Eboué's skill provides the sparkle in Arsenal stroll

Arsenal 2 - Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Online

Before the match Arsenal fans rose to salute two club stalwarts. Pat Rice, the assistant manager, was celebrating 40 years at Highbury, while Gary Lewin was marking his 1,000th game as physiotherapist. After a routine FA Cup fourth-round victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, however, much of the talk was about a player making only his second appearance in the famous red and white shirt.

Before the match Arsenal fans rose to salute two club stalwarts. Pat Rice, the assistant manager, was celebrating 40 years at Highbury, while Gary Lewin was marking his 1,000th game as physiotherapist. After a routine FA Cup fourth-round victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, however, much of the talk was about a player making only his second appearance in the famous red and white shirt.

Emmanuel Eboué, who joined Arsenal this month, is from a similar background to Kolo Touré, who is currently suspended. An Ivory Coast international, Eboué completed his move to Highbury from Beveren after impressing in pre-season trials. He has played mainly at right-back, but the Belgian club also deployed him at the centre of defence and Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, believes he could have a future further up the field.

While better teams than Wolves might have punished some of his defensive naïvety, Ebou showed some dashing skills while going forward. There were even some fancy step-overs as he made a series of damaging runs down Arsenal's right flank. One ended with a theatrical fall that did not endear him to Wolves fans, while another saw his shot strike the crossbar.

"He has a lot to learn tactically but to me he looked very confident on the ball," Wenger said after the game. "He's only 21-years-old and he's never played at this level, but I was very happy with his performance. I feel he can play in midfield as well. When the ball comes to him he is always looking to accelerate, to move forward. He has a good feel for the game."

A cup-tie against lower-division opposition offered Wenger the chance to give a run-out to other comparative newcomers - Robin van Persie gave an intelligent performance in the Dennis Bergkamp role while Mathieu Flamini and Gaël Clichy did their causes no harm - but in the end it was the old guard who ensured a comfortable victory. Michael Oakes, who made several excellent saves, brought down Thierry Henry for a penalty which Patrick Vieira converted, while Robert Pires and Henry combined beautifully to open the way for Freddie Ljungberg to drive home the second.

For once it was an opposing manager who was complaining about the refereeing of an Arsenal game by Mike Riley, who officiated at the "Battle of Old Trafford" earlier this season. Glenn Hoddle, the Wolves manager, believed that Pascal Cygan's tugging of Joleon Lescott's shirt just before the interval was the most clear-cut penalty claim of the match.

"He's a Premiership referee and there was definitely a familiarity between him and their players," Hoddle said. "I don't know how they choose the referees but it has got to be looked at. We had a cast-iron penalty not given to us and they got a penalty which was soft."

Wenger, in contrast, had no complaints about Riley, even when he denied Henry a goal after the Arsenal striker had cheekily stolen the ball from Oakes as the Wolves goalkeeper released the ball from his hands in order to drop-kick it downfield.

"It was right to disallow the goal," Wenger said, confirming that the rules state that the ball remains in the goalkeeper's possession until it touches the ground.

Wolves, with Seyi George Olofinjana a powerhouse in midfield, worked hard and, as you would expect from a team managed by Hoddle, always tried to play a passing game. You sensed, however, that Arsenal always had plenty in reserve, particularly after the interval.

"The first half was not the way Arsenal should play," Henry said. "You cannot win games without passing the ball well around the box and after half-time I think you saw another team. In the second half we began to play our football."

Goals: Vieira pen (53) 1-0; Ljungberg (82) 2-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Campbell, Cygan, Clichy; Ljungberg (Owusu-Abeyie, 84), Flamini, Vieira, Reyes (Pires, 70); Van Persie (Fabregas, 76), Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Hoyte.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Oakes; Bjorklund (Miller, 61), Craddock, Lescott, Naylor; Newton, Olofinjana (Clarke, 76), Ince (Cameron, 86), Kennedy; Seol, Cort. Substitutes not used: Cooper, Andrews.

Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).

Booked: Wolves Ince, Seol.

Man of the match: Oakes.

Attendance: 37,153.

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