Wenger's youthful talent stuns Everton

Arsenal 3 - Everton 1
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The Independent Online

An Everton team stocked with gnarled old pros were humiliated at Highbury last night by Arsène Wenger's golden crop of brilliant youngsters. Despite being given the bonus of an early deflected goal in this fourth-round League Cup tie, Everton were outplayed by a team which, for the last 25 minutes, did not have an outfield player over the age of 21.

An Everton team stocked with gnarled old pros were humiliated at Highbury last night by Arsène Wenger's golden crop of brilliant youngsters. Despite being given the bonus of an early deflected goal in this fourth-round League Cup tie, Everton were outplayed by a team which, for the last 25 minutes, did not have an outfield player over the age of 21.

The teenagers Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Arturo Lupoli took the goalscoring honours, but it was a team performance which will have pleased Wenger as much as anything his senior players have achieved in his reign.

This fixture always had the potential to inflict considerable pain on Everton. To Arsenal this competition is, at best, a useful arena in which to blood young talent and chalk off a few pounds of the Ashburton Grove Stadium debt.

Everton, by contrast, do not just want to win it, they need to. The sight of Middlesbrough sweeping aside Lazio in the Uefa Cup last week provided the lure.

Everton have not played in Europe for nine years and have done so only once in 20 seasons. Nor have they won a trophy of any kind since 1995.

While Arsenal fielded an entirely different 11 to that which competed in the Premiership on Saturday, Everton made only three changes from the side which lost narrowly at Chelsea and the three newcomers were all internationals. The importance of the League Cup to this great club was on the line.

Initially, it seemed Everton stalwarts need not fear embarrassment. After just eight minutes James McFadden was brought down on the edge of the area. Thomas Gravesen's free-kick took a wicked deflection off Jermaine Pennant to wrong-foot Manuel Almunia and put Everton ahead. However, the night soon began to unravel for Everton when Marcus Bent, such an influential figure in their unexpected occupation of the Premiership's higher echelon, limped off injured.

Arsenal also suffered an injury, but in their case it proved beneficial as the substitute, Owusu-Abeyie, equalised within minutes of his arrival. The 18-year-old burst on to a pass from Pennant, held off Tony Hibbert, and scored inside the near post.

With Arsenal's youngsters drawing confidence from his goal, Everton were made to feel increasingly uncomfortable and Robin van Persie twice went close. It was Everton, though, who almost snatched a half-time lead when Alessandro Pistone struck the post from the edge of the penalty area in injury time.

Arsenal made the most of their escape when Owusu-Abeyie rode three tackles and slid the ball to Van Persie, who set up Lupoli for Arsenal's second. Only a smart save from Richard Wright prevented the 17-year-old Italian scoring again midway through the second period as Everton's frustration grew.

Arsenal wrapped up the tie when Lupoli started and finished a sweeping move five minutes from time.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Hoyte, Djourou, Senderos, Karbassiyoon; Pennant, Flamini, Edu (Larsson, 65), Smith (Owusu-Abeyie, 20); Van Persie, Lupoli (Cregg, 88). Substitutes not used: Jordan (gk), Fowler.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Wright; Hibbert, Yobo, Stupps, Pistone; Watson, Gravesen, Cahill, Kilbane; McFadden; Bent (Chadwick, 16). Substitutes not used: Weir, Naysmith, Osman, Turner (gk).

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

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