Arsenal's fairytale run in the Carling Cup continued with a richly-deserved 3-0 victory at Sunderland on Tuesday night.
Last year Arsène Wenger's youngsters knocked out strong Everton and Manchester City outfits to reach the Quarter-Finals. The year before only a full-strength Middlesbrough side halted them at the Semi-Final stage.
In fairness, this was an experienced Arsenal side relative to previous years and Sunderland also shuffled their squad considerably for this competition. But the comprehensive manner of this victory and the mature performances from the likes of Alexandre Song, Fabrice Muamba and Emmanuel Eboue bodes well for the future.
The Ivorian right-back gave Arsenal the lead with a stunning strike in the 61st minute. Robin Van Persie added a (normally taken) penalty six minutes later. Then in the dying seconds the Dutchman slid in his second and Arsenal's third to complete a satisfying night in the North East.
Although seven of Wenger's starting XI were still eligible to play international football at Under-21 level, the only debutant was Muamba. At the other end of the age scale 31-year-old Sol Campbell was returning after hurting his hamstring during England's victory over Austria on October 8.
Sunderland's policy of pricing tickets at £5 and £1 ensured a sell-out crowd of 47,366 and a crackling atmosphere. The home side, who themselves had six changes from Sunday's North-East derby, enjoyed the better of the opening stages. However the best they had to show for it was Jon Stead's shot on the turn that deflected wide for a corner.
Gradually Arsenal hauled themselves into the game. Van Persie fired over from a free-kick and then swivelled himself some space on the right of the six-yard box to see his cut back diverted wide by the legs of Justin Hoyte, the full back on loan from Arsenal.
Like Mart Poom, who had made the temporary trip in the opposite direction, the England Under-21 international was allowed to play at the Club's discretion in the Carling Cup.
Van Persie should have given Arsenal the lead in the 28th minute. Eboue stabbed a short ball from the right flank to Seb Larsson who immediately sent the Dutchman sprinting into the area. Van Persie tried to pass the ball into the far corner but his effort was too near to keeper Ben Alnwick.
By this stage Arsenal were starting to control the game and they should have taken the lead five minutes before the break. Quincy flung over a corner from the left to Senderos who was unmarked at the far post. He steered his effort well wide.
Van Persie's early shot suggested Arsenal would continue to pressurise in the second half but Sunderland roared back with Liam Lawrence forcing Sol Campbell to make a sliding block at the near post.
In the 55th minute Cygan steered a header wide at the far post from a Senderos cross. In the end, the opening goal came from an even more unlikely source.
On the hour Quincy found himself surrounded by three Sunderland players on the left. Sensibly he passed inside to Alex Song. He fed Eboue 30 yards out and the right back arrowed a simply stunning shot into the top corner.
Six minutes later the lead was doubled and the tie was effectively over. Dan Smith felled Arturo Lupoli as he traversed the area. Van Persie slammed the penalty into the top corner.
Dean Whitehead fired just wide with this first touch and, eight minutes from time, drove just over after the ball fell to him from a corner. However home heads were dropping and it was no surprise when, with three minutes left, Van Persie latched on to a through ball from Larsson and slid a shot past the advancing Alnwick.
- Eboue Goal!
- Larsson 89
- Lupoli 89
- Owusu-Abeyie 90
- Persie Goal! Goal!
- Cregg 89
- Bendtner 90
- Stokes 89
- Collins 48
- Nosworthy Yellow Card
- Robinson 75
- Welsh 67
- Smith 48
- Whitehead 75
- Murphy 67