By Richard Clarke
Theo Walcott plundered the first hat-trick of his Arsenal career as Blackpool were put to the sword at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The 21-year-old gave Arsène Wenger's side the lead with a cool finish after 12 minutes, scored on the turn just before the break and completed his treble with a precise cross-shot on the hour.
Before this game, Walcott had mustered 18 goals in 75 Arsenal starts and 62 appearances as a sub. He remained mainly a winger though, like his hero Thierry Henry, Wenger had always harboured hopes of making him a free-scoring central striker.
This afternoon certainly suggests the manager is on to something.
Blackpool will argue they were competitive until Andrey Arshavin scored Arsenal's second with a penalty in the 31st minute. Ian Evatt's ‘last-man' foul on Chamakh meant a red card was inevitable however it was unclear whether the challenge had started outside the area.
Walcott goals sandwiched Abou Diaby's 49th minute effort. With the game won, Wenger brought on Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. For the captain, it was his first run-out of the campaign. Marouane Chamakh opened his Arsenal account with a header seven minutes from time.
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway had said he feared being "absolutely embarrassed" in this game. Despite the scoreline, that did not really happen today. Many Premier League teams would have suffered at the hands of Arsenal and Walcott this afternoon.
However they were handed out the harshest of top-flight lessons. But then neither side can base any early-season predictions on this afternoon's result. You have to think their ambitions lie at different ends of the table.
And Arsenal's are certainly at the very, very top.
There was an overwhelming sense of ‘newness' before the game. Ten minutes before kick-off, a replica of the Highbury clock was unveiled at the south end of Emirates Stadium. That stand would be now known as the Clock End. The opposite stand was, quite rightly, to be called the North Bank. The East and West Stands were back too.
OK, these were old names from an old ground but they were new to Emirates. And, of course, for the new Premier League season, Arsenal were facing new opponents in newly-promoted Blackpool.
Wenger made three changes from the 1-1 draw at Liverpool last Sunday. Laurent Koscielny (suspended), Samir Nasri (knee) and Eboue were replaced by Alex Song, Tomas Rosicky and Walcott. Fabregas, Johan Djourou and Van Persie were all on the bench.
Blackpool had been billed as "dangerous" but Wenger in the pre-match build-up. Certainly, their fans added more than a dash of colour to Emirates this afternoon and, on the back of their opening day display, they were not in London just for a day out.
However, though David Vaughan stung the hands of Manuel Almunia in the opening stages, things would go wrong very quickly.
As soon as Walcott gave Arsenal the lead in the 12th minute, the home side never looked back. Chamakh collected the ball on the left and flicked the ball inside to Arshavin. The little Russian exchanged passes with Rosicky as he traversed the pitch before spoon-feeding a pass to Walcott on the right of the area. The England winger placed a precise side-foot shot beyond Matt Gilks and into the far corner.
However Blackpool seemed unfazed and should have drawn level a couple of minutes later.
Stephen Crainey curled a cross to the far post and Gary Taylor-Fletcher bundled a header just wide.
However, it turned out to be a token gesture as Arsenal took over for the remainder of the half.
In the following 15 minutes, Walcott fired a free-kick just over, Chamakh sent a delicate header wide and Arshavin's powerful half-volley forced Gilks to gymnastically bat the ball aside.
Walcott had provided a raking cross-field pass for that effort. The youngster was fast becoming the stand-out performer of the first half.
In the 24th minute, he slipped his marker in midfield and freed Chamakh. The Moroccan had time and took it all but he still slotted his shot inches wide. Just before the half-hour, Walcott darted through and blazed an effort high over the bar.
Blackpool's resistance was being tested and, in the 31st minute, they buckled. Rosicky threaded a throughball beyond Evatt for Chamakh to race on to. The Blackpool defender definitely brought down the Arsenal striker and deserved his red card. The debate was over whether Evatt's first touch was outside the area. Referee Mike Jones decided it was inside and Arshavin's penalty was expert.
Rollercoasters and Blackpool are synonymous. After the high of that opening day victory at Wigan last weekend, Holloway's side were most certainly on a downslope.
Chamakh should have made it 3-0 in the following minutes but Gilks saved from point-blank range. Six minutes from the break, Wilshere crossed low into the area and Walcott swivelled past Dekel Keinan, a defensive reinforcement from the bench, before firing home.
It was all too easy for Arsenal.
Chamakh nearly turned in Gael Clichy's cross at the near post just before the whistle. Rosicky's follow up was blocked and, from the corner, Diaby's effort was charged down.
At half-time, such was the gap between the two sides, there was a pervasive feeling that Holloway's pre-match premonitions might just come true.
That only intensified four minutes after the restart when Sagna roared down the right and Diaby swept the ball home from close range.
Seven minutes later, the goalscorer turned provider as Walcott waltzed into the area and completed his hat-trick with a low shot into the far corner.
While the Blackpool fans were commendably singing on, the game was turning into one big Arsenal party.
Seconds after the unmarked Chamakh somehow turned Arshavin's cross over the bar from five yards out, Wenger brought on Fabregas and Van Persie to wild applause.
Walcott got a similar reaction was he was substituted for Carlos Vela a few minutes later.
To be frank, there was no bite in the final quarter of the game. Vela tricked his way through half of the Blackpool defence before seeing a shot blocked.
Seven minutes from time, Chamakh opened his Arsenal account by nodding home right-wing cross from Van Persie and, in injury time, Wilshere fluffed a clear chance for a seventh.
The hat-trick hero came on to the pitch at full time to grab the match ball from the referee. The Arsenal fans sang his name loudly as he trotted off clutching it.
Walcott, the goalscorer, had finally arrived.
- Arshavin 63 Goal!
- Walcott 66 Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Diaby 63 Goal!
- Chamakh Goal!
- Fabregas 63
- Persie 63
- Vela 66
- Evatt Red Card
- Sylvestre 37
- Harewood 57
- Taylor-Fletcher 57
- Keinan 37
- Demontagnac 57
- Ormerod 57