Eddie Nketiah scored his first senior career hat-trick to inspire Arsenal to victory over League One side, Sunderland in the quarterfinal of the Carabao Cup as the Gunners continue their recently rediscovered fine form.
The England U-21 international opened the scoring with a close range finish, before Nicolas Pepe doubled the lead and Nathan Broadhead pulled one back for the visitors as Arsenal went into the break ahead.
Nketiah grabbed two more exquisite goals to complete his take home of the match ball, before 18-year old debutant, Charlie Patino scored with his first shot to complete the romp.
Mikel Arteta was afforded the luxury of making nine changes to his team despite having three players, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers out due to Covid-19 and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang still frozen out of the team.
Lee Johnson named a strong lineup, despite making two changes to his team that drew against Ipswich Town at the weekend.
The floodgates were opened in the 17th minute after Rob Holding had seen his header from a corner saved by Sunderland goalkeeper, Lee Burge, but Nketiah was on hand to tap home the rebound with his knee.
Pepe, who has in recent times found playing time hard to come by doubled Arsenal's lead about 10 minutes later. The Ivorian combined well with Cedric Soares on the right and was on hand to receive the right back's cut back and score a deflected shot.
Sunderland were not looking to bow in defeat as they reduced the deficit just after the half hour mark. A swift counterattack led by Alex Pritchard ended with Nathan Broadhead dinking his effort over Bernd Leno. The striker was however, forced out not long after due to injury, taking a bit of sting out of the visitors' attack.
Not long after the restart, Nketiah got his second of the night as he popped up in the middle just between the Sunderland defenders to flick home a cross from Nuno Tavares.
His hat-trick was complete two minutes before the hour mark as he executed a beautiful back heel to turn the ball into the net after crisp play by Pepe to keep the ball alive on the right and find his way into the near post.
It looked like that would be all we would see for the night until 18-year old Charlie Patino, who had come on for Emile Smith Rowe for the final 10 minutes was at the end of another sleek Pepe move to score with his first shot in his first appearance for the first team.
It may be argued that Arsenal played a League one side, but takes nothing away from the fact that Arsenal have been on a decent run of form coming into the game.
The depth of the team is quite amazing. Despite Arteta making nine changes to his team, it still felt like they had their first team on the pitch. One could even argue that his changed side would start for some teams. I believe this boils down to the fact that he has found a way to integrate almost all of these players into his regular team, such that he can name a second 11 and still have a strong team. This could prove useful for them, especially with the congested fixtures.
It was a night made for Nketiah and he made the most of it. Although there are reports that he has rejected a new contract from the club as he looks for first team football, I believe he did himself well and deserves more regular football, even if it be away from Arsenal, but definitely not on a loan deal. He has had his fair share of loan spells and would be a starter in some mid-table teams.
I was particularly glad seeing Charlie Patino come on and the fans sure must have known what talent he is as they gave him a rousing ovation upon his entrance. I have watched him for a while with the U-18s and U-23s, and it was just a matter of when he would eventually get his chance. I'm not surprised he scored because scoring goals has been a strong part of his game for the junior Gunners.
On the night, I saw the Pepe that everyone has always wanted to see. Yes, we may have been very critical of him in recent times, understandably so as he was not proving effective in Premier League games. Perhaps, this period out of the team may have given him the necessary motivation to come back stronger.
Nothing much to say on Sunderland's side. They most likely are not feeling bad that they lost to a better side and would just focus on their quest to return to the championship.