Given their absence from European competitions this season and the overall unlikelihood of them winning the Premier League, the League Cup, along with the FA Cup, represent Arsenal’s only real chances to win themselves some silverware this season.
As one would have expected, there were changes galore from the side that beat Leeds at the weekend, with Bernd Leno, Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Nuno Tavares, Mohamed Elneny, Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pépé, Folarian Balogun and Eddie Nketiah coming into the team, Balogun making his first start for the club, since their disastrous loss on the opening day against Brentford.
As expected, Arsenal started very well. Sunderland created chances of their own, but Arsenal’s quality was ons how for everyone to see, even with their B-Team.
Arsenal’s opener came following a corner from Emile Smith Rowe, which met the head of Rob Holding, which was well-saved by Lee Burge, but the rebound was nudged in by Eddie Nketiah for his trademark 6-yard tap-in.
Arsenal’s second came not long afterwards. Fantastic link-up play between Cédric Soares and Nicolas Pépé bamboozled the Sunderland defence and the Ivorian’s well-placed shot doubled the home-side’s lead.
There was, however, a spanner in the works.
Mohamed Elneny, so often one of the more unreliable members of the Arsenal midfield, went completely missing and Sunderland were able to play through on-loan Everton striker Nathan Broadhead, who dinked a fabulous finish over the onrushing Bernd Leno.
Half-time came and went and Arsenal were under the cosh for a while; a fantastic effort from Alex Pritchard rattled the Arsenal post and had Bernd Leno well and truly beaten.
Arsenal soon stepped into gear, however, and found themselves three-up.
Nuno Tavares’ dogged determination allowed him far too much space on the left-hand side and his inch-perfect cross was met by Nketiah in the middle of the box, who flicked it home with confidence and style.
Arsenal were not done yet though, a mesmeric pass from the in-form Martin Ødegaard found Nicolas Pépé on the far wing, the Ivorian turned and dutifully nutmegged the oncoming defender and played in Nketiah, who’s delightful flick sealed both the victory and his hattrick.
Nketiah does perhaps have grounds for a legitimate worry that the limelight was stolen by another Hale End graduate, Charlie Patino.
Having only come on about 10 minutes prior, the youngster found himself in the penalty area as Nicolas Pépé’s cross was played and his instinctive left-footed shot snailed in for Arsenal’s 5th, to mark a dream debut for the former Luton Town youngster.
Mikel Arteta and his team were grateful for the final whistle as they booked their places in the semi-finals of the competition, meaning that Arteta had successfully guided Arsenal to a semi-final of a competition every season so far.
It was a fantastic night for Eddie Nketiah, who’s hattrick was the deciding factor on the night. His contract situation is still yet to be resolved, but the youngster did himself plenty of favours with his performance, not only are Arsenal keen to sign him up to a new deal as soon as possible, but there will be plenty of other teams that will be willing to take a chance on him too.
Arsenal fans clamouring for the inclusion of Folarian Balogun were perhaps served a dose of reality. While Balogun showed glimpses of his abilities, he was wasteful on the night, ineffective on the wing (though in fairness, Mikel Arteta should perhaps have opted to switch Balogun and Nketiah’s positions) and completely lost his head in the yellow-card he picked up. Balogun had the look of a man who needs a loan move in January to give him some senior minutes.
Meanwhile, Charlie Patino burst onto the scene in a big way! Arsenal had not anticipated bringing him into the first-team fold so early in his career, but Patino continued to exceed expectations at Arsenal with his first goal.
Patino didn’t play long enough to have too big an impact on the game, but his goal was a showing of his ability to appear in the right place at the right time.
Arsenal will be more than happy to have booked their place int he semi-finals, but now, Mikel Arteta will turn his attention to Arsenal’s tough Boxing Day trip to Norwich at Carrow Road.
1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
4.) Ben White (Gabriel Magalhães 73’)
16.) Rob Holding (c)
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
8.) Martin Ødegaard (Martinelli 73’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Patino 80’)
26.) Folarian Balogun (Xhaka 56’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
87.) Charlie Patino
7.) Bukayo Saka
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
1.) Lee Burge
26.) Bailey Wright
3.) Tom Flanagan (c)
6.) Callum Doyle
15.) Carl Winchester
8.) Elliot Embleton (O’Brien 78’)
24.) Dan Neil
11.) Lynden Gooch (Evans 78’)
21.) Alex Pritchard
14.) Ross Stewart (Mbunga-Kimpioka 93’)
9.) Nathan Broadhead (Hume 45’)
20.) Anthony Patterson
4.) Corry Evans
25.) Oliver Younger
33.) Denver Hume
17.) Dennis Firkin
36.) Cieran Dunne
19.) Arbenit Xhemajli
48.) Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka
10.) Aiden O’Brien