Arsenal 6-1 Coventry City: On to the Fourth Round

League Cup games are almost like a simulacrum of actual football - a few times a season, we get sucked into a wormhole to a bizarre land that has its own rules of physics and where events have no bearing on what comes before or after it. Some deride the competition for the lack of first-team players on show, but I think it's a fun diversion.

I mean, did you see that wonderfully preposterous mish-mash of a starting lineup we put out for this thing? Rookies, vets that can't get into the game, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (whose inclusion almost felt like cheating given his prodigious talent). Meanwhile, our opponents were a bonafide crisis club, as cliched as the term has become. City find themselves in the third tier for the first time in aeons, and on an epic losing streak to boot. But, you know how these things go - look at the heavy weather made of Leeds United and Leyton Orient last season.

To elaborate on said mishmash: Damian Martinez patrolled the net, with a semi-experienced center-half pairing of Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miquel. Andre Santos finally got a game at LB, while young Martin Angha got a run-out on the right. Francis Coquelin was the holding midfielder, with Nico Yennaris beside him. The front three boasted far more experience than we normally see at this stage of the tournament - Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott on the wings, with Andrei Arshavin in the hole. Olivier Giroud unsurprisingly was given this opportunity at center-forward to end his goal drought.

It took a while for the match to spark to life, with the Sky Blues content to sit back and watch as a disjointed Arsenal stumbled and bumbled and misplayed passes all over the field. At the ten minute mark though, this makeshift XI gelled enough to string some offensive moves together. Still, it was the visitors who fashioned the first chance thanks to the overzealous Angha. The Swiss man badly missed his challenge, allowing Franck Moussa to skip around him and send in a good cross. Luckily for us, Stephen Elliot fluffed his lines and headed over.

Meanwhile, Arsenal maintained possession and started to get into good areas, but it was the final ball that presented us problems. Quality crosses were nowhere to be found.

There was also no panic to be found, and the men in red simply kept at it until the breakthrough came in the 39th minute. The ball was played through the middle to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who passed to Arshavin. The Russian's side-foot was too far ahead of Yennaris, but his brilliant sliding deflection found the overlapping Giroud. Joe Murphy came off his line, surely wondering where his defense had gotten off to. Giroud still had it all to do though, and managed exactly that with a sweetly-dinked finish over the Irish keeper.

The visitors had no immediate reply, and in turn Arsenal were content to take their slim lead into to the changing rooms.

The Sky Blues came out of the interval the sharper side though, and so easily could have equalized early doors. Their captain, Carl Baker, sent a teasing ball in that one of his teammates should have gotten on the end of. That was a bit of a let-off, and the defense had to quickly regroup again when Moussa eviscerated Angha again with his trickery and movement. Sad to say, the young right back looked miles out of his depth on this occasion. 

Still, the home side were never too far removed from the proceedings, and won a slightly dubious penalty soon after. In one sense, Coventry deserved it for how putrid Reece Brown's backwards header was. Arshavin stole in, and believe it or not worked hard to get in behind Brown. The defender did make some contact, but Arshavin went down a bit easy. We'd have been pissed if the roles were reversed, I think. Still, the referee pointed to the spot, and it almost was a red card too - only the timely arrival of Richard Wood spared the Manchester United loanee (no, really!) that fate.

Giroud took the penalty, but had to wait several minutes while some jackass pitch invader eluded stewards. When a man as bereft of confidence as he is has to take time and think about it, it is probably inevitable what will come next. The penalty was dreadful, and easily palmed away by Murphy. How nice it would have been to see the Frenchman smash one into the top corner! That said, we almost scored on the ensuing corner - Miquel unlucky to flash a header just over.

Arsenal kept at it though, and got the second a few minutes before the hour. It all came out of nothing, too. Santos was in the corner, and played it back to Ox. Ox exchanged passes with Arshavin, leaving him dead central with the Coventry defense standing four tube stations away from him. His shot was hard and had some movement, but it probably should have been saved. Murphy got put off by something, and indicated that he couldn't see it. It wasn't a hideous error, but it is an illustration as to why he's in the third tier.

