By Richard Clarke
Arsenal are through to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup. Arsène Wenger blended youth and experience for the tough-looking trip to West Brom and was rewarded with a 2-0 victory.
The First Division side enjoyed the better of the opening period so it was against the run of play when Kanu thumped a 25th-minute shot past West Brom keeper Russell Hoult at the second attempt.
Ten minutes after the interval the Baggies' No 1 gifted Arsenal a second when his clearance fell to the feet of Jeremie Aliadiere, who rounded the keeper to slot home.
Although never in control of the game, Arsenal took their chances and, in the end, deserved their victory. So it's onward and upward in this competition and another high-profile scalp for Wenger's youngsters.
Before kick-off, Lauren made a welcome return at right back after injury and suspension had ruled him out of the past six games.
Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Edu and Kanu, all bench-warmers on Sunday against Blackburn, lent their experience to the side. Gael Clichy, Stathis Tavlaridis, David Bentley, Aliadiere and Stack continued their run in the side. Francesc Fabregas was on the bench.
The 16-year-old Spanish midfielder became Arsenal's youngest player in the third-round victory over Rotherham and broke the record as the youngest scorer against Wolves in round four. Could he do it a third time?
It was bitterly cold night in the Black Country but the game began with the feel of an old-fashioned cup-tie. Within the first five minutes, the match began to be played at a vibrant pace. The teams started to probe each other through the midfield and only last-ditch tackles prevented both sets of strikers going clear.
The first sight of goal came in the 12th minute when Stack spilled Neil Clement's low free-kick and needed help to clear the ball behind. Soon afterwards Rob Hulse's scuffed effort drifted past the upright. Then Clement's speculative cross bounced off the woodwork and behind for a goal-kick. West Brom were getting on top.
When Tavlaridis won a foot race with home striker Scott Dobie and hooked the ball away from danger in the 22nd minute you sensed a goal was coming. And indeed it was - but not in the goal you expected.
Three minutes, Lauren sent a cross to the far post and Kanu arrived above his marker to power a header goalwards from six-yards out. Hoult made a fine point-blank save but he could only parry the ball straight to the Nigerian striker who sidefooted past the stranded keeper. After the pressure West Brom had enjoyed it was the classic sucker-punch.
Despite the goal, the home side continued to enjoy the territorial advantage. Clement sent another low free-kick fizzing just wide and, three minutes before the break, an overhead kick from Hulse forced Stack to make a fine save down by his right-hand post.
The second half was delayed because of an injury to one of the assistant referees. In a bizarre occurrence, referee Matt Messias also had to go off for running repairs midway through the second half.
Kanu nearly extended Arsenal's lead just after the break when his low shot was saved by Hoult at his near post.
But it was not the trend as West Brom carved out their best two chances of the game. First Hulse broke through on the left of the area but his shot bounced off the shoulder of the onrushing Stack and deflected wide for a corner.
Then Lee Hughes found similar space on the right of the area but could only hack a horrible shot over the bar.
It seemed West Brom were gearing up for to pile on the pressure but that mistake by Hoult opened the valve.
The keeper controlled a back pass from Thomas Gaardsoe and looked to boot the ball upfield. However his clearance only found Aliadiere six yards outside the area. The French striker had the relatively simple chance of rounding the out-of-position keeper and slotting home. It was his fourth goal in three Carling Cup games this season.
West Brom continued to push forward but the second goal had sapped their confidence and Alaidiere's snap-shot was the next sight of goal with 20 minutes left.
Dobie thumped a shot against the bar from outside the area with four minutes left then Hughes guided a header against the base of the post seconds later. The home fans could certainly have argued with conviction that their side deserved a goal for their endeavour on the night.
However it was Arsenal who took their chances and it is they who march on to the semi-finals.
|Kanu knocks in the rebound to make it 1-0||Our Nigerian celebrates|
|Thomas evades Dobie's challenge||Clichy clears the danger|
|Aliadiere slides home following Hoult's mistake||Our young French striker enjoys his goal|
|Tavlaridis celebrates at the final whistle||Keown salutes the travelling Arsenal fans|
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