The Warm Down: Willock takes plaudits as Arsenal progress in FA Cup
Photo: Getty Images - Harriet Lander/Copa

The Warm Down: Willock takes plaudits as Arsenal progress in FA Cup

The Gunners won 3-0 against Blackpool in the FA Cup third round. 

Matt Dawson

Arsenal's youngsters shone in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday evening as the Gunners beat Blackpool 3-0 at Bloomfield Road.

Unai Emery's men managed to avoid a cup upset, something Arsenal failed to do in 2018 when they were left stunned by Nottingham Forest

Joe Willock and Alex Iwobi were on the scoresheet as the former scored twice in the first half before the later finished things off in the second. 

Willock takes his chance

Willock's performance against Blackpool was a prime example of the confidence academy manager Freddie Ljungberg has given Arsenal's youngsters this season. The midfielder, who turned in some average performances last term for the senior side, has been brilliant in the few chances he's been given under Unai Emery

The 19-year-old was impressive against Vorskla in the Europa League in November, scoring his first senior goal and also caught the eye against Blackpool, bagging a brace.

He reacted well for his first strike which opened the scoring, as he was first on the scene to head home Aaron Ramsey's deflected free-kick which had initially come back off the post. In doing so Willock coincidentally became the first teenager to score an FA Cup goal for the club since Ramsey in 2010.

The midfielder then put breathing space between his side and the Tangerines by arriving at the back post for another straightforward finish before half time.

He's a player that has benefitted greatly from Arsenal's first appearance in the Checkatrade Trophy this season, scoring twice against Forest Green and also notching against Coventry for the U21 side.

Nketiah still has work to do

The Arsenal striker has quickly found himself as the club's third choice striker at the moment due to Danny Welbeck's injury. But despite looking lively against Blackpool he provided evidence of why he still has a lot of work to do if he's to make it with the Gunners. 

Known for being a regular goalscorer at academy level, Eddie Nketiah scored twice on his Arsenal debut against Norwich in the Carabao Cup last campaign but hasn't scored for the senior side since.

Tonight he could have had a first-half hat-trick had his finishing been up to scratch. In the opening moments, he went through on goal and missed his opportunity before somehow skewing an effort wide from a matter of yards out from another chance. The young forward then had a left-footed effort denied after the ball fell kindly to him late in the opening 45 minutes.

However, his link-up play and ability to run into the channel was intelligent. His movement is a crucial part of his game and that was something to be pleased about. Not playing much recently has probably given him a lack of confidence and sharpness in front of goal so he could do with a loan spell. That looks unlikely at this current moment in time though. 

Iwobi rediscovering early season form

The Nigerian had a brilliant start to the season and was one of the first players to really benefit from a new manager arriving at Arsenal. His performances then took a dip but over the Christmas and New Year period Iwobi has returned to form brilliantly. 

Arsenal may only have been playing against League One opposition on Saturday night but Iwobi was one of Arsenal's best players and looked a constant threat. He played a part in the second goal, passing to Carl Jenkinson who then crossed for Willock's tap-in before also scoring himself. 

Although he was in an offside position, Iwobi was up with the play to then score as easy a goal as he'll find as he made it 3-0. His numbers have been particularly impressive recently and he now has two goals and two assists in his last five matches.

End product was a part of his game that he needed to improve and there's been a drastic improvement in that over the past few weeks. 

Is experience over youth in defence the best option?

Much has been made about Arsenal's defence over the past month. They've been pretty shocking, albeit mainly due to persistent injuries ensuring the Gunners have to play with a makeshift back line.

That was again the case at Bloomfield Road as a late injury to Laurent Koscielny, who was originally due to start, meant Stephan Lichtsteiner had to shift across from right back to centre-back with Jenkinson coming in to play at right-back.

There was a feeling among Arsenal supporters though that teenager Zech Medley should have been given a chance. It's easy to see why too. With Jenkinson aged 26 you feel as though his chances of developing now are slim. Medley's on the other hand still has a long way to go. 

The 19-year-old came on with seven minutes left but that was hardly enough time to make an impact. Arsenal still managed to keep a clean sheet but the experience for someone like Medley would have been invaluable. 

As it happened, six academy products appeared against Blackpool, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka also featuring alongside the aforementioned Willock, Nketiah, Iwobi and Medley. 

You can't say Emery isn't giving youth a chance this season.