Arsenal played Bolton Wanderers in the last 16 of the Carling Cup at the Emirates last night. The prize for the winners was a place in the quarter finals, and Arsenal hoped to reach that stage of the competition for the ninth season in a row. It's some achievement for a team that plays youth and reserve players in this competition every season.
Arsene Wenger stuck with his usual policy in the Carling Cup, as he chose a completely different team from the one that beat Stoke City on Sunday. The really big team news on the night was the return of Thomas Vermaelen to first team action for the first time since late August. He was partnered in the centre of the Arsenal defence by Sebastien Squillaci with Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris as the full backs and Lukasz Fabianski in goal.
It meant Arsenal didn't actually have a recognised full back in the team, but both Miquel and debut boy Yennaris did very well on the night. Yennaris became the 14th Arsenal player to make his debut already this season which is an amazing statistic. I can remember a Liverpool team winning the league back in their heyday, and only using 14 players in the process.
The amount of players who have made their debuts so far this season is a real indicator of the upheaval in the squad between last season and this one. Despite all of that upheaval Arsenal have eventually managed to put a good run together, and they came into the game on the back of three consecutive victories. The team had also managed six wins in seven before this game, but the only defeat was unfortunately against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
In midfield both Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong started with Yossi Benayoun and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making up what looked more like a four man midfield. It left Andrey Arshavin playing behind Park Ju Young, as Arsenal's formation on the night was more like a 4-4-2 than a 4-3-3.
Bolton made plenty of changes themselves, but they still had a very strong looking team, and Arsenal were not going to have an easy night. The first half was a close fought one with Bolton's keeper making three saves from long-range Arsenal shots, and Arsenal holding fairly firm at the back. Half time arrived with the teams level at 0-0, and everything still to play for.
The second half had only just begun when Frimpong was caught in possession by ex Arsenal player Fabrice Muamba, and Bolton took advantage of the slip. Muamba exchanged passes with Ivan Klasnic before finishing firmly into the roof of the Arsenal net. Bolton had the lead and Arsenal needed to pick up the pace.
That lead thankfully only lasted six minutes, as Arshavin managed to get Arsenal back on level terms. He took a pass from Benayoun and ran at the Bolton defence with the ball. As the defenders backed off him in the penalty area he fired a very quick shot into the far corner of the net to level the scores.
Arsenal went ahead only three minutes later after some more very good work from Arshavin, and a sublime finish from Park. Arsenal won the ball in midfield and it was passed to Arshavin who ran quickly at the Bolton defence, as they backed off him yet again. Park made a great run on the left of Arshavin, and when the pass was played to him he hit it first time with his right foot into the far corner from 15 yards.
The finish would have made Thierry Henry proud when he was at his prime, and hopefully it can open the way for him to get more chances in the first team. His overall play on the night was very good, as he linked up excellently and his movement was top class too. Wenger looks like he may have a real option in attack when he chooses to rest captain Robin Van Persie.
Bolton came into the game a lot more after that and Fabianski had to make a few smart saves to keep the lead intact. He also had a couple of dodgy moments where he was a little lucky to get away with poor handling. However, Arsenal managed to ride their luck a little, and held out for a 2-1 win to reach the last eight yet again.
Vermaelen lasted 84 minutes on his return to the team, and despite some tightness in his calfs he will be available for selection against Chelsea in the early game on Saturday. His return to the squad is very important, as he is Arsenal's best defender in my opinion. It gives Wenger some real options for that game, and that cannot be a bad thing.
Both Frimpong and Chamberlain were replaced in the last 15 minutes by Oguzhan Ozyakup(try saying that after a few beers) and Ryo Miyaichi. Chamberlain may not have had the impact he had in his other two starts for Arsenal, but he still looked impressive. I thought Coquelin was impressive in midfield too, and his season on loan in France seems to have done him a lot of good.
It was a very good result for Arsenal considering the makeshift defence they had to put out on the night, and it keeps the momentum going. That's four wins in a row and seven in eight games now, but it won't be easy to continue that run on Saturday against Chelsea in the Premier League. The draw for the last eight of the Carling Cup will take place on Saturday before that game, and Arsenal will be playing their quarter final at the end of November.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
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