By Nik Brumsack at Hillsborough
Arsenal were knocked out of the Capital One Cup after falling to a disappointing 3-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night.
On an evening marred further by injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, the Gunners fell behind after 27 minutes when Ross Wallace clinically swept home from the edge of the area.
The goal gave the impressive hosts confidence and they doubled their advantage before the break through Lucas Joao’s header.
Sam Hutchinson completed the scoring shortly after the restart to consign Arsène Wenger’s side to a first defeat in five matches.
In truth, the scoreline did not flatter the hosts. Wednesday came into this game unbeaten in eight matches and under Carlos Carvalhal, look like a side who could challenge for the Championship play-offs this season.
This was a tough evening for Arsenal and their 4,800 travelling fans. Alex Iwobi, Glen Kamara, Ismael Bennacer and Krystian Bielik all made their first-team debuts at Hillsborough. All will have all learnt a lot from this tie against a committed, physical and organised Wednesday side who posed a constant threat at set-pieces.
Still, Arsenal must pick themselves up, and quickly. Wenger’s side travel to Swansea City on Saturday afternoon with the chance to return to the top of the Premier League.
On this evidence, they will need to give a markedly improved performance in Wales.
SETTING THE SCENE
As is so often the case in this competition, Wenger made plenty of changes to his side for Arsenal’s first trip to Hillsborough since January 2000.
There were eight in total, with only Petr Cech, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud retaining their place from the side that had beaten Everton at the end of an exhausting, but very successful week.
Per Mertesacker recovered from illness to captain the side and Mathieu Flamini - matchwinner at Tottenham Hotspur in the last round - returned too.
While the spine of the team had an experienced feel to it, there was also a sprinkling of youth.
Kamara and Iwobi came in for their debuts - becoming the 200th and 201st players to represent the first team under Wenger in the process - with fellow youngsters Matt Macey, Bielik, Ben Sheaf and Bennacer all on the bench.
The Gunners had won each of the previous five between the sides in this competition, including the memorable 1993 final at Wembley in which Steve Morrow scored a 68th-minute winner before injuring himself when falling off Tony Adams’ shoulders after the game.
While Arsenal’s record against the Owls was good in this tournament, Wenger came into this match without a win on any of his first four visits here.
Arsenal were dealt an early blow when Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled up after just four minutes. He was replaced by Walcott, who was himself forced from the field soon after. Ismael Bennacer came on for his Gunners debut.
Wenger’s side were dealt a further blow soon after as, out of nowhere, the hosts took the lead.
Daniel Pudil was the architect, advancing to the left-hand byline before pulling the ball back to the edge of the area, where Ross Wallace swept home emphatically.
Wednesday’s tails were up and they came close to adding a second as Wallace flashed a 20-yard free-kick just wide.
Arsenal briefly responded, Iwobi shooting just off target, but the momentum was with the hosts and, after Jeremy Helan had forced a decent save from Cech, Joao rose unchallenged to nod home the resulting corner.
Wenger sent Arsenal out early for the second half but there was no change in their fortunes, with two becoming three just six minutes after the restart.
Again a set-piece was the Gunners’ undoing, Barry Bannan’s free-kick finding Tom Lees totally free. The defender cleverly knocked the ball across goal for Hutchinson to bundle home from close range.
The home fans were out of their seats again moments later, but this time Joao headed the wrong side of the post following another fine Bannan cross.
Arsenal introduced Poland youth international Bielik for a first-team debut on the hour and created their best opportunity of the night soon after.
Flamini was the architect, standing up a cross for Mertesacker, whose back-post header brought a smart stop from Joe Wildsmith.
That was as good as it got for the Gunners on a disappointing evening in south Yorkshire. Their Capital One Cup campaign is over for another season.
Referee: Graham Scott
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