In its own way the 3-0 victory over Wigan last night was just as exciting and enthralling as the first-teamers victory over United on Saturday. But while the feeling at the end of the United game was one relief at staying in the title race, the feeling following this one was something approaching a blissful euphoria.
“At the risk of sounding like a hippy tool (I’m a tool but I’m no hippy) that really was some life-affirming stuff, mannnnnnn. This is one of those nights that this group of players, even when they’re collecting their nth league title, will never forget – a moment in time that can never be taken away from them. Thousands and thousands of hardened, talented footballers never got to play with the freedom and the fun that Arsenal did tonight. It’s been soul-warming in the way that only youthful success can be, and Carlos Vela’s goal will live in our memory for a long time, never mind his.”
It may be a little over-the-top but the bit about very few footballers getting to play with the freedom and fun that Wenger’s side did tonight is absolutely spot on. The manager has stuck with his policy of playing his young players in the Carling Cup season after season and once again he was rewarded for it tonight. This was a complete team performance against a full-strength Wigan side who harboured dreams of winning the tournament as a cheap ticket into Europe. There was no free pass last night.
The starting team was virtually identical to the one who smashed Sheffield 6-0 in the previous round. The only change by the manager was to bring in Jay Simpson for Nicklas Bendtner. And while the change was a necessity given the first team’s reliance on Bendtner as their current spearhead in attack, Simpson took his chance with both hands to net the opening two goals of the match and the first two of his top flight career.
The first was put on a plate to him by an immaculate pass by Jack Wilshere. While I’m fairly certain the young Englishman was looking for the feet of Carlos Vela there was no denying the quality of the pass and it was rightfully stroked home under the body of the previously inspired Chris Kirkland by Simpson. Indeed, before he was finally beaten Kirkland made no less than four excellent saves, the best coming from a brilliant long-range free-kick from Aaron Ramsey.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the young Arsenal team’s performance was the tenacity and aggression they showed in the tackle. Well-lead by Alex Song and Johan Djourou at the back they may have been but everyone from Wilshere to Mark Randall were playing their part with some crunching tackles on their physically stronger opponents. It may have had something to do with the British contingent on the pitch but the team certainly taught the older members of the squad a thing or two about how to deal with the physical side of the game.
The boys did survive a penalty scare early in the second half when ‘old head’ Djourou handballed in the area. But that was the only really hairy moment in an otherwise excellent performance.
Simpson doubled his and his team’s tally after firing in after a sensational breakaway by strike-partner Vela before the Mexican got himself on the scoresheet after the classiest of chips. He was a livewire right up until the point he was substituted off, Vela, and looks like a player who is going to score a bucketload of goals for the first team in the years to come.
Just to add the icing to the cake captain Lukasz Fabianski, who spilt the ball a few times and was the only player to perform below-par over the 90 minutes, redeemed himself with a quite brilliant double save to deny Daniel de Ridder and Amir Zaki. It was Arsenal’s night and they had won the match in true style.
You can check out all the highlights of the match here.
Althought the whole team performed well for me the real standouts in the match were Wilshere, Vela, Simpson and Djourou. Wilshere continues to show an awareness of great players ten years his senior, Simpson showed a directness and willingness to want to put the ball in the net that few Arsenal strikers have, Vela I’ve already spoken about while Djourou was the standout defender and kept yet another clean sheet. By my recollection Arsenal are yet to concede a goal when he’s been on the pitch and I think that record speaks for itself.
Anyone who watched this game will know exactly how I am feeling right now: proud of the youngsters for continuing to put in 100% whenever they are given their chance, proud of the manager for continuing to promote the youth in the squad and proud of the club for continuing to put faith in a manager who has the most wonderful of intentions for the game at heart.
As Mr Smyth said, “That really was some life-affirming stuff, mannnnnnn.”
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