Given the fact we played with ten men for the majority of the game against one of the best sides in Europe, it seems somewhat churlish to go picking holes in the Blackpool performance. This is not what I’m aiming to do – as fans we have to recognise that it won’t be the first time we’ll simply come up against a better side. However, Ian Holloway himself has said that he’ll be learning from the experience, so I’d like to cover one of the main talking points on the journey home yesterday.
It was a tough game for all concerned but our minibus was in agreement that Stephen Crainey had a tougher time than most. Looking at the build-up to the goals from open play, it’s easy to spot a common theme.
As you can see, three of the four goals came from the Blackpool’s left flank, and for the other it was Crainey who failed to prevent Walcott slotting home after the ball was worked across from Blackpool’s right side.
So, what can we deduce from this? Naturally there’s two sides to every story. If you were being harsh, you would say that Crainey was woefully exposed by the pace of Walcott and put in a performance that was just not up to Premier League standard. It’s not the first time Crainey has struggled against pace. Wayne Routledge was a thorn in the Scot’s side last season, on the opening day when playing for QPR and again when the Seasiders faced Routledge’s current side Newcastle at St James’s Park. Victor Moses also caused Crainey problems at times last week at the DW Stadium. One prominent feature of Premier League sides is that they often have much more pace than their Championship counterparts and leads you to wonder whether Holloway should be in the market for left back with a bit more speed before the transfer window closes. Currently the only backup would be Danny Coid (who cannot be relied upon to due to his injury record) or playing someone such as Baptiste out of position.
Looking at things from the other side though, can we really pin so much blame on Crainey? The Evatt sending off certainly didn’t help the structure of the side, and with 11 we may well have had more attacking thrust, thus cancelling out some of the offensive prowess of the Gunners. The 4-3-3 formation also asks a lot of the full-backs, with no player giving direct support when defending. It relies on one of the central three midfielders getting across, or the left sided forward tracking back. When Evatt went off, the formation was pretty much 4-2-3, and with Grandin failing to help out defensively, Crainey was thoroughly exposed. Finally, you have to give credit to Walcott. When he’s on form, his lightning pace is hard to handle, and Crainey won’t be the only one who young Theo makes look a tad foolish.
The true picture is somewhere in between these two extremes. Crainey has been a good servant to the club in recent years, and certainly shouldn’t be cast aside on the back of one freak result. An genuine alternative at left back wouldn’t go amiss however. Little over a week to go before the transfer window slams shut – we’ll soon see if Holloway shares this notion.