By Rob Kelly
Eddie Nketiah scored his first senior hat-trick and Charlie Patino scored on his debut as we sealed our place in the Carabao Cup semi-finals with a comprehensive victory against Sunderland.
We came into the match in fine form in the competition, having scored 11 times without concession – and Mikel Arteta picked a mix of youth and experience in his line up.
While much of the pre-match talk centred around the inclusion of 18-year-old Charlie Patino in the matchday squad for the first time, the starting XI had a job to do and they set about it instantly.
Within five minutes Nketiah had headed a fine Cedric cross over the bar, and it set a theme as we focused many of our attacks down that flank.
Our Portuguese right back soon found Flo Balogun at the back post with another accurate delivery, but the striker headed wide – and then saw a low shot saved moments later.
Cedric continued to get forward at will into dangerous areas – and he played a key role in our opener, sending in a fine corner that Rob Holding directed towards goal, and while the header was saved, Nketiah was there to force it over the line.
We doubled our advantage not long afterwards, Cedric combining with Nicolas Pepe on the overlaps before cutting the ball back to the Ivorian forward in the area, and his shot flew into the roof of the net. It was a fine way for Pepe to mark his 100th game in our colours.
It was plain sailing at this point, but Sunderland got themselves back into the game with a well-worked move that saw Nathan Broadhead race in behind our defence and beat Bernd Leno.
Our goalkeeper had to be alert a few minutes later to push a goalbound effort from Carl Winchester around the post, and while Emile Smith Rowe went close at the other end there was no further troubling of the scoresheet before the interval.
But just four minutes into the second half we extended our advantage again as Nuno Tavares got into space down the left and delivered a fine cross to the near post, for Nketiah to finish confidently for his second of the night.
The visitors continued to come forward and came close with a curling effort from Elliot Embleton that struck the outside of the post.
Nketah completed his hat-trick in fine style, backheeling home after superb work from Martin Odegaard and Nicolas Pepe.
Patino came on to warm applause as the 886th player to represent the club with 10 minutes remaining, and claimed a fairytale debut goal in injury time as he poked home Pepe’s cross.
It was a fantastic moment, but the night belonged to Nketiah who walked off with the match ball having sealed our place in the semi-finals.
WHAT IT MEANS
We’ve booked our place in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, with the draw set to be made on Wednesday evening.
That’s it before Christmas, but we’ll be back in Premier League action on Boxing Day with a trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich before welcoming Wolves to Emirates Stadium two days later.
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