There were a few selection surprises before kickoff. All of us expected rotation, and while there was a subtle blend of experience with youth, there were at least a couple of names that raised an eyebrow.
There was a debut for Julio Pleguezuelo, the young Spaniard has been with us since 2013, but two loan spells at Mallorca and Gimnastic respectively have given him a bit more experience, and it was enough for Unai Emery to select him at centre back, alongside Shkodran Mustafi.
The other name that we didn’t expect was Carl Jenkinson. His career at Arsenal seemed to be over when he wasn’t selected for the pre-season squad, but the English right-back has been included in recent squads and he was selected in his favoured position, with Stephane Lichtsteiner switching to the left.
The match began much as we expected, with Arsenal dominating possession, and Blackpool encamped in their own half. There may have been plenty of the ball, but the Seasiders showed they can defend stoutly. We had precisely zero shots on goal inside the first half an hour.
What we did have was our full-backs trying to stretch the masses of Blackpool players just outside of their own box, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, making his comeback after injury, came closest to doing so, but his touch was heavy after a great off the ball run.
Eddie Nketiah was making a rare start but he was being starved of service, the Tangerines making life extremely difficult for our attack. Ramsey and guendouzi especially, were trying all the tricks in the book to pick the lock, but to no avail, until the 34th minute.
It was the massively-haired and extremely talented Guendouzi who provided the moment of inspiration. From about 30 yards out, he looked up and spotted the run from Lichtsteiner, who saw a gap in the centre of defence. The ball was a fizzer and slightly off the floor, and Lichtsteiner stretched out a leg to divert the ball past the goalkeeper to break the deadlock.
It was no more than we deserved and it was a first goal for the Swiss defender in Arsenal colours.
After that, the game could have become stretched in our favour, but Blackpool weren’t about to do us any favours. They defended in numbers again, and the only other moment of not before half time came from Aaron Ramsey, who made a run at the far post and was found by Maitland-Niles’s cross, but his connection was a poor one.
Half time came and went, and within four minutes - Arsenal being a second half team this season really kicking into gear - the home team were two to the good. A cross from Jenkinson nearly crept in, but the away keeper just kept it out, only for a lurking Smith-Rowe to turn the ball in from close range.
We were on easy street now, and Blackpool were showing no interest in going forward, but there was a twist to come.
A second yellow card for Frenchman Matteo Guendouzi threatened to make this night a little more difficult than it should, after he grappled with a Blackpool player and the ref perceived it to be excessive. Off he went, and Arsenal were down to ten.
To be fair, on second glance, Guendouzi was on a yellow, and with no danger, he pulled back Jordan Thompson. It was a booking, and therefore, a fair red card. This is a lesson he needs to learn fast. The inexperience of the young was all it was.
A rule change will allow Guendouzi to be selected for the Liverpool game though. his ban will only apply to games in the same competition. so he will miss our next round.
All of a sudden, the numerical advantage seemed to coax Blackpool out of their shell, and they got a goal for their efforts. A rare corner found Paudie O’Connor, who headed low and into the bottom corner past Cech.
With nearly half an hour to play, from a comfortable outing, this was fast beginning to turn into a real ordeal for Arsenal, and one of our own making. We were still bossing the ball, but now there was an air of danger that wasn’t present before.
And it became tangible just minutes later. Petr Cech started this season with the gloves and a new set of rules - to use his footwork and become part of the team moves. He struggled with this, and it was his footwork that again caused us palpitations. A back pass should have been dealt with, but he Checked inside Nathan Delfouneso, only for Blackpool midfielder Jay Spearing to dispossess him and roll it to Delfouneso, who turned it in, but luckily for us, he was offside.
We were trying hard to shoot ourselves in the foot, and it nearly happened.
Emery acted, and brought on Iwobi for young Smith-Rowe. We needed to kill the game off, and Iwobi’s recent fine form was selected to swing the game out of Blackpool’s reach. Torreira had come on too, in place of the fit-again Maitland-Niles.
Emery then made his final change, with Aubameyang replacing Welbeck, and it would be the Gabon man racing away from Blackpool’s goalscorer that would even the score in terms of men on the pitch - O’Connor taking out Auba from behind and earning a straight red.
We looked like we were going to see it out, Blackpool had run out of ideas, and we were happy enough to keep the ball. We kept it long enough to see us over the line, and we had progressed to the Quarter-Finals of the Carabao Cup. We may have done it the hard way, but the bottom line is that we were still in it.
Pleguezuolo, Maitland-Niles, Smith-Rowe and Nketiah played well enough, and they can look forward to more appearances in the future. They did their cause no harm.
Bring on the next round.