Arsenal played at home to Wigan Athletic last night in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup, and advanced to the semi finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory. It may not have been a classic game, but at least that got the job done with relative ease. After their recent problems at home in the Premier League it was an important victory for Arsenal, and hopefully one that they can now build on.
The team that manager Arsene Wenger selected was more or less as I had predicted yesterday, except that he picked both Robin Van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner. It meant that Arsenal lined up in what looked more like a 4-4-2 formation, rather than their usual 4-3-3. With RVP playing off Bendtner, it was in fact slightly different from that again, but once the players do their jobs the formation isn't overly important.
After a fairly slow start Arsenal eventually created a great chance in the 27th minute, when a fantastic back heel from RVP sent Carlos Vela through with only the keeper to beat. He partook of his usual chip, and nobody seemed more surprised than he was when it went wide. It was the type of chance that he usually puts away for fun, but not on this occasion. Other chances came and went, but none of them were quite as good as the one Vela missed, until Arsenal eventually took the lead in the 42nd minute.
Kieran Gibbs got forward and put in a good cross, which was headed out for a corner by a Wigan defender. Theo Walcott took the corner from Arsenal's left hand side, and as it came into the goalmouth it ended up in the back of the net. With no Arsenal player claiming the goal, it looked like it was an own goal, and it turned out that Antolin Alcaraz had put the ball into his own net. That goal seemed to spark the game into life, and Wigan almost scored themselves within a minute. A corner from their right hand side was headed goalwards by Alcaraz, and Wojceich Szczesny just about managed to keep the ball out.
Arsenal had a shout for a penalty soon after that, but to be honest I thought there was nothing the Wigan defender could do about Walcott's cross hitting his hand. When half time arrived Arsenal had a 1-0 lead, and the almost full stadium hoped that they could build on that. With the news that "Manure" were 2-0 down away to West Ham in the night's other quarter final, the chances of Arsenal winning the trophy were increasing by the minute.
The second half progressed in a similar fashion, as Arsenal continued to dominate, but they couldn't add to their lead. That changed in the 65th minute when Vela was set from by a pass from RVP. He put the ball across the six-yard box, and Bendtner was on hand to stab it home. The ball hit the keeper on the way, but it ended up in the net, and Arsenal had doubled their lead.
Wigan didn't have too much to offer after that, and Arsenal missed a few chances of their own. Vela had a shot narrowly over the bar, and Walcott had another shot well saved by the Wigan keeper, after being set up by Vela. In injury time Vela put Samir Nasri through, and he went around the keeper on the left. It meant that he had to shoot with his left foot, and a defender managed to clear the shot off the line. It was similar to the goal he scored against The Spuds, and also the chance he missed against Aston Villa last week.
Nasri had come on in the 73rd minute along with Craig Eastmond in place of RVP and Jack Wilshere. Unfortunately Jay Emmanuel Thomas only got five minutes in place of Bendtner, and it was hardly enough time to see what he can do. At least the 73 minutes that RVP played showed that he is ready to play from the start, and it increases the options for the game against Fulham. It will be interesting to see if he can play alongside Marouane Chamakh, but that's a good headache for the boss to have.
A two legged semi-final now beckons in January, and at the moment Arsenal will be joined by West Ham in those semi-finals, after they ended up thrashing "Manure" 4-0. Tonight sees the other two quarter finals with Birmingham City taking on Aston Villa and Ipswich Town taking on West Brom. Arsenal are the favourites to lift the trophy in February, but it still won't be easy, and nothing can be taken for granted.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.