Hat-trick hero Eddie Nketiah ensured Arsenal progressed to the Carabao Cup semi-finals despite a spirited Sunderland showing.
The 22-year-old gave the Gunners the lead before Nicolas Pepe added a second. The Black Cats struck back, but Nketiah scored twice more in the second half. Then debutant Charlie Patino netted a late fifth.
Mikel Arteta rung the changes, as was expected to face League One opposition. Nine players were brought in after beating Leeds at the weekend, with only Ben White and Martin Odegaard remaining from that team.
Sunderland boss Lee Johnson named his strongest side possible. He was only without first-choice goalkeeper Ron-Thorben Hoffmann and on-loan winger Leon Dajaku.
It was Bernd Leno who had to make the first save of the match. Alex Pritchard fired a comfortable shot on target.
The visitors pushed forward once more and claimed a penalty when Ross Stewart went down in the box. Nothing was given, and VAR was not in use so couldn’t intervene.
Arsenal began to attack with more vigour themselves and nearly gained a lucky lead as a result.
A cross from the left deflected up and onto the top of the crossbar. Pepe pounced on the rebound, but his shot was blocked.
The Premier League side’s intensity did soon bring a goal, though.
After a free-kick had been turned behind, Cedric put the resulting corner into the box and onto the head of Rob Holding.
Arsenal take the lead! 🔴
Eddie Nketiah is there to score the rebound after Rob Holding’s header is saved by Lee Burge ⚽
📺 Watch live on Sky Sports Football pic.twitter.com/pGxo6XJz3v
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) December 21, 2021
The centre-back’s effort was saved in the direction of Nketiah’s knee and the ball bounced in.
Another Cedric cross nearly brought a second. Folarin Balogun should have scored at the back post – instead his header went wide.
Balogun was soon in space again, but scuffed a left-footed strike towards stand-in ‘keeper Lee Burge.
The right-flank was proving successful for the Gunners and that is how they did double their lead. Cedric was once again involved, exchanging passes with Pepe whose shot deflected into the roof of the net.
Despite looking out of it, the Black Cats didn’t lose hope. And mere minutes later they were back to a one-goal deficit.
A break saw Elliot Embleton able to play in Nathan Broadhead and the attacker dinked the ball past Leno with a cute first-time finish.
Back up the other end, Balogun went close to getting his name on the scoresheet. The face of Burge denied his snap shot.
The end-to-end action continued and defender Tom Flanagan could have given the underdogs an equaliser. He got on the end of a deep free-kick but headed wide.
Emile Smith Rowe saw his sharp volley saved, before goalscorer Broadhead was forced off before half-time.
Nketiah secures first Arsenal hat-trick
The blistering pace of the game continued after the restart – and it was Arsenal who got the better of it.
A low Nuno Tavares ball in from the left was pounced on by an on-rushing Nketiah who converted past Burge.
Sunderland really didn’t stop putting up a fight and Embleton was whiskers away from finding the top left corner with a sublime curling effort from distance.
Balogun entered the book and was subsequently replaced by Granit Xhaka.
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And shortly after Nketiah completed his hat-trick. Pepe nutmegged his way into the box, before passing to the striker who delightfully back-heeled into the net.
Substitute Denver Hume was having a nightmare against Pepe, who skipped past him twice more and got him booked in the process.
The second resulted in Odegaard having a shot turned away. With a healthy lead established, Arteta then took him and White off.
Johnson also made a double change with the clock ticking down. Aiden O’Brien and Corry Evans replaced Lynden Gooch and Embleton.
Youngster Patino, 18, was brought on for his Arsenal debut, taking the place of Emile Smith Rowe.
Nketiah was still lively and thought he had won a penalty when he was brought down by Bailey Wright. The referee had actually pointed for a goal kick, though.
There was still time for another goal, as Pepe squared to Patino who prodded past Burge to make his first professional appearance one to remember.
Arsenal now face a two-legged semi-final tie in the New Year.