Arsenal (2) 5 Sunderland AFC (1) 1
Carabao Cup (EFL Cup) Quarter-Final
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Tuesday, 21st December 2021. Kick-off time: 7.45pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Ben White, Nuno Tavares; Mohamed Elneny, Martin Ødegaard; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Eddie Nketiah; Folarin Balogun.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, Gabriel Magalhães, Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Aaron Ramsdale, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli, Charlie Patino.
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (17 mins, 49 mins, 57 mins), Nicolas Pépé (27 mins), Charlie Patino (90+1 mins)
Yellow Cards: Folarin Balogun
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 68%
Referee: Robert Jones
Assistant Referees: Harry Lennard, Derek Eaton
Fourth Official: John Brooks
Such a truly great achievement for the chaps to reach the quarter-final stage of this continually mocked and oft-derided competition; if things go our way against the Black Cats here this evening, then we can go into Christmas being semi-finalists in the Carabao Cup, as well as enjoying the lofty position of attaining fourth position in the Premier League! Mikel Arteta has made nine changes to the team that were victorious over Leeds United last weekend, with Ben White and Martin Ødegaard being the only players to keep their place tonight. Unforunately, the club have confirmed that Albert Sambi Lokonga, Pablo Marí and Calum Chambers have all been sidelined due to positive testing for COVID-19; additionally, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is also unavailable as he has an unrelated and unspecified illness. By the way, there is no VAR to be used in the Carabao Cup until the semi-final stage.
We kicked off proceedings here at the Emirates, on a cold December night in North London. Quite an energetic start from both teams, with attempts on goal and interesting movements both on and off the ball. The visitors had a penalty appeal denied after five minutes, and although they made a good account of themselves, we slowly gained control. We nearly scored the opening goal, when after twelve minutes, Nuno Tavares’ cross took a deflection from the boot of Elliot Embleton, who almost converted it into his own goal; the ball hit the crossbar and Eddie Nketiah’s follow-up was blocked, and it went off for an Arsenal corner, which went nowhere, sadly. However, after just seventeen minutes, a Cédric Soares corner flew into the visitors’ penalty area, and Rob Holding’s powerful header was well saved by goalkeeper Lee Burge, but unluckily for him, the rebound fell to Eddie Nketiah, who tapped the ball into the net from close range. The goal certainly inspired us to hunt for more goals, and over the next few minutes, Folarin Balogun was desperately unlucky not to score our second goal of the evening when his two excellent attempts were saved by the goalkeeper. After twenty-seven minutes, we finally grabbed our second goal when Nicolas Pépé ran down the right wing and found Cédric Soares on the overlap, and he then pulled the ball back to Nicolas Pépé in the box; the Ivory Coast international took the shot and after a deflection off Callum Doyle, ended up in the top right hand corner of the net. However, three minutes later, a lack of concentration in the midfield area, saw the Black Cats grab a goal when Nathan Broadhead slotted the ball past Bernd Leno. The match became real end-to-end stuff with both teams looking likely to score; it has to be said, however, that in our goal, Bernd Leno made a superb save when he turned Alex Pritchard’s goalbound shot around his right-hand post. Sunderland started to press our defence but thankfully the line held, and with just a few minutes left on the clock before the break, we had a penalty appeal demied when Nicolas Pépé went to the ground in the visitors’ penalty area, courtesy of Lynden Gooch. Sunderland half-cleared a cross and Emile Smith-Rowe’s twenty yard volley was punched away confidently by goalie Lee Burge. In the three minutes’ injury time, despite one or two close shaves by the visitors, we went into the break deservedly in the lead.
Our visitors, the Black Cats, began the second half off in earnest and started to bring the match to us. However, just four minutes after the restart, Nuno Tavares and Folarin Balogun played a clever “one-two” on the left and Nuno Tavares whipped in a cross, and Eddie Nketiah just nicked the ball past Lee Burge for our third goal of the night from six yards with a clever finish. Just after the goal, young Folarin Balogun picked up a yellow card from referee Robert Jones for a silly challenge on Denver Hume, and Mikel Arteta almost immediately substituted him for the more experienced Granit Xhaka. The visitors hit the woodwork with an excellent twenty yard strike from Elliot Embleton with Bernd Leno grasping for air; it mattered not, as we scored our fourth goal of the night when Granit Xhaka placed an inch-perfect pass out to Nicolas Pépé on the right wing, who beat Denver Hume quite easily (via a “nutmeg”), and slotted it across into the six-yard box for Eddie Nketiah to score his first senior hat-trick with a classy backheeled flick from close range with some aplomb. Just superb, just like Eddie. A few minutes later. it looked as if a carbon copy of the last goal was about to be scored when Nicolas Pépé beat his man in the same way, but Martin Ødegaard’s shot was blocked by goalkeeper Lee Burge. As we appeared to be in complete control of the match now, game management was the buzzword of the moment. Martin Ødegaard went very close with a well-taken free-kick after seventy minutes, and a double substitution was made soon after when Gabriel and Gabriel Martinelli replaced Ben White and Martin Ødegaard to save their tired legs for more important matches on the fixtures horizon. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Mikel Arteta gave 18-year-old Charlie Patino his first class debut, when he replaced Emile Smith-Rowe to the generous applause of the sporting crowd. The match was halted when there was a clash of heads between Bailey Wright and Gabriel Martinelli; after treatment from their respective medical teams, they continued to play on, thankfully. We had a penalty appeal turned down when Gabriel Martinelli found Eddie Nketiah with a superb pass, who touched the ball past Callum Doyle and went down. The television replay showed that Callum Doyle didn’t touch him (apparently), and we continued onwards and upwards. Literally, in the final minutes of the match, Charlie Patino scored on his professional debut, when he threw himself at Nicolas Pépé’s low ball across the penalty area and slotted it into the back of the net from eight yards. A lovely finish to a great night.
Ultimately, the gulf in class between the two sides told the tale it was always supposed to. However, lots of good things out there on the field of battle tonight, least of all Eddie Nketiah’s hat-trick; he has scored five goals in six games this season, all of his goals have come in three Carabao Cup games. Just how good was it that not only did Mikel Arteta give Charlie Patino his debut, but he also scored the fifth and final goal of the evening too! After tonight’s match, the club can go into Christmas with their heads held high, and their optimism the same; we have come a long way since those early disasters of this season. All to play for now. Happy Christmas everyone!
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday, 26th December (Boxing Day) at 3.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.