Having successfully negotiated past West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool in the two previous rounds, Arsenal’s youngsters came up short against a strong Manchester City side at Eastlands last night.
Some established first-team squad members, such as Emmanuel Eboue, Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky, started to complement the array of potential talents on show but, ultimately, it proved to be too difficult a task against Mark Hughes’ expensively-assembled outfit and Arsenal went out of the Carling Cup at the Quarter-final stage for the second season in succession.
After starting off brightly, Arsenal then wilted as City began to dominate and could consider themselves somewhat fortunate to go into the break without conceding. For all the nimble footwork and technical ability on display in Arsenal’s ranks, the lack of any significant firepower up front was all too evident. Carlos Vela hit a shot over the bar and Aaron Ramsey headed over but, other than that, Shay Given was unperturbed.
Craig Eastmond, starting just his second game the club, applied himself well initially, but then tired as the game progressed and had to be withdrawn. By that time Arsenal were already a goal down after Carlos Tevez had capitalised on a sloppy ball from Song and launched a ferocious drive into the back of the net via the corner of the crossbar. Watt added some much needed attacking impetus but City doubled their advantage soon after following a wonderful goal from Shaun Wright-Phillips, who bamboozled Mikael Silvestre.
Arsenal lacked nothing in determination and effort but they just couldn’t exert themselves on the game with City’s high-pressure tactics proving a nuisance. The lack of experience on the bench was telling and meant that Arsenal had no real route back into the game. City continued to push forward and eventually sealed the win after Vladimir Weiss coolly applied the finishing touch to a superb ball from Craig Bellamy. Fran Merida rattled the crossbar late on but it was irrelevant, the game was already over.
The Carling Cup has been a fantastic experience for the likes of Eastmond and Watt this season and will stand them in good stead for the future. Players such as Merida, Ramsey and Wilshere need games and this competition provides them with that.
Hopefully, however, Wenger will change his policy for the FA Cup and play a strong side against West Ham at Upton Park. It is now one of only three trophies we can win and is probably the easiest to do so. The FA Cup may have lost some of its prestigiousness in recent years but, should Arsenal apply themselves fully, it is certainly winnable and would put an end to the trophy drought.