By Richard Clarke
Last season, Arsène Wenger nearly wrote the perfect Carling Cup fairytale. Only the ending failed to fit his criteria for fantasy football.
On the strength of tonight's scintillating victory over a near full-strength Newcastle, the manager looks in the mood for a re-write this term.
This was a wonderful performance in which the youngsters dominated their more experienced visitors throughout the second half and thoroughly deserved their two-goal win.
Both came late. Eight minutes from time, Armand Traore sent over another quality cross from the left and Nicklas Bendtner sent a storming header past Shay Given. In injury time Abou Diaby sent up Denilson for a cracking second in to the top corner of the net.
It was Arsenal's eighth Premier League scalp in the past five seasons. This is very much Wenger's second-string but they must be now among the favourites to win the competition.
In normal circumstances, nine changes would have indicated the poorest of performances in the previous game or an injury crisis. However it was standard for the Carling Cup. Only Theo Walcott and Philippe Senderos retained their place from the 5-0 win over Derby on Saturday.
The starting XI was the usual mixture of aspirant young players and squad stars. There were full debuts for Lukasz Fabianski, Bendtner and Lassana Diarra. Only four of the five bench-warmers were truly unknown quantities - Fran Merida, Henri Lansbury, Vito Mannone and Gavin Hoyte
Newcastle had lost Michael Owen from their weekend game and Mark Viduka was omitted. Otherwise they seemed pretty much at full strength.
Carling Cup nights are becoming great nights at Emirates. The crowd and the team share the same characteristics - young, fresh and raring to go. It makes for a wonderful spectacle and an antidote to the persistent pressure of the Premier League.
Once again, there was an innocent eagerness straight from the first whistle. The only surprise was that it took 10 minutes for the first real chance to emerge.
Jose Enrique crossed from the left and Obafemi Martins drifted clear at the far post. His header was well-directed but Fabianski pulled off a fine save diving to his left. The perfect confidence-builder.
A couple of minutes later, Arsenal had a wonderful opportunity to reply. Traore whipped over a ball from the left and the leaping Bendtner turned his header across the face of goal.
It was a bristling, crackling game but, oddly, there were not that many chances. Newcastle continued to test Fabianksi with high balls but the young Pole showed magnificent handling.
Arsenal had a shout for a penalty when Denilson's cross bounced off a Newcastle arm then, in the 22nd minute, Eboue's deflected cross floated across the area and the sliding Walcott turned it into the sidenetting.
On the half-hour the chances began to flow at either end. James Milner clipped a clever ball to Martins who had skipped the wrong side of Senderos. Fortunately for Arsenal he blazed over the top.
Then Justin Hoyte sent Eduardo clear but Shay Given rushed out to face him. The Irishman's touch was sufficient to divert the ball wide and the Arsenal defence mopped up.
Eight minutes from the break, Given threw himself to his right to palm aside at long-range drive from Eboue. Walcott then whacked rising shot over the bar.
Arsenal were up-and-at-'em straight from the restart. All the early opportunities came down the right - Eboue had two good strikes then Walcott forced a wonderful save from Given.
In the 53rd minute Eboue danced around Enrique but saw his shot diverted wide. From the corner, Eduardo's header was cleared off the line by Charles N'Zogbia.
It was a storming start in which Arsenal could have scored four times. The tempo dropped a little as the half went on but the home side still held the whip-hand.
Walcott's swirling cross caused Given to hastily tip over on the hour. Diarra's error then led to substitute Emre hammering a shot wide. But, in truth, it was an isolated effort. The first half was broadly level but, since the break, the hosts had taken charge.
Bendtner and Denilson hoofed efforts wide and then the Dane had a decent effort blocked at close range.
With 12 minutes left the big striker combined nicely with Eduardo for the Croatian to hook a tumbling shot wide.
It was another chance spurned and you sensed that, having not spun opportunities into goals, Wenger's side might yet be caught out.
Or perhaps not.
Eight minutes from time, Traore put a wonderful ball on the head of Bendtner who gleefully nodded in.
Martins might have levelled straight away. He rounded Fabianksi and the sliding Senderos cleared off the line.
Denilson put a true reflection on the balance of play in the final seconds when he powered home a shot into the top corner.
- Eboue 64
- Denilson Goal!
- Bendtner Goal!
- Eduardo 90
- Diaby 64
- Merida 90
- Jose Enrique
- Milner 70
- Ameobi 60
- Butt 70
- Emre 60