Arsenal (1) 3 AFC Wimbledon (0) 0
Carabao Cup (EFL Cup) Third Round
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021. Kick-off time: 7.45pm
(4-3-1-2) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Nuno Tavares; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Thomas Partey, Alexandre Lacazette; Albert Sambi Lokonga; Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Calum Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, Folarin Balogun, Sead Kolašinac, Karl Hein.
Scorers: Alexandre Lacazette (11 mins), Emile Smith-Rowe (77 mins), Eddie Nketiah (80 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%
Referee: Jarred Gillett
Assistant Referees: Lee Betts and Constantine Hatzidakis
Fourth Official: David Coote
Attendance: Attendance: 56,276
And so the third round of the Carabao Cup comes around quicker than we believed, and with it the early expectation of proceeding towards a Wembley final next year. However, as we have found out to our cost in the past, let us not run before we can walk, put such lofty thoughts away and just concentrate on the match in hand. As we know, Granit Xhaka is not available tonight as he is serving the last of a three-match ban for his red card at the Etihad Stadium just over three weeks hence, and although Mohamed Elneny’s hamstring will be assessed ahead of the game, the rest of the squad is fully fit and ready to do battle with The Dons here at the Emirates this evening.
Another match, another new starting formation, hopefully one that will be successful tonight. Thomas Partey had a good start to the match, looking confident in midfield, putting in tackles when needed and spraying balls around to the forwards. After just eleven minutes, Gabriel Martinelli was brought down in the penalty area, and the referee had no option but to point to the spot; Alexandre Lacazette made no mistake in opening the scoring for us tonight, sending the Wimbledon goalkeeper the wrong way. In the ascendancy now, we are playing confident football. Thomas Partey and Ainsley Maitland-Niles exchange a couple of one-touch passes in midfield before the latter cleverly threaded the ball through for goalscorer Alexandre Lacazette, who tried to backheel it into the path of Gabriel Martinelli but the visitors’ defence neutralised the move. Wimbledon started to come back into the match with one or two interesting moves which led to a half-hearted attempt by Luke McCormick which was easily dealt with by Gabriel Martinelli, who slumped to the ground with an injury, but thankfully it appeared to be a minor one, and he soon resumed playing after a couple of minutes, getting into the thick of the action with a superb cross into the Wimbledon penalty area for Alexandre Lacazette, which was cleared by Will Nightingale. We started to dominate the match now, and it looked like the visitors had no answers for our quick, passing play in and around the box, with Alexandre Lacazette, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Eddie Nketiah getting mighty close to scoring with their superb efforts. Gabriel Martinelli came close to scoring after clever link-up play with Alexandre Lacazette, and as half-time approached, it would have been good to grab a second goal to firm things up a bit. Then, incredibly, a Cédric Soares corner was whipped into the Wimbledon penalty area, but a defender headed it up in the air and it dropped back onto the line, where goalkeeper Nik Tzanev pushed it onto the bar, before any of our players could force it home. Incredibly, a couple of minutes later, the half-time whistle blew and how we did not manage to grab a second goal before the break was nothing short of unbelievable.
And so the second half started, with Arsenal not moving the ball around as quick as they did in the first half, but still dominating possession nonetheless. Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli were linking together well tonight, and both were doing their best to unlock the Wimbledon defence. On the hour, Thomas Partey was replaced by Emile Smith-Rowe to give the lads a bit of bite for the last half hour of the match, and almost immediately he got into the game and made himself a nuisance by passing a great ball to Cédric Soares, whose right-footed shot was miraculously saved by the goalkeeper. The match started to stagnate, then Mikel Arteta sent on Bukayo Saka, who replaced a fatigued Gabriel Martinelli.and within minutes, thanks to the zest and fire of the substitutes, we grabbed our second goal of the night. Alexandre Lacazette noticed that Emile Smith-Rowe was in a predatory position, so he slotted the ball to him, and he wasted no time in scoring a superb goal from just inside the penalty area with his trusty left foot. Our confidence was on the up now, and just after Albert Sambi Lokonga’s shot was blocked by a Wimbledon defender, Cédric Soares delivered the ball to Eddie Nketiah, who made no mistake in scoring our third goal of the night from close range with a clever backheeled shot. That goal was the last act of the night for Eddie Nketiah, who was replaced by Folarin Balogun with just ten minutes of the match remaining. By now, we were doing exactly what we wanted to with clever off-the-ball movements and superb passing between the players. Literally, on the ninetieth minute, Bukayo Saka picked the ball up just inside the Wimbledon half, turned the defender, then cut inside onto his left foot and curled the ball inches wide of the far post; there was one or two efforts in injury time, but in essence, the match was over, and when referee Jarred Gillett blew the whistle for full-time, the sense of relief from the Wimbledon team was obvious. We now go on to meet Leeds United in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup at the Emirates on Wednesday, 27th October.
To be fair, the statistics of the match tell their own story. Despite one or two iffy moments, Wimbledon didn’t manage a shot on our goal, and with sixty-two percent possession, our dominance was thre for all to see. The nost important thing was that we finished the game with no injuries, and with the North London derby coming up on Sunday afternoon, we need all out players fit for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates.
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: Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates on Sunday, 26th September at 4.30pm (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.