Arsenal reached the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup with a nervous victory over Blackpool, who threatened a shock comeback at the Emirates Stadium as both sides finished with 10 men.
Stephan Lichtsteiner and Emile Smith Rowe had set the Gunners on their way to the last eight only for Paudie O’Connor to head Blackpool a lifeline after Matteo Guendouzi had been sent off for the hosts.
The Tangerines’ hopes of forcing a penalty shoot-out were checked when O’Connor was later dismissed for fouling substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as last year’s beaten finalists ensured their place in the next round with a 2-1 win.
Aaron Ramsey started in Arsenal’s midfield on the same day it emerged a meeting with the club had established he would be leaving for free at the end of the season after a previous contract offer had been withdrawn last month.
A surprise name on the team-sheet was Carl Jenkinson, the full-back making his first Arsenal appearance in 701 days.
With Frank Lampard returning to Chelsea with his Derby side and a London derby between rivals West Ham and Tottenham, this game always threatened to be low down on the billing.
Arsenal, who have started games at a pedestrian pace in recent weeks, were on the front-foot from the off but failed to test former academy product Mark Howard in the Blackpool goal in the opening exchanges.
Guendouzi was cautioned just before the midway point of the first-half for a foul on Jordan Thompson which ended a rare foray forward for the League One side.
Howard’s first real task of the evening was to collect the ball out of the back of his net after Lichtsteiner slid in to turn home Guendouzi’s pass with 32 minutes on the clock.
Not since Sol Campbell scored as a 35-year-old during his second stint at Arsenal in 2010 has an older player found the back of the net for the Gunners.
It was Lichtsteiner’s maiden goal for Arsenal since his summer move from Juventus, where he had failed to score since September 2016.
The second goal duly came soon after the restart as Danny Welbeck fed Jenkinson, whose cross was pushed away by Howard with Smith Rowe on hand to bundle in his second senior goal.
Cech, recalled in place of Bernd Leno in the Arsenal goal, misjudged a Blackpool corner as O’Connor rattled the crossbar with a header.
Moments later and the hosts were down to 10 men, Guendouzi shown a second yellow card for holding on to Thompson as he looked to run in behind.
Callum Guy then fired over as Blackpool looked to immediately utilise their numerical advantage.
It was O’Connor who was on hand to half the arrears, heading home when picked out unmarked from a corner.
Cech, so often under the spotlight in the early weeks of the season as he looked unsettled playing out from the back, was again found wanting as the 36-year-old almost gifted Blackpool an equaliser.
The former Chelsea man turned in the box but was caught out by Jay Spearing, whose challenge saw the ball break to Nathan Delfouneso.
He tapped home into an empty net only to see the assistant’s flag raised for offside, with Cech breathing a sigh of relief.
Terry McPhillips’ side continued to force the issue to the extent that his counterpart introduced Aubameyang from the bench.
It was the Gabon striker who was felled by a scissor challenge from O’Connor, earning the defender a straight red card from the pocket of referee David Coote.
With both sides a man light, the closing stages played out with little goalmouth incident as Arsenal secured safe progression despite a spirited Blackpool effort.
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