Robin van Persie's eighth goal in eight games helped send Arsenal into the Carling Cup Quarter-Finals after a 3-0 win over Reading at Highbury on Tuesday night.
Jose Antonio Reyes gave Arsène Wenger's youngsters a 12th-minute lead then the in-form Dutchman slammed home a second just before the break. Van Persie made way for Arturo Lupoli in the 62nd minute and, almost straight away, the 18-year-old Italian striker slipped in a well-taken third.
It was perhaps harsh on Reading, who had given keeper Manuel Almunia a testing time in the first half. However, quality finishing so often dictates the game. Arsenal took their chances, Steve Coppell's side did not.
The Young Guns march into the last eight.
As usual Wenger's Carling Cup side bore little relation to the XI that had been on show for the previous Premiership match. In fact only Reyes started both games. A more telling comparison was the earlier game in the competition this season. There were four changes from 3-0 victory at Sunderland. Sol Campbell was absent, Pascal Cygan and Lupoli were on the bench while Alex Song had not recovered from the knee injury he picked up at Thun a week ago. It was an unheralded side, of course, but only one Arsenal player was making his first full game for the club. Kerrea Gilbert, the regular Reserve team right back, filled in on the opposite flank.
But then Reading's side said as much about Arsenal's youth policy as =Wenger's. Three former Gunners - James Harper, Steven Sidwell and Graham Stack - started for the Royals. However regulars such as Marcus Hahnemann, Bobby Convey and Kevin Doyle began on the bench.
The area where Arsenal did have first-team strength was up front and Van Persie nearly made Reading pay as early as the fourth minute. Reyes, his strike partner, helped the set up the chance and the Dutchman sent a deflected shot trundling past the post.
The visitors responded with a much better opening three minutes later. Leroy Lita's clever ball sent Dave Kitson clear on the left of area. He turned his marker and got his shot away from six-yards. Fortunately for Arsenal, Almunia rushed out to smother.
The visitors, backed by 7,000 boisterous fans in the South Stand, continued to look lively but in the 12th minute Reyes put them behind. It was a classy finish, fashioned by Quincy's pass and put away by the Spaniard from the tightest of angles after drawing the keeper.
Van Persie's pot shot and Seb Larsson's volley from a corner threatened to increase the lead but, again, Reading would again carve out a gilt-edged opportunity. This time it came from a mistake by Senderos, who volleyed a clearance against Lita. The fleet-footed midfielder beat Almunia to the ball but the Spanish keeper had narrowly the angle sufficiently to block the shot with his body.
Reading were behind but giving as good as they got. In the 28th minute, Almunia tipped over gymnastically after Sidwell's knock back gave Harper the opportunity to whip in a dipping shot.
Four minutes from the break, John Oster crossed from the right and Kitson's bullet header thudded into Almunia's chest and the keeper gathered at the second attempt. Had it gone a yard either side of the Arsenal No 1, it would have been the equaliser. It was to prove a costly miss. A minute later Reyes laid the ball back to Van Persie on the edge of the area and the 22-year-old Dutchman drove home triumphantly from just outside the area.
The second goal added a touch of urgency to Reading's game. Stephen Hunt broke clear within minutes of the restart but again Almunia blocked. Sidwell hooked the rebound past the post.
More or less, Arsenal quelled their early fire. The game barely smouldered until after Van Persie had made way for Lupoli in the 62nd minute.
First Gilbert, who rarely ventures forward in the Reserves, nearly put pulled off a audacious chip over Stack. Then, in the 65th minute, Lupoli burst clear, rounded the keeper like Reyes had for the first goal and slipped the ball into the empty from an acute angle.
Reading never gave up. Substitute Cygan's header robbed Ivar Ingimarsson at the far post and Almunia tipped over a header from Doyle, who had come on as trhe visitors chased the game.
But Arsenal's comfort was illustrated by the fact that Wenger withdrew Reyes, his remaining experienced striker, in the final stages.
- Persie 63 Goal!
- Owusu-Abeyie 83
- Reyes 75 Goal!
- Cygan 75 Yellow Card
- Lupoli 63 Goal!
- Bendtner 83
- Stack 83
- Shorey 59
- Lita 72
- Hahnemann 83
- Makin 59
- Doyle 72