Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Arsenal made light work of Sunderland at the Emirates in the quarterfinal of the EFL Carabao Cup, playing their League One opponents off the pitch with relative ease as the Gunners earned a berth in the cup semi-final. Despite a largely second string lineup, Arteta’s side showed a ruthless edge in dispatching the Black Cats in front of a supportive home crowd, punctuated by an Eddie Nketiah hat trick and a debut goal for academy starlet Charlie Patino.
Outside of Ben White, Martin Odegaard, and Emile Smith Rowe, Arteta’s starting line-up was comprised of tertiary talent that have not seen much action this season. That, however, made very little difference, as Arsenal looked the better side from the opening whistle, which is not entirely surprising, given the talent gap between the two sides. Nevertheless, Arsenal put together the kind of confident display you expect when playing against an outclassed opponent. So, credit given where credit is due.
Despite a lack of playing time on the pitch together, the disparity of quality was always going to be massive. It was refreshing, then, to see the Gunners impose themselves rather effortlessly against a less talented side. Eddie Nketiah, whose contract stalemate with Arteta has been a source of concern, made a statement and then some with his hat trick heroics. In brief relief this season, he has shown a spark when given the chance. His MOTM performance tonight surely gives Arteta some food for thought as he looks at the distressing first string striker situation.
While Nketiah’s performance stole the show, Nicolas Pepe’s commanding shift cannot go unmentioned. The Ivory Coast winger owned the right side of the pitch as he routinely roasted Sunderland’s left back Lynden Gooch, turning the defender inside out while contributing a goal and two assists on the night.
At the fullback position, Nuno Tavares channeled his unique brand of pacey chaos into another compelling performance, driving forward with relentless energy and setting up Nketiah’s second goal. Even the much maligned Cedric had a solid outing at right back, as he and Pepe linked up on the right side of the pitch to create mismatches against the Sunderland defense.
But the feather in the cap on the evening had to be the first team debut of Charlie Patino The 18 year old came off the bench late in the second half and scored the final goal of the night in stoppage time, a moment to remember for the player and fans alike. Patino has been turning heads since joining Arsenal in 2015 at age 11, and he was finally given his chance to make some noise, which he did and then some, as his goal set the club record for the youngest player to score on their debut in club history. Not a bad night, if you ask me.
The match was not without it’s blemishes, though. Arsenal played a little fast and loose at times, which came back to bite them when Sunderland capitalized on some cavalier play from Nuno Tavares in the first half that sprung a counter attack that the visitors played to perfection to put the match at 2-1.
As far as individual performances go, Folarin Balogun had a night to forget. The U23 star was largely anonymous for large swaths of the match. Granted, he was asked to play out wide instead of his usual central position to make way for Nketiah, but his contributions were middling, and his one gilt-edged chance of the night was hit tamely at the keeper, a chance he will wish he had back.
On the whole, Arsenal did exactly as they were expected to by dispatching Sunderland and moving on to the semi-finals, which have yet to be set. It’s hard to find any major faults from the match, which was never in doubt. The players left healthy, the second string got a chance to shine, and Arsenal came out on top.
Onward and upward.