Arsenal: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Hayden, Arteta, Eisfeld, Ryo, Bendtner, Grrrrrrrnabry
Subs: Viviano, Bellerin, Flamini, Olsson, Iwobi, Akpom, Park
Arsenal secured passage to the fourth round of the Carling Cup with a hard fought win on penalties over West Bromwich Albion.
Arsenal took the lead through Thomas Eisfeld in the second half of normal time only for Saido Berahino to equalise with a header minutes later. In extra-time both sides had chances to win it, before the game went to a shootout. It looked like the Gunners were dead and buried when Serge Gnabry missed, but poor efforts by Amalfitano and Dawson gave Nacho Monreal the chance to score the decisive kick, which he duly smacked home.
As expected Arsene Wenger made nine changes from the side that beat Stoke at the weekend and while the defence was relatively experienced the midfield and attack – Arteta and Bendtner aside – were more raw than a plate steak tartar. Amazingly we still had seven full internationals on the pitch.
It was an untidy game from the off as two sides full of unfamiliar names wrestled to get to grips with both themselves and each other.
Arsenal looked solid enough at the back in the first 30 minutes, however, up front we looked toothless. Gnabry and Ryo offered Bendtner little service in and around the box and the West Brom keeper was largely a spectator. In fairness, one header tipped over the bar aside, so too was Fabianski.
Hayden, making his debut at late notice, looked decent on the ball in midfield but he also made a couple of rash challenges, the second of which on Mulumbu resulted in a booking which might easily have been a red. A rusty looking Nacho Monreal joined him in the ref’s book soon after.
Both sides did nearly break the deadlock before half-time. An innocuously floated corner by Gnabry bounced dangerously inside the six-yard box before being cleared while Steven Reid came close for the Baggies with a curling free-kick that brushed the top of the bar.
West Brom upped the tempo in the early stages of the second half but it wasn’t until the hour mark that Fabianski was called on to make a proper save. The Pole did well tipping over a Mulumbu pile-driver from outside the box.
Having soaked up pressure Arsenal’s mix-and-match XI took the lead out of nothing. Gnabry snatched the ball in midfield, promptly fed Bendtner whose beautifully weighted ball found Eisfeld charging into the box. The German took one touch and passed the ball home with his right foot. (1-0)
The goal served as something of a shot in the arm for the Gunners. We snapped into challenges quicker, passed the ball around at a higher tempo and pushed further up the pitch. Gnabry’s worked some nice space in the box only to have his shot blocked
Sod’s law, just as we were finding our stride we conceded. A corner wasn’t cleared properly and when Shane Long returned the ball into the six-yard box it was England under-21 international Saido Berahino who reacted first to head home. (1-1)
On 81 minutes Eisfeld was withdrawn in favour of Chuba Akpom, before Hayden was replaced moments later by Kris Olsson. In injury-time Gnabry had a chance to steal the win but he couldn’t connect with a fine cross by Jenkinson.
Extra-time saw Arteta forced off with cramp in his left foot, perhaps unsurprising given his lack of game time, and Hector Bellerin slotted into midfield despite being a right-back.
Fatigue also seemed to catch up with Nicklas Bendtner, who having been put through on goal by a fine ball from Gnabry, dawdled so long he couldn’t get a shot off before being dispossessed.
The 25-year-old’s frustration got the better of him in the second period of extra-time when having been called offside he smacked the ball directly at a trio of ball boys. It was a welcome moment of light-relief.
As the game grew increasingly stretched, Bellerin had a couple of efforts, before Amalfitano, Rosenberg and Sinclair all squandered opportunities to win it for the home side.
Rather predictably, the game went to penalties.
Steven Reid scored first for the hosts. Bendtner calmly levelled. Rosenberg went straight down the middle to make it 2-1. Gnabry missed with a tame effort. James Morrison found the top corner. Olsson stepped up and scored to reduce the deficit. Craig Dawson slashed waywardly wide. Chuba Akpom scored to make it 3-3. Amalfitano missed and up stepped Nacho Monreal who promptly smacked the ball home to seal the victory.
Our reward? A home tie against Chelsea in the next round. Joy of joys.