By Chris Harris
Arsenal marched into the Quarter-Finals of the Carling Cup with a convincing win at Newcastle on Wednesday night.
Four goals - one crazy, one controversial and two classy – did the trick to leave Arsene Wenger’s side just two steps from Wembley.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul’s bizarre own goal on the stroke of half time gave Arsenal an advantage they just about deserved and Theo Walcott’s cool finish doubled their lead as Newcastle screamed for an offside decision against Nicklas Bendtner.
The Dane settled matters on his own with an unerring strike into the top corner and Walcott raced clear to give the scoreline some gloss with two minutes left.
Arsenal are no strangers to the last eight of the Carling Cup - this will be their eighth successive year in the last eight - but with so many big names already out of the competition, they may never get a better chance to lift the trophy.
On the strength of this performance they look determined to do just that.
Before the game Arsene Wenger declared that he would use the “core” of his first-team squad for this test on Tyneside. He was true to his word. The Frenchman made wholesale changes from the weekend win at Manchester City but, more instructively, just four from the team he picked to face Tottenham in the previous round of the Carling Cup.
Two youngsters, Wojciech Szczesny and Craig Eastmond, were given their chance while two forwards, Walcott and Bendtner, started their first matches since returning from injury. Meanwhile Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin lurked among the substitutes – make no mistake, Wenger had his eyes very much on this prize.
The manager expected a “hot atmosphere” at St. James’ Park but, with one tier of the ground almost entirely empty, the Newcastle fans were quieter than usual.
Arsenal should have silenced them in the opening seconds.
Only 22 seconds had elapsed when Carlos Vela sped down the left and fizzed in a low shot. Krul turned the ball aside for a corner.
When that came over, Bendtner had three bites of the cherry. His first shot was blocked, his next attempt appeared to strike a defender’s hand and, after the ball had bounced back to him, the Dane fired straight at Krul.
That was just the first minute. And Arsenal didn’t let up.
Emmanuel Eboue was next to threaten, cutting inside from the right and shooting with his left. Moments later Walcott raced down the right and crossed only to see the loose ball elude Tomas Rosicky. Then Bendtner got goal-side of his marker and scuffed a left-foot shot wide. And Kieran Gibbs got in on the act too with a fizzing low shot that swerved off target.
Eight shots in seven minutes: a flying start if ever there was one. But too many of those shots were straight at Krul and Newcastle survived. And occasionally thrived.
Their big dangerman was Nile Ranger – an Arsenal fan but very much a thorn in Arsenal’s side.
He brushed past Johan Djourou in the opening stages and then raced through on goal on the quarter-hour. Szczesny dithered, then decided to advance and was beaten by Ranger, only for Laurent Koscielny to make a vital block.
Sczzesny soon redeemed himself. From the resulting corner the ball landed at Alan Smith’s feet 30 yards from goal. He let fly and Szczesny flew to his right to fingertip the ball onto the bar. A wonderful save.
The tie calmed down after that frantic opening and there was one piece of bad news for Arsenal as Gibbs limped off after a challenge with Wayne Routledge. Another slice of bad luck for the England left back - stay close to Arsenal.com on Thursday for the latest prognosis.
Meanwhile Newcastle matched their guests for a while but Arsenal regained a semblance of control as the half came to a close.
Bendtner weaved into the box but his shot lacked power. Then Eboue, now at left back, raced down the left and fired into the side-netting from a narrow angle when he should really have picked out a team-mate inside the box.
Bendtner had another try four minutes before the break, exchanging passes with the impressive Denilson before hitting a first-time shot straight at Krul.
That had been the problem really – too many shots straight at the Newcastle keeper. But that was all it took to give Arsenal the lead seconds before the half-time whistle.
Walcott’s corner from the left was half-cleared by Krul's punch, Rosicky nodded it back into the danger area and Bendtner rose to head goalwards. The Dane’s effort was hardly thunderous but it went under Krul. Ryan Taylor tried to clear off the line but his header hit Krul and rolled in.
It was certainly ‘Krul’ on the home side – but Arsenal had their lead.
James Perch almost profited from another left-wing corner early in the second half but nodded just over the bar. And that was as close as Newcastle got to making a game of it - within four minutes they were two adrift.
If Arsenal’s first goal was crazy, this one was controversial. Bendtner was yards offside when a ball was played over the top but Walcott ran through from an onside position and lifted the ball over Krul.
Newcastle’s players were up in arms – they felt Bendtner was interfering with play and were even angrier because the Dane had collided with a back-tracking defender – but the goal was allowed to stand.
The hosts threw on local hero Andy Carroll in an attempt to peg Arsenal back. He screwed one left-footed shot wide from just inside the box and caused plenty of trouble with his power and presence.
Taylor forced a low save from Szczesny down at his left-hand post as Newcastle pushed on and Koscielny and Djourou stood firm as another sub, Jonas Gutierrez, curled in a string of teasing crosses.
Wenger looked to shore things up by replacing Carlos Vela with Fabregas 20 minutes from time and, although the home side persevered, Arsenal looked dangerous on the break.
With eight minutes left they settled the issue.
Bendtner collected the ball on the corner of the box, steadied himself and lashed a shot into the top corner for his second goal in two games.
Taylor forced a top-class save from Szczesny and Carroll shot just wide once again but Walcott had the final word with another slick finish on the counter-attack.
Referee: Andre Marriner
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