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  • Julian Taylor at Emirates Stadium

Nifty Nketiah sinks Sunderland to create Carabao promise for Gunners

Arsenal 5 Sunderland 1

Julian Taylor at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal moved into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup – all thanks to the hat-trick exploits of prodigy Eddie Nketiah.

A 5-1 triumph over a spirited Sunderland at the Emirates may have appeared routine, but the Gunners were, for spells, challenged and made to work hard in order to progress in the competition. The extra quality eventually prevailed in the second half, with prodigious substitute Charlie Patino, making his debut, enriching the score line at the very end.

Arsenal were focused and highly concentrated when they needed to be against their League One opponents, whose performance at least gave some good cheer for several thousand, vociferous, travelling fans from the north east.

Gunners’ manager Mikel Arteta has overseen a definite, recent resurgence, with three successive Premier League wins and a current top four position. But this is a competition which should be well within sights.

Nketiah’s hat-trick also gives Arteta something to deeply consider. With the demotion of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a breach of club discipline, difficulty for one player now presents possible opportunity for another, a natural scorer.

In the current Covid climate engulfing the country, a competition like the Carabao Cup (and the new Europa Conference League) has its critics in terms of both scheduling and overall significance.

Nevertheless, in the build up to this quarter-final, England’s second tier domestic cup tournament has very much found favour with Arsenal. The Gunners had not conceded a goal during their run, with handsome victories over West Bromwich Albion, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United. Therefore the visit of League One Sunderland, irrespective of a busy calendar, was unlikely to cause too much concern for Arteta’s men. And so it proved.

There was an opportunity for Nketiah up front, who was hoping to add to his two goals in two Carabao appearances – how he obliged, with ease. Keeper Bernd Leno also came in from cold storage; the Germany international having lost his place this term to Aaron Ramsdale.

The hosts were slow to start though and found Ross Stewart, Sunderland’s ‘Loch Ness Drogba’ a handful. Lee Johnson’s outfit - currently sitting third in League One - were asserting themselves and had, essentially, nothing much to lose.

It took around ten minutes for Arsenal to finally threaten – and it subsequently didn’t take much longer before they went in front.

Firstly, a Nuno Tavares' cross took a wicked deflection off Sunderland's Elliot Embleton, who almost directed the ball into his own goal, but fortunately for the midfielder his intervention came off the crossbar and finally to relative safety.

Nketiah opens up

Secondly, and regrettably, for Sunderland, they were on the receiving end of ill-fortune in 17 minutes, when Nketiah opened the scoring.

Black Cats’ keeper Lee Burge did well to parry a six yard header by Rob Holding, who rose highest to meet a corner, only for striker Nketiah to do a proper poaching job to turn in the rebound.

In the 27th minute Arsenal doubled their lead, all rather routinely. Moving down the right, Pepe – making his 100th appearance in red and white - exchanged neatly with Cedric Soares, before the Ivorian drove the ball home from eight yards, his shot taking a slight deflection off Callum Doyle.

If that was to be the precursor to aspell of comfort for the Gunners, they were rudely mistaken, within a first half which ebbed and flowed with the proper urgency of a winter warming cup tie. In fact, the concessions openly increased Sunderland’s determination to do themselves some sort of justice in the capital.

Their self-belief paid off. Johnson’s side took advantage of the hosts’ casual, complacent demeanour in midfield, when, in 31 minutes, they grabbed an equaliser. It was superbly constructed, too.

Black Cats’ surge

Mohamed Elneny failed to pick up scampering opponents in the middle of the pitch, leaving Elliot Embleton to surge forward before slipping the ball beyond Holding into the path of the onrushing Nathan Broadhead. Keeping his cool and with an eye on the advancing Leno, the Black Cats’ striker clipped the ball over the Arsenal keeper and into the net.

Sunderland were emboldened, but there was still the impression that Arsenal had much more to offer – and presumably Arteta stressed as much at the interval.

The manager’s message was certainly adhered to when, just four minutes after the break, Nketiah swooped to make it 3-1 in a rudimentary move.

Pressing down the left, Soares sent in a dangerous cross which was met by Nketiah who, from six yards, stepped in ahead of Doyle to instinctively nudge the ball home.

Nifty Nketiah

The evening was proving to be increasingly rewarding one for the confident young Gunner – who swiftly added another for his hat-trick. And how nifty the finish, in 58 minutes, proved to be.

With Sunderland increasingly stretched on each flank, Pepe picked the ball up and slipped the ball cutely through the legs of Carl Winchester. Weighing up options, his cross was met by Nketiah, who effortlessly back-heeled into the Wearsiders’ net from close range.

While the goal was very admirable in its simplicity, it was rough luck on Sunderland who, moments earlier, almost pulled a goal back when Embleton curled a lovely 20 yard shot which glanced against the post.

Meanwhile, Patino, an Arsenal youngster with a growing reputation, came on with ten minutes remaining, for Emile Smith-Rowe. He found his feet quickly, turning the ball in from eight yards via a simple assist by Nketiah. The young guns are aiming high.

Gunners: Leno, Soares, White (Gabriel 73), Odegaard (Martinelli 73), Holding, Tavares, Elneny, Balogun (Xhaka 55), Smith-Rowe (Patino 79), Pepe, Nketiah


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