By Richard Clarke
Traditionally, Arsène Wenger has used the Carling Cup to give experience to his youngsters but it can also help more established players who are adapting to life in England.
On the eve of tonight's tie at Bramall Lane, the manager had said that Eduardo needed a goal. Life has been tough since his big-money move from Dinamo Zagreb.
In fact the 24-year-old would grab two this evening as the visitors swaggered past Sheffield United with something to spare. The first was fired home from distance in the eighth minute and, for the second, he ran on to an astute pass from debutant Kieran Gibbs just after the interval.
With Robin van Persie set to be sidelined for another month and Manchester United arriving on Saturday, the Croatian's feats this evening may have come just at the right time.
Denilson fired in a third midway through the second half but the scoreline was not flattering. Arsenal had put on an excellent exhibition of their passing game. The home side are struggling in the Championship and had subsequently rested some players. But that should not detract from the visitors' artistry this evening.
Arsenal are now in the final eight of this competition once again. On the strength of this performance everyone will want to avoid them when the draw is made.
Wenger had selected nine teenagers in his travelling party of 16. Only four made it into the starting line-up. The biggest surprise was seeing winger Gibbs appear at left back. French international midfielder Lassana Diarra was on the right with Alex Song and Justin Hoyte paired at centre back. There was an all-Brazilian central midfield - Gilberto and Denilson - flanked by Abou Diaby on the left and Theo Walcott on the right. Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner were up front.
The bench was populated by Henri Lansbury, 16, Fran Merida, Gavin Hoyte and Nacer Barazite, all 17, with Vito Mannone a veteran at 19.
Arsenal had lost on their last visit to Bramall Lane. That had come at Christmas time last season when Christian Nade got the only goal for the home side and midfielder Phil Jagielka had finished the game playing in goal. It was an all-too-typical Arsenal defeat last term.
However this side was not Neil Warnock's Blades anymore. The Bryan Robson version had struggled this season and there would be no Halloween frighteners for the Arsenal youngsters this evening.
The biggest scare of the first half came in the fourth minute when a long free-kick was knocked down into the path of the stretching Billy Sharp who toe-poked the ball goalwards. Fabianski rushed out to make a fine one-handed save.
The punishment arrived four minutes later. Song sent a ball forward to Bendtner in midfield. He slid a pass to Eduardo on the edge of the area. The Croatian took a touch and fired a rising drive into the top corner of the net. He stood there for a second and admired the third Arsenal goal of his career before being deluged by team-mates.
The visitors had been confident from the off and the goal just added to their buoyancy. Denilson fired over and Bendtner had a shot blocked after fine work from Diarra allowed Walcott to fizz in a low cross.
Michael Tonge sent in a dangerous ball and David Carney trickled a bobbling shot wide by way of response. But Arsenal's passing was far too slick. They were cutting through the Sheffield United with ease and, surprisingly, the home side did not seem up for the battle.
The only slight fault was the final pass. The visitors got in a number of fine positions all evening but the ball in somehow failed to find a white shirt. Apart from that they were utterly in control and passing the home side to death.
Six minutes from the break, Diaby gave Walcott a sight of goal on the left of the area but the 18-year-old sliced his shot wide.
At the break it seemed a matter of not whether Arsenal would win but by how many.
Sheffield United started the second half with purpose but the lead was doubled within five minutes. Gibbs exploited a gaping hole in the Sheffield United defence to find Eduardo in acres of space.
The striker had the simple job of advancing into the area, holding his nerve and slipping the ball past Bennett. It was a desperately poor goal for the home side to concede and one sensed it would seal Arsenal's passage into the last eight.
In the 64th minute, Walcott should have made sure when he escaped from Chris Armstrong, rounded the keeper but could only plant his shot against the post from an acute angle.
Four minutes later Denilson did kill the tie. All evening the home defence had allowed the Arsenal attackers far too much space when they had the ball at their feet. The little Brazilian collected in midfield and did not need another invitation to shoot once he reached the edge of the area. His drive took a touch off Chris Morgan and beat Bennett easily.
Gilberto nudged Chris Lucketti's effort off the line as Sheffield United at least tried to mount a recovery.
But there would be no holding Arsenal this evening. Denilson rifled wide from distance just before the final whistle and Gibbs nearly capped a fine performance with a goal himself.
The Bramall Lane crowd showed their displeasure at their own side at the final whistle but, to their credit, clapped off the visitors.
That says it all..
- Diaby 87
- Walcott 83
- Denilson Goal!
- Eduardo 86 Goal! Goal!
- Lansbury 83
- Merida 87
- Barazite 86
- Tonge 73
- Quinn 64
- Stead 64
- Quinn 64
- Gillespie 73
- Webber 64