Arsenal beat Doncaster Rovers 3-1 on penalties in the Carling Cup last night after being held 2-2 after extra time. Gilberto Silva had scored a dramatic equaliser in the last minute of extra time , after Rovers had thought they through to the semi-finals when Paul Green bundled the ball home in the first period of extra time.
Rovers had stunned the Premiership side by taking a fourth-minute lead but though their opponents lacked many of the more familiar names, there was enough quality in their ranks to keep Arsenal in the tie.
A 63rd-minute goal from 19-year-old Dutchman Quincy Owusu-Abeyié, his first of the season, cruelly deflected on its way past Jan Budtz, cancelled out Michael McIndoe's early strike to ensure an extra 30 minutes of drama before deciding who would go through to the semi-final.
Arsenal knew they were in for a rousing South Yorkshire reception from the moment Arsène Wenger stepped on to the field to a chorus of "Where's your Christmas card?" The visiting manager smiled benignly for the ring of lenses between him and the pitch, even offering the crowd a ripple of applause to acknowledge their reference to his seasonal spat with Jose Mourinho.
All very predictable, as perhaps was the home side's explosive start, although a goal inside four minutes was outside the scope of everyone's imagination. Lewis Guy, on the left of midfield, flicked the ball into the path of McIndoe, whose shot was firm enough to beat Manuel Almunia and roll into the net.
Having beaten Manchester City in the second round and thrashed Aston Villa to reach the last eight, Doncaster are not fazed by Premiership opponents but to lead so soon in this tie was a start of dream quality. The Earth Stadium shook. Now the Wenger smile was notable for its absence.
The Arsenal manager's commitment to the Carling Cup is not on the same level as that of Sir Alex Ferguson, even at this late stage. His line-up showed five changes from the one selected to beat Reading in the fourth round but retained the flavour of his development squad.
However, Alexander Hleb, Pascal Cygan and Gilberto Silva added backbone. While Jose Antonio Reyes was absent injured, the presence of Robin van Persie up front gave Rovers a little more to think about than normally concerns them in League One.
The early goal clearly rattled Arsenal, Cygan glaring his way into referee Phil Dowd's notebook after a clash with Ricky Ravenhill. However, Wenger will have been pleased with the way his players regained their composure. There were some uncertain moments among his back four but Gilberto and Hleb soon imposed their authority in midfield.
A tackle by Steve Roberts, after which the Doncaster defender also needed treatment, dealt Arsenal a blow when Van Persie had to be withdrawn after little more than half an hour but the pace of Arturo Lupoli was an equal threat. From his cross on 38 minutes, the substitute Nicklas Bendtner drew the save of the opening half from Budtz in Doncaster's goal.
Arsenal appealed desperately for a penalty when Lupoli went down in a tangle of legs in first-half stoppage time but as Wenger complained to the fourth official, Doncaster had the chance of a second goal, Sean Thornton running on to Guy's low cross only for his shot to be blocked by Almunia as it sped goalwards.
Penned into their own territory for much of the first half, Doncaster at last revealed some more of their attacking prowess early in the second half and it took two examples of Almunia's alert goalkeeping to keep Arsenal's deficit to a single goal.
First, Thornton, who had scored with a deflected shot against Villa, appeared about to do the same here until the Spaniard made a late adjustment to keep the ball out.
Then, as Doncaster broke at pace, Almunia let Paul Heffernan's awkward shot squirm out of his grasp but reacted brilliantly to keep out Guy's follow-up, scrambling up off the ground to repel the Doncaster striker's shot.
However, unlike Villa, whose backbone proved so feeble here last month, Arsenal self-belief remained intact, the quality of their build-up play constantly testing the home side as they probed for weaknesses in Doncaster's resistance.
Bendtner's speed and strength were a particular threat and Budtz again had to save well to keep him off the score sheet after 61 minutes.
Yet it was a short-lived reprieve for the home side. Little more than 60 seconds later, Owusu-Abeyie benefited from a slice of luck to put Arsenal level, his shot skewing off the body of Thornton to leave Budtz hopelessly stranded.
Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): Budtz; Fenton, S Roberts, Foster, McDaid; Coppinger (N Roberts, 102), Thornton (Green, 85), Ravenhill, McIndoe; Heffernan, Guy (Oji, 115). Substitutes not used: Nielsen (gk), Fortune-West.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Eboué, Djourou, Senderos, Cygan; Helb, Gilberto, Song, Owusu-Abeyié (Larsson, 78); Van Persie (Bendtner, 33), Lupoli (Gilbert, 105). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Muamba.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
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