So, according to the newspapers, this was the game where Arsène Wenger would show his desperation for silverware by fielding a significant contingent of his first team against the Barcodes.
It was a U-Turn they said, a departure from his tried and tested policy of playing kids in the Mickey Mouse Cup. An admission of defeat. Caving in to his critics. Going against his principles.
What utter rubbish. What putrid balderdash.
By my reckoning NONE of last night’s starting eleven would feature in Arsenal’s first team if our squad was fully fit.
Last night’s team:
Our ideal first team (if the treatment tables are empty):
So the idea that Wenger was lacing his Carling Cup team with first-choicers is plain wrong. Not that you can really blame the media. After all, Arsene himself said he was taking the CC more seriously than before.
But I think that was just mind games. It was his way of saying to the players who started for us that he didn’t think of them as second stringers – he saw them as part of a large Arsenal first team squad from whom he expected great things this year.
The average age of our starting line-up was just 23 (and that’s with a 30-year-old Tomas Rosicky bumping up the average). Admittedly only one of the eleven (Eastmond) came from the reserves squad, but it was still a very long way from our strongest starting team.
And so to the game.
It was a lively match, which we bossed from beginning to end. By my reckoning there were five attempts on goal in the first two minutes (including one for them).
Truth to tell we should have been two or three up by half time (indecision and poor shooting by Bendtner and Vela being the main reasons for our blank), but a comedy effort from Newcastle sent us in to the break a goal to the good. Eastmond managed to get a header on target from inside the six yard box, the Toon defender made a hash of it on the line and the ball ended up being Fabianskied into the Newcastle net off the back of the keeper’s head. You’d need a heart of stone not to have cried laughing at that one.
We had shown some lapses in concentration in the first half and, as you would expect, lacked the fluidity of our normal play, but overall we were doing pretty well and always looked threatening when we attacked.
In the second half the Toon made a concerted effort to get back into it but, despite some wobbly moments, our defence held firm. Koscielny was always there to pick up the pieces and Djourou made some vital interceptions and tackles (but was also muscled off the ball a little too easily on occasion).
When we broke away and scored the second (a calm finish from Theo) you sensed there was no way back for Newcastle, even after they threw on Carroll, Barton and Gutierrez.
The hard working Nicklas Bendtner added a third with a positively Bergkampesque finish, a peach of shot from the inside left position, and Theo sealed the win with his second goal late on.
All in all a job very well done against an admittedly weakened Newcastle side who were, nevertheless, good enough to put the Chavs out in the last round.
Szczesny: He’s talked the talk and now he’s starting to walk the walk. One misjudged charge out of his area early on could have ended up embarrassing him. But there were at least two top class saves and a general sense of competence. I also liked his quick distribution, which reminded me of Lehmann. 7
Eboue: Started at right back, shifted to left after Gibbs went off. Some good defensive play. Some excellent attacking runs with the ball. Some falling-over-when-hardly-touched. Some getting into great positions and choosing the wrong option. In other words, a vintage Eboue performance. 6
Koscielny: Hardly put a foot wrong. Was always there to break up the Newcastle attacks and made countless great tackles. MoTM 8
Djourou: The critics are too harsh on this lad. He was out for a year with injury and is finding his way back. He made several mistakes which would have been costly had Kozzer not been there sweeping up behind him, but at other times he showed great skill and determination. He has to learn that, as a defender, it’s no good going to ground and hoping the ref gives you a free kick, because if he doesn’t your whole back line is undermined. 6.5
Gibbs: Looked to be really in the groove, both offensively and defensively, before yet another unlucky injury saw him have to go off. Someone please send him a black cat with a horseshoe round its neck and a rabbit’s foot tied to its tail. 6.5
Sagna: Came on for Gibbs and went to right back. Typical Bacary performance – defensively strong, some good attacking runs and some overhit crosses. 7
Eastmond: A good effort from the lad. Puts himself about and is always available for the ball. Lost possession with some casual passes but it’s part of the learning curve. Is he a Gooner legend of the future? Hard to tell, but he’s worth persevering with. 6
Denilson: I’ve been critical of Den in the past but last night he was the metronome in our midfield. I thought he had an excellent game, both covering our back four and being progressive. He seems finally to be dealing with the concentration issues which affected him last season. His pass completion rate is excellent. If he carries on playing like this he will be hard to leave out. 7.5
Rosicky: Every time he starts a game we win handsomely. He was a bit less effective than I would have expected tonight, but his intelligence and composure were crucial to our overall play. 7
Walcott: Two goals, always a threat, this boy’s in form. Something has switched on in his brain, because he now exudes a maturity that wasn’t there before. His body language is different from a year ago and he has the potential to have a memorable season for us. 7.5
Bendtner: Stunning finish for third goal. Always looking for the ball and always direct but, in typical fashion, his touch and finishing let him down once or twice. What’s great about our Striking Viking is that he will never hide, shirk or give up the ghost. 7.5
Vela: A really bad night for Carlos. I want him to succeed, but something is not quite right with our young Mexican. Right now, his Arsenal career is not heading for a happy ending. His touch, finishing and decision-making were all off. 5
Sagna (see above); Fabregas 7; Emmanuel-Thomas 6.