball up field in the hope that we could get another goal. As it turned out there was no time for a fourth as the referee blew his whistle.
 
After the game Jens was asked if he wanted to keep the jersey for the next game to which he replied –
“I don’t care. If this is my final game then I’m pleased, because we won”
 
Upon handing Robin Van Persie the man of the match champagne he noted that Robin deserved it for his performance on and off the pitch, quipping that the forward knew what he meant.
 
It’s pure speculation but I get the feeling that Van Persie may have been encouraging the players in the past week and also today. As a senior player it’s certainly the kind of role he should be stepping into and he gave a performance that backed up any words that may have been said.
 
It’s 10 goals in 11 games for Van Persie now and we need that good form to continue from now until the end of the season.
 
After the game the boss said –
 
It was the performance we needed and hopefully it will give us renewed confidence for the games ahead.
We have a week now to prepare for the Liverpool game, which is our game in hand over United who will be involved in their FA Cup semi-final, so another win would narrow the gap to four points and put pressure on the leaders.
And that is a game which Wenger, in a post match interview with Sky, suggested that Szczesny could return for. But we’ll get more on that in the coming days no doubt.
 
And so with that I thought that I could sit back and enjoy the rest of the weekend with tomorrow mornings blog already written – oh how mistaken I was.
 
An hour or so after the final whistle Sky News reported that Stan Kroenke was in advanced talks with the club regarding an imminent takeover.
 
At the time of writing not much more than that has come out. Sky’s business correspondent, Mark Kleinman, has suggested that the US billionaire will be snapping up the 16% shares of Danny Fiszman & Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith.
If this is the case it would take the American, who joined the board in 2008, to a 62% majority and could then see an offer made to all remaining shareholders for all remaining shares at a price of about £11,750 per share..
 
However if this is the case then the other current major shareholder Alisher Usmanov could well get involved at the 11th hour, although this isn’t expected. The Uzbek billionaires company, Red & White Holdings, have recently upped their own stake in the club to just below the 29% that under stock exchange regulations would require an offer be made to buy the club outright.
 
At this point there is little more news but I’ll be keeping an eye on events and you can of course follow me on Twitter
 
Until then – Up The Arsenal!
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