Blackpool v Arsenal Saturday 17:30 Live on BT Sport 2
Leaky defence still a problem for Emery's rebuilding job
A fairly mixed Christmas in terms of results for Arsenal again raised the problem that has been lurking in the background all season - and that's their shaky defending.
The 22-match unbeaten run was lost to Southampton on the 16th December in a 3-2 defeat and they were absolutely blitzed by Liverpool. However, there is little point in comparing those attacks to the one that Unai Emery's team will face this Saturday, as Blackpool are in somewhat of a slump at the moment in losing four of their last five games.
Managers' press conferences these days are pretty tedious affairs, but Emery in his address to the media highlighted the Gunners' recent history in winning the FA Cup three times in the last five seasons and how important the trophy is to the club.
In the Winner market, the north Londoners are priced at 11.50 - which I suspect is larger than last season's, and before that too.
Seasiders not quite at their best over Christmas
Blackpool have beaten Exeter (2-3) and Solihull Moors (3-2) to get to this stage, although they were taken to a replay for the latter following a 0-0 draw in the first match.
Despite the trio of goals in both the games against lower-ranked opposition, don't be fooled in thinking the Tangerines rack up the goals. They have only netted six in their previous nine matches (and three were against Solihull). They have failed to find the net in six in that run too.
Their New Year's Day home loss to Sunderland really highlighted their problems. They lost 0-1 and mostly played on the counter despite being at home, and they kept some good attacking players quiet for most of the game. Josh Maja scored for the Black Cats - his 15th of the season. If only the Tangerines had a player like him.
Chris Taylor should have scored for the Seasiders in that fixture, whilst forward Armand Gnanduillet also missed a couple of chances. Blackpool's last win came on the 8th December against Charlton.
This will be the fourth FA Cup tie between Blackpool and Arsenal - with the Gunners winning the most recent encounter in 1999. However, closer to home, both of these teams played in the last 16 of the EFL Cup earlier this season at the Emirates. Arsenal won 2-1 but Emery admitted that the Tangerines gave them a "a lot of difficult moments". Of course the team was vastly different to that of the Premier League version, but they lost control of that match at various points (and were down to 10 men in the second half), but the panicky nature of their defence was again to the fore.
Blackpool had 53% of the possession in the tie, although those stats are skewed somewhat with the Gunners playing without the red-carded Matteo Guendozi after 56 minutes.
At 2-0 in that game, Terry McPhillips' side could have caved in, but they "gave them a scare" in his words.
Gunners long odds-on so explore Correct Score markets
Arsenal were eliminated in the third round by Nottingham Forest last season; but that hasn't had any sort of impact with the pre-match layers that make the market. No chances are being taken here with Emery's side trading at around the 1.26 mark. I cannot really see that budging at all before Saturday's kickoff.
The visitors are likely to field some of the fringe players that normally get a run out in the Europa League. Emile Smith-Rowe has impressed with his fleeting appearances (and he's made four in European competition) but will he be fit? Veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech is likely to replace Bernd Leno in goal, although Cech was far from convincing in the Carabao Cup match against the Tangerines earlier in the season - he badly misjudged a cross and Blackpool should have scored.
Blackpool's price of around 17.00 is massive, but it's a good indication of where they are right now. Earlier in the season they were most impressive defensively away from home and had a real penchant for keeping a clean sheet. Three of their four games over Christmas were Under 2.5 Goals, and they managed to stay in games against two of the better teams in League One (Sunderland and Barnsley). The Under 2.5 trades at 2.58, which is probably not quite a big enough price, but I can see Blackpool digging in to try and keep it tight.
That can only see them so far, and I expect Arsenal to be fairly comfortable here as Blackpool just don't carry a big enough goal threat. I'll be looking for a 2-0 and 3-0 win for the visitors.
To Score Market
I mentioned Smith-Rowe earlier and he scored in the 2-1 game at the Emirates in October. He is priced at 17/10 on the Sportsbook to score, whilst the 'To Score 2 Or More Goals' price of 10/1 might be worth a nibble. Young forward Eddie Nketiah also features in the betting for the Gunners, and he's had a couple of run-outs in Europe too.
In terms of Blackpool, the best player going forward is Rangers on-loan man Joe Dodoo. He is priced at 14/1 on the Sportsbook to score first, whilst forward Armand Gnanduillet is 10/3 to score. I remember him at Leyton Orient and watched him a couple of times. I never quite envisaged he would playing up a level.