Arsene Wenger's youthful Arsenal side strolled into the Carling Cup quarter-finals tonight, with a 4-0 win away at Newcastle. It was an open, often scrappy game, which swung back and forth for it's entirety, but Arsenal ultimately prevailed as they romped to victory at St. James's Park.
The boss went with a mixture of youth and experience tonight, an early sign that Arsene may be taking the Carling Cup more seriously this season, in light of our trophy drought (which the national media LOVE reminding us). Wojciech Szczesny started in goal for us, one of our promising young keepers waiting in the wings (for Almunia to move away and Wenger to lose patience with Fabianski.) Laurent Koscielny made his return from injury, as he partnered Djourou, Gibbs and Eboue in defence. Craig Eastmond was gifted a rare start in midfield alongside Rosicky and Denilson, complete with new haircut. And finally, Bendtner, Walcott and Vela started up front.
Due to my inability to get my act into gear, I regrettably missed the first ten minutes of tonight's match. So I didn't see our early chances to go ahead, and I also missed Nile Ranger taking the ball around Szczesny but failing to score after a Koscielny clearance. However I did see everything else, so here we go:
I thought for the majority of the game our young keeper was excellent. Szczesny looked calm and composed, and dealt with everything thrown at him to earn himself a well deserved clean sheet. His save from Alan Smith was superb, a finger-tip effort onto the post. Every time Newcastle threatened, Szczesny was there to halt the danger. He was dominant in the air and seemed to organise the defence well. The young Polish stopper had a fine game and I'd love to see him in the first team a bit more this season; It wouldn't hurt us to have him in goal for the West Ham game this weekend, who currently lie at the bottom of the league.
It was end to end stuff for the entire 90 minutes, and the result could have gone either way. Arsenal were their usual dominant self at times, passing the ball around leisurely and keeping possession for long periods, but Newcastle had their chances. Koscielny was brilliant on his return and seemed intent on keeping the Toon at bay this evening, often intercepting Newcastle passes and wrestling back possession. He was immense, and I hope he can slot back into the side quickly. However, not every Gunner had a fine outing tonight. Craig Eastmond seemed to struggle at times, which surprised me as he looked pretty comfortable in the first team last season. Carlos Vela also put in a very forgettable performance. The young Mexican appeared disinterested at times and ultimately failed to really get into the flow of the game. A poor outing for him tonight, when he had an opportunity to show Wenger what he could do; he'll be disappointed with his effort.
Despite the open nature of tonight's game, it was Arsenal's ruthless finishing that decided the match and put Newcastle out of the competition. The Gunner's first goal came from a rather messy piece of play. From a set piece, Bendtner headed the ball back into the six-yard box where Koscielny and Eastmond both tried to nod it into the net. The ball bounced up off of Ryan Taylor, whose clearance struck Newcastle keeper Tim Krul in the back of the head, and then rolled into the back of the net to gift Arsenal a 1-0 lead just before half time. It was pretty funny to watch but I was relieved we had finally scored.
Arsenal started the second half in strong fashion and it wasn't long before the Gunners doubled their lead. A header from Koscielny made it's way into the path of a free Theo Walcott, who raced towards the Newcastle goal and clipped the ball over Krul for a delightful finish. What a lot of people didn't see, including the referee, was Bendtner wiping out Newcastle defender Mike Williamson in the process. It was a daft thing to do from the Danish striker and it was a clear foul. I know if it happened to my team I'd be outraged as a fan, but it didn't happen to me and I'll take whatever I can get (excuse me for being honest... and biased). Bendtner proceeded to annoy the Toon Army a bit more by putting the game beyond doubt in the 83rd minute. It came just at the right time too, as Newcastle had been enjoying a period of pressure and looked close to grabbing a goal back, until Saint Nic himself blasted a shot past Krul to make it 3-0. Fabregas, who had replaced Vela earlier on, stole the ball in midfield and calmly played it to Bendtner out on the left. "The Great Dane" advanced on goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot to end the game; it really was a nice goal from our Nicklas. Five minutes later, Walcott grabbed himself another goal to make it 4-0. Theo took advantage of Newcastle's high defensive line and slipped clear to slide the ball under Krul for his second goal of the night, his sixth of this season. Another lovely goal, and the game was all but over. Szczesny made two more impressive saves from the pesky Andy Carroll (who was rather good tonight - Wenger called him 'charismatic') and rough-faced Ryan Taylor before the final whistle was blown.
All in all it was an entertaining game and it's always nice to get a win away from home, especially in a place like St. James's Park. I really do hope Wenger is taking this competition more seriously this season. The Carling Cup is deemed the least prestigious of the English domestic trophies, but it's still a trophy, one that the boss has never won in his time at the club. The Carling Cup is realistically within our reach, and has been for the past few seasons as we consistently make it to the latter rounds year after year. I'm all for letting our kids get a run out, and they always do really well, but I'd like Wenger to pursue this trophy like any other and after tonight's performance it looks like he might be doing just that.
Thanks for reading.