Arsenal 3 (Simpson 42, 66, Vela 70) Wigan 0
(League Cup Fourth Round)
Where to begin with that? Just when you wonder if the kids have another great performance in them, they pull out yet another surprise, dealing with a strong Wigan outfit with an assured display that was so comfortable at times that you looked at the opposition to make sure they really were the players you thought they were. Valencia, Palacios, Zaki…all anonymous, only de Ridder really threatened while the youthful home side tore through them time and time again. And Wigan were at full strength bar Heskey, who was injured.
Nerves were evident in the early stages, but as soon as Vela had his first chance they all seemed to settle. That Vela failed to score on that occasion was due to the first piece of outstanding goalkeeping of the night by Kirkland, who initially seemed to be keeping Wigan in it, but eventually turned out just to be keeping the score down.
He made some magnificent stops after that, notably from a Ramsey free kick that had Ronaldo taken it would’ve have the commentators purring, and then a Vela curler. Jay Simpson, coming in for Bendtner in the only change from the previous round, also hit the bar early on. But by half time, Kirkland was finally beaten, a delicious through ball by Jack Wilshere (who else?) finding Simpson, who rolled home coolly.
Into the second half, and there was a lucky escape, Djourou bizarrely brushing the ball with his hand in the area while under no pressure, but in reality it would’ve been a lot more than Wigan deserved, and before long the game was put the bed with the sort of counter attack we used to see in the Pires-Henry days. A cross was punched away by Fabianski, Ramsey played a stunning long pass with the outside of his foot to Vela, who nipped in ahead of Melchiot, ran in on goal and squared for Simpson to tap in his second.
It was a beautiful goal, but if I were Steve Bruce I would be furious. Melchiot was clear favourite for the ball before Vela nabbed it, and the less said about Bramble’s effort to first cover Simpson and then the line, the better. But anyone surprised by a Titus Bramble cock up hasn’t watched much football.
Minutes later, Vela applied the coup de grace. This time, Bramble was putting in a decent challenge, but despite being off balance and 25 yards out, Vela still had the presence of mind to out-do his cheeky chip in the last round by lifting it over Kirkland from distance. It was a truly astonishing finish from a player who looks ready for first team football right now.
Not only was the performance wonderful going forward, but the team gained another clean sheet, thanks to an incredible double save from Fabianski in the final moments, somehow denying Zaki a gaping goal with a terrific reaction stop.
It seems unfair to pick out a few players when the whole team played so well, but those closest to the first team were those who impressed the most. Ramsey looks a class apart, along with Wilshere in midfield, who Capello must’ve watching with some interest. If he sees out his four years with England, young Jack may well have featured. Vela is a special special talent, while Song and Djourou had excellent games at the back. Gibbs looked great going forward but suspect defensively (not a surprise given his history as a left winger), and Simpson marked his first start with a couple of decent finishes.
I’ll have more on this game in the next couple of days, because there’s much much more to talk about, but for now, enjoy the night, in the knowledge that Chelsea and Liverpool, fielding much more experienced sides than us, have gone out. What price Spurs in the next round?