By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal secured a safe passage to the Fourth Round of the Carling Cup with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Shrewsbury Town at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
A shock seemed possible for a period in the first half when James Collins nodded the visitors in front after only 17 minutes. However, Arsenal were level just after the half-hour when Kieran Gibbs headed home the first goal of his career and they took control after the break.
The outstanding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain crashed home the first goal of his Arsenal career from long range just before the hour and Yossi Benayoun completed the scoring 12 minutes from time.
Shrewsbury did themselves proud but Arsène Wenger’s side cruised home in the end.
They are in the hat for Saturday’s draw.
As ever, Wenger ran the changes for the Carling Cup. He handed full debuts to Ju Young Park and Oxlade-Chamberlain. The likes of Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel, Lukasz Fabianski and Marouane Chamakh also got a run-out. Ryo was left on the bench along with a host of talented youngsters.
All that was expected; perhaps the bigger surprise was the formation. Park and Chamakh seemed to be dual front men with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emmanuel Frimpong, Coquelin and Benayoun stretched across midfield. This was 4-4-2 once more.
Emirates Stadium was not full this evening – a rarity in itself. But, as usual, this fixture was not included in the season tickets and the Club had priced seats modestly. Of course, the Shrewsbury end was packed. The Shropshire side were riding high in League Two and had nothing to lose. And the visitors would give them something to shout about during the first half.
That said, they could have been 2-0 down inside five minutes – and both chances fell to Chamakh.
First Gibbs sent over a high, hanging cross from the left and the striker’s towering header was expertly tipped over by keeper Ben Smith.
The corner eventually found Coquelin on the far side. He burst to the byline and his cut-back found the Moroccan once again. This time Chamakh chose placement but his sidefoot shot was saved by Smith once again.
It was a confident start but Shrewsbury would respond and then go ahead.
In the 13th minute, Mark Wright darted through and rolled a shot past Fabianski but against the post. The sliding Collins put the rebound into the sidenetting.
Two minutes later they would steal the lead. Marvin Morgan fired over a cross from the right and the unmarked Collins plundered a simple header.
Suddenly the confidence drained from Arsenal while Shrewsbury began to break with speed and intelligence. One such move saw Wright’s cross-shot deflect off Johan Djourou and fly past the diving Fabianski then the far post. Just past the half-hour only an excellent interception from Carl Jenkinson prevented Morgan profiting at the far post.
Coquelin did test Smith from distance but, when the equaliser arrived, Shrewsbury looked as lively as they had all evening.
In the 34th minute, there seemed little on as Jenkinson sent a fizzing, flat cross in to the area and touched on to Gibbs. His header was instant and powerful enough to see Smith fumble the ball into the net at the near post. It was the Englishman’s first goal for Arsenal in his 57th game for the Club.
The goal lifted Arsenal, of course, but it did not dent Shrewsbury too much. Lionel Ainsworth flashed a low pass across the face of goal and the sliding Collins could only deflect the ball just wide.
But a tough half ended with Arsenal on top. Park controlled Coquelin’s 50–yard pass and crashed a shot beyond the far post then Frimpong stung the hands of Smith with a free-kick.
However, the home side went into the break with work to do.
In fairness, their reply was emphatic. In the opening stages of the second half, Frimpong tested Smith once more and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s clipped cross just failed to find Chamakh.
The former Southampton midfielder, just 18, was fast-becoming the stand-out star of the evening. Just before the hour, he pretty much sealed the award.
With little on 25 yards out, Oxlade-Chamberlain let fly with a low shot. Smith allowed it to squirm underneath him and find the net. Like Gibbs, it was his first goal for the Club.
Ten minutes later, Oxlade-Chamberlain tried his luck from an angle. The shot was so powerful it simply bounced off Smith at the near post.
Arsenal had now assumed control though Shrewsbury were still looking for an equaliser on the break.
Wenger replaced Park with Ryo for the final quarter of the game. The Japanese youngster took up his regular role on the left wing and Benayoun moved into a central role.
However, it would be another substitute, Oguzhan Ozyakup, who set up the third for Benayoun. The Isreali stabbed home from the Dutchman’s cut-back.
That finally put paid it Shrewsbury’s challenge. They had performed admirably this evening but Arsenal’s youngsters showed their class in the end.
Referee: Tony Bates
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