It’s taking some getting used to, but Arsenal are warming to this Carling Cup challenge
Carling Cup fourth round: Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 4
AFTER more than a decade of treating Carling Cup ties like a pre-season friendly, Arsene Wenger has admitted he is deadly serious about winning the competition after Arsenal advanced to the last eight with a rampant win at Newcastle United.
The Arsenal manager intimated to shareholders at last week’s AGM that he would be trying to win all four competitions this season, and he was true to his word as Arsenal enter Saturday’s quarter-final draw in ominous form.
Two goals from the Theo Walcott and a sumptuous Nicklas Bendtner strike put the seal on an emphatic win on Tyneside, but Wenger acknowledged that it was Magpies’ keeper Tim Krul’s own goal on the stroke of half-time that turned the tie in the Gunners’ favour.
“The first goal was certainly the turning point in the game because we had a lot of domination but didn’t take our chances early on in the game,” said Wenger afterwards.
“Then Newcastle defended with numbers behind the ball and it became difficult to score. We were lucky with the first goal just before half time - that was certainly a blow for Newcastle. It put us in a position where we could break much more because Newcastle had to come out and that’s basically what happened in the second half.”
Controversy surrounded Walcott’s first goal on 53 minutes as Bendtner, coming back from being way offside, seemed to impede the run of Newcastle defender Mike Williamson who was attempting to chase down Walcott who had broken clear.
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The defender clattered to the ground after colliding with Bendtner though, leaving Walcott free to scamper through and beat Krul with a confident finish.
“I have to see if Bendtner blocked the central defender on purpose or not, I have to see that again. For me Walcott was well in front of the central defender anyway so I don’t think that has influenced the goal,” said Wenger afterwards.
It mattered not. That second goal killed off the hosts’ resistance that had been passionate and prolonged in the first half.
Arsenal looked dangerous, but lacked finesse around the box, but that was understandable given that Bendtner was making his first start of the season, Walcott only his fourth, and the Mexican Carlos Vela looked very rusty as the third forward in Wenger’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
The Gunners boss had given another start to Denilson in the centre of midfield after the Brazilian’s impressive return against Manchester City at the weekend, and he had young Craig Eastmond and skipper for the night Tomas Rosicky for company.
At the back there was a return for Laurent Koscielny after three weeks out with a back problem alongside Johan Djourou, while Kieran Gibbs and Emmanuel Eboue were preferred at full-back in front of 20-year-old keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
The Pole had an impressive night, just as his compatriot Lukasz Fabianski had done on Sunday at Eastlands as the Gunners, having not kept a clean sheet away from home for almost 10 months, ensured a second inside four days.
Newcastle came close, none more so than when Szczesny tipped a rasping drive from Newcastle skipper Alan Smith onto the bar, by which time the Gunners keeper was already indebted to Koscielny for a vital block after Nile Ranger had looked like giving the home side the lead.
But fortune favoured the Gunners, perhaps just as it did at Eastlands on Sunday, and none more so than with the opening goal in first half injury-time.
Walcott’s corner was cleared but sent back into the box by Rosicky where Bendtner headed it towards goal. Ryan Taylor cleared it off the line but it rebounded back past him into the net off head of the Dutch keeper Krul. It was just the boost Arsenal needed to dominate the second half.
Walcott’s first goal was a key moment, but it took until the final 10 minutes for Newcastle to give up the ghost, Bendtner crashing home a superb right-footed curling finish from just inside the box and then Walcott racing clear again to add a fourth at the end.
It was a measure of Wenger’s intent that skipper Cesc Fabregas came on for the final 20 minutes to replace Vela. It was a luxury he could afford and underlined just how seriously he is taking the self-confessed ‘fourth priority’ tournament this season.
The only down side of the night for Arsenal was a knee injury to left-back Gibbs, who has not had the best of luck with injuries of late and could be set for another spell on the sidelines after suffering possible ligament damage.
The extent of that will be discovered in a scan at London Colney today, but Arsenal headed back from the north-east in good spirits nonetheless.
They are now just two steps from Wembley in the only domestic competition that Wenger has never won, and will view Saturday’s quarter-final draw with interest.
Arsenal have reached the final once and the semi-final twice of this competition in recent years and this is their eighth successive season in the last eight. But have never managed to capture the trophy since George Graham’s double cup-winning season of 1992-93.
While most Arsenal supporters still crave greater triumphs, most seem to be of the opinion that any trophy will do after a five-year hiatus. For once it seems Wenger is in agreement.
Carling Cup last eight:
West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
QUARTER-FINAL DRAW: Saturday 12.15pm, (Live on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday)