Arsenal’s youngsters are giving manager Unai Emery a headache, according to forward Alex Iwobi.
Joe Willock scored twice in Saturday’s 3-0 FA Cup victory over Blackpool, while fellow 19-year-old Eddie Nketiah also started and impressed along with 21-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The average age of the side was reduced even further when 17-year-old Bukayo Saka replaced Iwobi for the final few minutes.
It was a potentially tricky encounter for Arsenal against the League One side on a bumpy Bloomfield Road pitch, with Blackpool having given the Gunners a good game in the Carabao Cup earlier this season, but there were few alarms for Emery’s side.
Iwobi said on arsenal.com: “We knew it was going to be difficult and it’s not like the Emirates where it’s a big pitch. It’s all tight and compact, but we managed and we were able to focus on the game and do well.
“Blackpool are a good team. They fight well and they win aerial duels and we knew we were going to be up against it but we dug deep to get the result.
“It’s good that we have youngsters like Joe and Eddie who came in and did well. Even Bukayo Saka who came on. We have a lot of pace in the team.
“It’s one for the manager, there’s going to be a lot of headaches for who he has to play if we keep on fighting for positions and getting three goals.”
Much of the focus on Blackpool was away from the pitch, with a protester delaying Arsenal’s departure from their hotel by sitting on top of their team bus, while the boycott of matches by fans unhappy with Owen Oyston’s ownership of the club continued.
Manager Terry McPhillips was disappointed by a lack of cutting edge but hopes his team’s cup exploits can translate to an improvement in league form, where they have taken only one point from the last five games.
He said: “The first goal kills us in respect of we shouldn’t have given the free-kick away and then we didn’t react well enough. In the second half I obviously wanted us to get the next goal.
“When we got the next goal at their place they went a little bit. That was the key, we didn’t get it. There weren’t many clear-cut chances. We had lots of balls around their box and I think we had six corners and some free-kicks but we didn’t do well enough like we did down there.
“The game’s gone now and we dust ourselves down and get back to the league games where we need to get back to winning ways. We’ve enjoyed the cup runs and I think we’ve made the club a large amount of money and given a good account of ourselves.”
McPhillips must wait on the fitness of goalkeeper Mark Howard, who was forced off in the second half with a groin problem.
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Eden Hazard paid tribute to Cesc Fabregas after the Spain playmaker appeared to bid farewell to Chelsea.
Fabregas was tearful as he applauded all sides of Stamford Bridge following Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup third-round win over Nottingham Forest, during which he had a first-half penalty saved.
The 31-year-old’s contract expires this summer and he has been linked with a January move to Monaco, and a reunion with former Arsenal team-mate Thierry Henry.
Fabregas joined Chelsea from Barcelona in June 2014 – two years after Hazard arrived from Lille – and has won two Premier League titles, plus the 2015 League Cup and 2018 FA Cup, during his spell at Stamford Bridge.
“In five years, I can say that I was lucky to play with him,” Hazard said.
“Since the beginning when he came, we saw it the first year, we won the double together.
“Top guy on the pitch, off the pitch, a great friend of mine.
“Just admiration about this guy. I hope he will have a good future. It’s a bit hard now, but he’s still very good and he will enjoy.”
Any move is still to be completed, but Fabregas’ emotional reaction after his 501st appearance in English football suggested it was goodbye.
Another player who has been linked with a move is Callum Hudson-Odoi, who set up both goals for Alvaro Morata against Forest.
The 18-year-old winger, whose contract expires in June 2020, is reportedly a target for Bayern Munich.
Hudson-Odoi is eager for further opportunities and knows he could be given them due to Chelsea’s injury situation.
Striker Olivier Giroud (ankle) and winger Pedro (hamstring) could come back into contention for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Tottenham.
But Ruben Loftus-Cheek appeared to aggravate a back injury against Forest in a game Willian missed with a hamstring problem sustained against Southampton last Wednesday.
Hudson-Odoi told Chelsea TV: “I’ve just got to be patient and keep working hard, no matter what. I’ve got to keep pushing in training.
“The injuries are unfortunate. For me I’ve got to keep working hard and hopefully my chances will come.”
Dele Alli concedes Tottenham may have got a “little bit carried away” as talk of a Premier League title tilt grew towards the end of 2018.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side moved second on Boxing Day with a 5-0 defeat of Bournemouth, leading talk to grow that Spurs could seriously challenge for their first league crown since 1961.
But that success was followed by a gut punch in the final fixture of the year as Wolves came from behind to secure a 3-1 win at Wembley that left Tottenham reeling.
Asked what Pochettino told the squad after that loss, Alli said: “I don’t think he needed to say too much, to be honest. As players we were disappointed.
“We had been in great form before that and maybe we got a little bit carried away with ourselves.
“They’re a fantastic team and maybe we just thought we would win the game (against Wolves).
“But you can’t do that if you want to win things and be a top, top team.
“You have to be clinical and ruthless in every game and you can’t afford to take your foot off the gas and we all had a look at ourselves after and we know we can’t let that happen.”
It was an interesting admission by Alli, who helped Spurs make an impressive response by beating Cardiff 3-0 in the league before captaining the side to a record 7-0 away win against Tranmere in the FA Cup on Friday.
“With the games coming so quickly, it’s a good thing when you lose a game to have a game a few days after because all you want to do is get back out there and make things right,” the attacking midfielder said of the start to 2019.
“You can’t afford to dwell on it or let it knock your confidence because that’s when things can take a turn for the worse.
“You’ve got to turn over quickly and make sure you’re switched on for the next game.”
Victory at Tranmere means Spurs continue to fight on four fronts, with FA Cup progress complementing their place six points off Premier League leaders Liverpool.
Pochettino’s second-place side face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last-16 and return to action on Tuesday with a mouth-watering Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea.
“Some people maybe expect you to prioritise different things, but I believe we’ve got a strong squad” Alli said.
“Players who work hard in the gym and on the training field to make sure we’re fully fit and the manager makes changes.
“I think he’s very good at that and as players we want to play every game anyway, we want to be in every competition so all we can do is make sure we recover properly after games, mentally and physically, make sure you prepare for every game and be ready to play.
“And if not, you’ve got to be honest and say you’re not ready or, if you’ve got a little knock, you don’t want to keep fighting through things and make things worse because the last thing you need is injuries.
“So we’ve just got to make sure everyone is on it and keep up the consistency because that’s the big thing.
“When you’re going into different competitions, you can’t take your foot of the gas, but you’ve got to be consistent and keep up your top level.”
Spurs look as well placed as ever to win their first trophy since 2008 and, just as importantly, get a first taste of silverware under Pochettino.
“I think every game, every competition, you want to win it,” Alli added. “As players you want to get as far in the cup as we can, hopefully win it.
“We want to win trophies, that’s our aim and we’ve been playing well, we’ve been getting quite far in recent years without quite having the finishing product at the end and not getting over the line.
“But it’s about time for us, as players, we need to start winning things. We’re looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to the draw, whoever it is.”