Carling Cup – Arsenal youngsters turn on the class
Manager Arsene Wenger stuck to his policy of giving youth a chance in the much-maligned knock-out competition, naming a starting line-up with an average age of just 19 against Sheffield United, and he was not disappointed.
Mexican striker Carlos Vela scored a hat-trick, while Nicklas Bendtner – at 20 one of the senior men on display and with a wealth of first-team experience already – had put the young Gunners in command with two first half goals.
Vela chipped in a wonderful fourth five minutes after the restart, with Jack Wilshere, still only 16, adding a fifth before the 19-year-old South American completed his hat-trick as the Coca-Cola Championship side were outclassed.
Sterner tests lie ahead for the likes of Wales Under-21 midfielder Aaron Ramsey, the raw talent of Wilshere and aspiring full-back Kieran Gibbs – but on tonight’s evidence their Wembley dream may not be so far away.
The young Gunners began brightly and a crisp passing move sent Gibbs away down the left, only for his low centre to fly across the six-yard box.
United forward Danny Webber did well to weave himself into space just outside the Arsenal penalty area but then could not get any power on his shot and the ball bobbled through to Lukasz Fabianski, captain for the night and at 23 the oldest man in the home team.
Another quick passing Arsenal move on the edge of the area saw Bendtner play in Johan Djourou and the big defender turned to fire a goalbound effort which Paddy Kelly saved at full stretch.
Bendtner flicked on for Wilshere to collect in the overlap down the right but the teenager rushed his attempted curled shot and hit wide.
The Dane then showed the rest of the youngsters how it should be done with a fine finish after 31 minutes.
Vela held off Blades captain Chris Morgan before feeding the ball square to Bendtner just outside the penalty area.
The 20-year-old took a couple of touches before dispatching a low strike into the bottom right corner for his third goal of the season.
Arsenal felt they had a strong penalty claim when Morgan slid through on Wilshere but referee Phil Dowd was unimpressed.
After 42 minutes Ramsey – signed from Cardiff for £5million in the summer – weaved his way into the left of the penalty area before turning and playing a superb backheel to Bendtner who beat Kenny from six yards.
Before the visitors could regroup and look towards the respite of half-time they were further behind.
Bendtner turned provider as he chipped a pass through for Vela to run on to down the right.
The Mexican sprinted into the area before bending a delightful effort into the far corner.
In the second half Arsenal continued where they had left off as Gibbs stung the keeper’s hands with a fierce angled drive from the left of the penalty area.
The full-back then sent a long pass upfield towards Vela who took the ball on his chest, leaving Morgan chasing shadows, and darted into the box to finish with an audacious chip over the stranded keeper.
It got worse for the battered Blades when Wilshere drilled in a fifth after 57 minutes.
Fran Merida’s right-wing corner picked out the 16-year-old – Arsenal’s youngest to appear in the Premier League – and he showed great composure to drill a low shot past Kelly from 22 yards.
However, Cesc Fabregas, by just more than a month, remains Arsenal’s youngest scorer at 16 years 212 days with his goal against Wolves in December 2003.
There was no holding back by the rampant Gunners with Djourou heading over at the back post following another deep corner before Bendtner narrowly missed out on his hat-trick when his close-range shot trickled wide.
Vela then completed his treble with another well-taken effort after 88 minutes after running clear down the left onto Ramsey’s pass.