Oxlade-Chamberlain stars, but Shrewsbury give Arsenal a scare
Carling Cup third round: Arsenal 3 Shrewsbury 1
Arsenal were given a mighty scare by minnows Shrewsbury but survived it to book a place in the fourth round of the Carling Cup.
Goals from Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yossi Benayoun saw the Gunners progress, but only after they were stunned by James Collins’s headed opener for the League Two visitors.
They led for just over 10 minutes, and it was a highly uncomfortable spell for Arsene Wenger and his players. Defeat to such opposition would really have been too much to bear.
Wenger kept faith with his ‘mixture of youth and experience’ he insinuated he would before the game, and while there were first starts for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ju-Young Park, and chances for Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong combinging in a very young central midfield, there were also plenty of more established names.
Benayoun was handed the creative role in the hole, while Marouane Chamakh was up front and in the defence Johan Djourou, Gibbs and Lukasz Fabianski have all had plenty of first-team exposure.
But the Gunners looked nervy from the outset despite a superb chance to take the lead inside the first five minutes when Gibbs’ cross from the left was headed firmly goalwards by Chamakh only for Shrewsbury keeper Ben Smith to tip it excellently over the crossbar.
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Chamakh went close again moments later, this time from a Coquelin cross, but just as the Arsenal fans were settling in their seats and waiting for the inevitable onslaught Shewsbury first hit the post, and then scored.
Marvin Morgan had the first chance, rolling his effort against the upright with the Arsenal defence nowhere, but he didn’t have too long to regret his miss.
It was from his cross from the left that Collins rose unchallenged inside the Arsenal six-yard box to power a header past Fabianski. The Emirates gasped, even the Shrewsbury fans could not really believe it.
For the next 15 minutes, football was momentarily turned on its head. League Two Shrewsbury strode around the pitch, conjuring another couple of half-chances, while their vaunted opposition struggled to string a pass together, desperately in need of somebody to take the initiative.
Benayoun was desperately attempting to coax something out of the rest of the team, but a goal looked distinctly unlikely before it arrived on 33 minutes when Carl Jenkinson swung over a cross from the right and Gibbs’s header crept in under Smith’s despairing dive.
Relief swept around the supporters and, seemingly, the players. Oxlade-Chamberlain was suddenly everywhere and the Korean Park, who had been very quiet, flashed a shot just wide of an upright from 25 yards.
But the half ended with Shrewsbury not looking out of the game at all, the pacy Morgan causing them plenty of problems while journeymen such as Reuben Hazell, Mark Wright and Nicky Wroe made their experience count against their younger opponents.
The second half began with the visitors again looking confident, but Arsenal had recovered from their first-half malaise and were soon dominating as one would expect.
Just before the hour mark, Arsenal were ahead for the first time. Frimpong played a short pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who thumped a low shot from 25 yards that flew underneath Smith and into the net. Again, the visiting keeper should probably have done better, but it was a powerful drive from the teenager who was impressive on the night.
That settled Arsenal’s nerves completely. The third goal, when it arrived, was from another new signing although it was created by a young player within 60 seconds of his Gunners debut.
Oguzhan Ozyakup had only just come on to replace Frimpong when he found himself free in the box, and th 17-year-old Dutchman showed delightful composure before laying the ball back for Benayoun to drive a low shot home.
That sealed the tie, and Arsenal could breathe easily again. Their youngsters had passed a small but sizeable tests on the night, and can look forward to more opportunities in the last 16.
For Wenger, however, thoughts turn back to the Premier League and the rather more pressing concern of lifting his side from the uncharted waters of 17th place. Only another win will do on Saturday.
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