With the game slipping away, Moussa was strangely taken off for Rangers flameout John Fleck. Angha must have been happy to see that sub, while Fleck must be ecstatic to be at a crisis club in the lower leagues. A funny old game, innit?

In the meantime, Ox had another long-range tracer decently saved by Murphy. Coventry were back on their heels, at one point stringing six across the back. But, it was their midfield that let them down though, a terrible giveaway leading to our third. The fantastic Yennaris took advantage in the middle of the field and surged forward with great purpose. Giroud made a perfect run through their backline, but his pass to the onrushing Arshavin was high and pinged a little too hard. No matter, the little Russian deftly flicked it off his body and down into his path, and he calmly slotted home past Murphy. The keeper had bizarrely decided to stay on his line, failing to read the danger of Arshavin's run. Again, that lack of awareness and anticipation is why he's turning out for Coventry.

The subs started to appear with 20 minutes left to go. There was actually a Marouane Chamakh sighting, and Serge Gnabry came on as well. The Ox and Giroud came off, hopefully with one eye on Saturday. Also: DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENCH! Frimpong came on for Coquelin.

The brief interlude didn't slow the men in red down though, a fourth coming soon after. Again, it stemmed from Yennaris in the middle of the park, playing a wonderful ball through the retreating backline to Walcott. Walcott, at full gallop, displayed his best skill - the low, across-the-keeper finish into the far corner. It looked like Murphy may have been a shade too far over towards his near post, but either way it was a fine run and finish.

It didn't all go our way though, Coventry replying in kind four minutes later. Baker had the run of the right-hand side, Santos caught way up the pitch. Miquel had to come over to help, but was a second too late. Their man sent in another beautiful cross, and this time the substitute Callum Ball got the better of a static Johan Djourou and hammered a shot past Martinez. I would have liked to see a more decisive play from the Argentinean...I think he could have gotten there or at least put Bell off. He was hesitant at other moments as well, and showed that he has far to go in his education as a keeper.

But, while replays were still being shown, Arsenal almost scored again. Gnabry made an instant impact, receiving a fine pass from Arshavin and absolutely destroying two defenders as he cut inside. His shot was actually a bit unlucky to hit a Coventry head and go out, rather than in directly or in via own-goal.

The resulting corner did end up with Murphy picking the ball out of his net once again though. A short corner routine saw Arshavin and Yennaris ping the ball around several times before Arshavin found space and sent in a curler of a cross. Despite three men surrounding him, Miqel managed to rise highest and nod the ball into the far corner. It was a great header, a determined header, and a richly deserved goal for the Spaniard.

Arsenal looked content to play out time, but there was one more goal to come. Late on, Frimpong received the ball in the middle of the park, and hit a fantastic long pass to Walcott. The ferocity of his run may have caught Jordan Clarke off guard, because Theo left him for dead in a nanosecond. He surged into the penalty area, and Brown (who by the way, did we mention is on loan from Manchester United) decided to actually retreat away from him a bit. Walcott could have picked any shot he wanted, opting for low to the far post. Murphy was beside himself with anger, and rightfully so.

Again, what happened in this game is no portent - for good or ill - about what will happen against Chelsea at the weekend. On the night, it was a fine team performance, and again you can only play against what's in front of you. We learned a bit about some of the kids, some first-teamers got valuable minutes, and we're through to the next round away to Reading...another winnable game. You can't ask for much more than that.

Actually, scratch that...yes I can. Arsenal, please, please, PLEASE tonk those bastards.

Please. God, I fucking hate them. 

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Martinez 6, Santos 6, Djourou 7, Miquel 7, Angha 5, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Gnabry 7), Coquelin 7 (Frimpong 7), Yennaris 8, Arshavin 8, Walcott 8, Giroud 7 (Chamakh 6)

Man of the Match: Many will stump for Arshavin or Walcott, and there's a solid argument for both.  However, I thought that Nico Yennaris was superlative on both sides of the ball. His tackling, positioning, awareness, and range of passing were simply spectacular. He may not be ready for Premier League opposition quite yet, but it's heartening to know that the production line of talent continues to churn out quality players like this.