By Richard Clarke
Arsenal are through to the Carling Cup fourth round after edging past Rotherham 9-8 on penalties on a night of broken records and high drama at Highbury.
Jeremie Aliadiere's 11th minute goal looked for so long like dividing the sides. The 20-year-old French striker finished off a flowing four-man move to give Arsène Wenger's much-changed, youthful side the early advantage.
The visitors had their moments but Arsenal, and particularly the impressive Aliadiere, should have had added to their lead before the end of normal time.
They were made to pay when, just as injury time began, Darren Byfield popped up to power home a close-range header.
In the first half of extra time, Rotherham had keeper Mike Pollitt sent off when he handled a goal-bound flick from Arsenal substitute Quincy Owusu-Abeyie outside his area.
Substitute keeper Gary Montgomery saved the first spot kick from Sylvain Wiltord and both sides went through an entire team of penalty-takers, including both No 1s, before the Frenchman beat the former Coventry stopper to send Arsenal through at just gone 10.30pm.
The healthy crowd of 27,000 had more than got their money's worth from their discounted tickets.
History was made before the game had even kicked off. Wenger started with Spanish wonderkid Francesc Fabregas, who at 16 years 177 days, became the youngest player ever to represent Arsenal in a first-team game. That broke the record of Jermaine Pennant, who made his debut age 16 years 319 in the same competition nearly four years ago.
He slotted into central midfield alongside Kanu. The other full first-team debutants were Gael Clichy at left back, Jerome Thomas on the left side of midfield, Justin Hoyte at right back and Graham Stack in goal.
But there was smattering of experience in the shape of Pascal Cygan, Edu, Kanu and Wiltord.
However it was Rotherham's Carl Robinson who had the first chance by forcing Stack into a low save in the seventh minute. Wiltord replied immediately with a forceful run through the centre culminating in drive that forced Pollitt into action.
However he was picking the ball out of the net in the 11th minute when Aliadiere stroked home a shot from close range. Clichy's pacy pass into the area was cleverly collected by Wiltord, who opened the angle to fed Kanu on the edge of the six yard box. He spread the ball across the face to goal to the young Frenchman who had a simple job of slotting in his second goal for the senior side.
And on an historic night, it worth noting it was Arsenal's 700th goal since Wenger took the reins in September 1996.
Only a sharp save from Stack preserved the lead five minutes later. Paul Hurst crossed from the left, Byfield met it at the near post and diverted the ball towards the far post. Stack slid to his right to scoop the ball behind.
With a goal advantage, Aliadiere and Wiltord started to show their skills. The former's pace and the latter's vision and trickery stretched the Rotherham defence.
As for Fabregas, he showed a commendable appreciation of the situation. If the simple pass was there he played it, if he could beat his marker without putting pressure on his side, he tried it. It was a mature approach from one so young.
Rotherham rallied with Paul Warne looking effectively on the left but centre backs Cygan and Stathis Tavlaridis mopped up anything that came into the area.
Edu cracked a shot just wide five minutes before the break but Byfield spurned Rotherham's best chance of the half seconds later. Stack came out and blocked the former Walsall striker's shot with his legs.
As the minutes ticked away in the first half, Hoyte hacked over, Wiltord was denied by Martin McIntosh's excellent sliding tackle and Aliadiere nodded the resulting corner in the arms of Pollitt.
Within 40 seconds of the restart, Aliadiere had raced through the Rotherham defence and beaten the keeper. However his shot drifted inches wide of the post.
Rotherham were quick to respond once more. Byfield narrowly missed Chris Sedgwick's cross after Shaun Barker had taken a quick free-kick on the right.
For five minutes the Arsenal defence were at sixes and sevens. Or perhaps 56s and 57s given the squad numbers the home side were using on this night.
They shook themselves out of the pressure through the surging pace of Hoyte and Clichy, surely the quickest full backs to play in tandem for Arsenal.
But this was a cup tie and Rotherham had to gamble. They pushed forward with Byfield prominent. He outpaced Cygan to plant a shot wide.
Surrounding those chances, Aliadiere nearly profited from Wiltord's scooped pass and Fabregas fired wide from distance.
With 17 minutes left, Wenger brought on another 16-year-old, Ryan Smith, for Thomas. He then took off Fabregas for another exciting youngster - pacy Dutch striker Quincy Owusu-Abeyie.
Edu nearly celebrated the change with by scoring a 35-yard free-kick however his left-foot shot drifted wide of Pollitt's left-hand post.
The fourth official had just indicated two minutes of injury time when Stuart Talbot's put Sedgwick clear on the right. His cross was met by Byfield five yards out. He stooped to power home his header from close range.
Aliadiere might have put Arsenal back in front just as extra time began but he tried to feed Wiltord when he should have gone for goal.
Robinson was carried off a few minutes later and replaced by John Mullin. Then, after Clichy had fired wide, Rotherham were reduced to 10 men when keeper Pollitt was sent off after he rushed out of his area to paw away Owusu-Abeyie's goal-bound chip. Manager Ronnie Moore immediately brought on substitute keeper Montgomery at the expense of the unlucky Sedgwick.
Wiltord had a goal disallowed for offside at the start of the second period of extra-time. Then Edu's free-kick was tipped over by the new keeper. But, in the end, it went down to penalties.
Chris Swailes scored first for Rotherham then Wiltord's opening effort was saved. McIntosh and Edu both scored but Mullins missed allowing Aliadiere to level matters at 2-2. Julian Baudet and Cygan both notched then Byfield hit the bar. Owusu-Abeyie therefore the chance to win it in the final kick of the five but he hit it down the middle and the toes of Montgomery's foot were enough to block.
We were now into sudden death. Paul Hurst and Kanu, Paul Warne and John Spicer, Shaun Barker and Smith, Richie Barker and Gael Clichy then finally Stack and Montgomery all scored.
Swailes' second kick was saved by Stack leaving Wiltord the glory of slotting home the winning penalty. He did it with glee.
Wiltord saved 1-0
McIntosh scored 2-0
Edu scored 2-1
Mullin hit post 2-1
Aliadiere scored 2-2
Baudet scored 3-2
Cygan scored 3-3
Byfield hit bar 3-3
Owusu-Abeyie saved 3-3
Hurst scored 4-3
Kanu scored 4-4
Warne scored 5-4
Spicer scored 5-5
S. Barker scored 6-5
Smith scored 6-6
R. Barker scored 7-6
Clichy scored 7-7
Montgomery (GK) scored 8-7
Stack (GK) scored 8-8
Swailes saved 8-8
Wiltord scored 8-9
Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source
25 May 2004
Paul Warne shields from Cesc Fabregas Kanu holds off Shaun Barker Aliadiere shoots.. ..and scores our 11th minute opener Justin Hoyte gets a cross in Stack prepares for penalties Sylvain Wiltord fires home the winning penalty Stack and Wiltord celebrate Stack celebrates after our spot-kick triumph
BUY THIS PICTURE The scoreboard says it all
BUY THIS PICTURE