Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann made a dramatic return for Arsenal as the Gunners took all three points in a thrilling clash at Blackpool on Sunday.The German veteran was drafted in for his 200th appearance for the club after Manuel Almunia injured a knee in the warm-up at Bloomfield Road.
And the 41-year-old played his part to help his side to a crucial 3-1 victory that cuts Manchester United’s lead at the top of the English Premier League to seven points.
The Gunners scored a quick-fire double midway through the first half through Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Eboue.
But they had to survive a brilliant fightback from Blackpool, with Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s goal early in the second half sparking a revival.
Lehmann was forced to make several crucial saves before striker Robin van Persie killed Blackpool off with Arsenal’s third goal in the 77th minute.
The defeat leaves Blackpool a point above the drop zone and grateful that the teams below them all lost on Saturday.
Ian Holloway’s men had started energetically and pushed for an opener without seriously testing Lehmann, with Arsenal’s defence coping with Charlie Adam’s dangerous set pieces.
And they were stung when the Gunners took the lead against the run of play in the 19th minute, when van Persie broke the offside trap and squared to Diaby for a simple tap-in from six yards.
The second followed three minutes later, when Arsenal’s slick passing cut through the Blackpool defence for Eboue to finish convincingly past Richard Kingson.
Arsenal looked like they might run riot with Samir Nasri missing two golden chances. First, he fired straight at Kingson from 10 yards before moments later hitting the post from van Persie’s clever pass.
But after spurning another hatful of good chances, Arsenal were given a warning before the break when Blackpool striker DJ Campbell just failed to squeeze the ball over the line from two yards.
And the Tangerines did get the breakthrough seven minutes after the restart when Campbell was brought down rounding Lehmann, but referee Lee Mason waved play on and Taylor-Fletcher put the ball in the back of the net.
Mason elected not to sanction Lehmann for the challenge on Campbell, with Arsenal without a goalkeeper among the substitutes should the referee have shown the German a straight red card.
Taylor-Fletcher then had a penalty claim turned away after a scything tackle from Laurent Koscielny before Adam failed to connect with a near-post header.
But Arsenal survived the Blackpool onslaught and finally got a third when substitute Theo Walcott raced onto a long ball out of defence and crossed for van Persie for another simple finish.
Even then, Blackpool refused to give up, and Lehmann was called on to make another fine save from Campbell.