By Richard Clarke
Arsenal are out of the Carling Cup.
Arsène Wenger's side were brave and bold at Eastlands on Wednesday night but, in the end, the class of Manchester City was telling.
This Quarter-Final was goalless until five minutes after half-time. That is when Carlos Tevez darted in from the left and drove a stunning shot into the top corner of the net.
Arsenal responded manfully but Man City's second punctured arguably their best period of the game. Like the first, Shaun Wright-Phillips' goal was class. The former Chelsea winger raced up the right and drove stunning shot high into the other corner.
Man City's strength, power and quality was apparent all night but Arsenal's usual mix of youngsters and squad players gave them a real test.
The third goal, from substitute Vladimir Weiss at the death, gave the scoreline a skew the visitors did not deserve.
The statistics will say this is Wenger's third defeat in their last four games. But, at least, the manager will be able to draw a number of positives from this one.
Before kick-off the Frenchman had named a side with as much experience as he could muster. Alex Song dropped back to partner captain Mikael Silvestre at centre half. Armand Traore and Emmanuel Eboue reprised their recent first-team run-outs in the full back positions. However there were younger heads further forward.
Craig Eastmond (18) retained his Carling Cup role as the holding central midfielder with Aaron Ramsey (18) and Tomas Rosicky (29, admittedly) just in front. Fran Merida (19) and Jack Wilshere (17) occupied the flank while Carlos Vela (20) was the lone front man.
For their part, Manchester City were at full strength. All their major summer signings -Tevez, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and, of course, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor - were on display.
In the opening stages, their quality was apparent. The home side bossed the opening quarter but, for all that, they only created one chance. It came in the seventh minute, when Barry sent over corner from the right and Adebayor stole in front of Song to power in a firm, downward header. Lukasz Fabianski gathered on the goal-line at the second attempt.
Arsenal rallied briefly after that with Wilshere setting up Ramsey to shot from distance. However in the 20th minute, Wright-Phillips robbed Silvestre on the right-hand byline and Craig Bellamy pulled his shot inches beyond the far post with Fabianski. A crystal clear opportunity.
Until this point, Arsenal had not created a chance worthy of the name. That changed in the 22nd minute when Wilshere sent Vela scuttling into the area. The Mexican striker beat Lescott to the ball but could only stab his shot over the bar. For a finisher as classy as Vela, it was decent opportunity.
But Man City were still ominous every time they went forward and, in the 24th minute, Tevez might have provided the perfect response to Arsenal's adventure. The Argentinean teased and then beat both Silvestre and Eastmond before forcing Fabianski in to a decent save at the near post.
However, as the game become more open, Arsenal became much more competitive. Vela continued to cause consternation in the Man City defence and, just after the half-hour, Eboue darted into the area and forced the first real save out of Shay Given.
Wright-Phillips had been testing Traore to the limit all night. Just before the whistle, the Frenchman was booked for a late challenge on the Englishman. From Barry's free-kick, Song headed just over his own bar.
At the break, Arsenal could congratulate them on a job well done but only half done.
And some of that work would be undone five minutes after the restart. Rosicky lost possession and Tevez collected on the left flank. He darted inside Eboue and Song before curling a sumptuous shot into the net off the underside of the bar.
It was just what Arsenal did not need.
They responded as best they could. Rosicky headed high and Ramsey blazed a decent effort over the bar.
However Adebayor might have killed the tie in the 56th minute.
Arsenal were caught out by Bellamy's early cross and Fabianski's attentions distracted the Togolese striker who diverted the ball wide.
No-one could accuse the visitors of not chancing their arm. Just past the hour Rosicky sent Eboue clear on the right and his cross was nearly touched home by Vela. Seconds later Merida's cross was just too high for Ramsey, who sent his header wide with the goal at his mercy.
Arsenal were now pushing back their older, more experienced opponents. So Man City's second was entirely against the run of play.
Wright-Phillips collected the ball on the right showed a burst of speed and, from the corner of the area, slammed a shot high into the far corner of the net.
It was an unstoppable effort and, unfortunately for Arsenal, curtailed their best period of the match.
As brave as Arsenal had been, you sensed the game was up.
Eleven minutes from time, Song might have seen red for a last-man foul on Stephen Ireland. In the end the Cameroonian only got a yellow card. However it was his fifth caution of the season and subsequently he will be suspended for Saturday's game against Stoke.
Arsenal continued to search for something from the game but, as the seconds ticked by, their pursuit seemed more and more fruitless.
It also created gaps at the back. Three minutes from time, Bellamy drew fine save from Fabianski. Shortly afterwards the Welshman set up substitute Weiss to slam home a third.
Merida bashed a shot against the bar in injury time. It was typical of Arsenal's evening.
Undoubtedly, they had been beaten by the better side on the night but the visitors deserved credit for the performance the youngsters had put in.
- Song Yellow Card
- Silvestre (C) Yellow Card
- Traore Yellow Card
- Eastmond Yellow Card
- Ramsey Yellow Card
- Wilshere 68 Yellow Card
- Watt 68
- Wright-Phillips 77 Goal!
- Tevez 74 Goal!
- Bellamy Yellow Card
- Weiss 77 Goal!
- Kompany 74 Yellow Card
- Santa Cruz