Arsenal Vs Doncaster Rovers: Recap, highlights and analysis

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his Arsenal team mates during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Arsenal and Doncaster Rovers at Emirates Stadium on September 20, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his Arsenal team mates during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Arsenal and Doncaster Rovers at Emirates Stadium on September 20, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /

Arsenal hosted Doncaster Rovers on Wednesday night to open their Carabao Cup campaign. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 1-0 win.

For the most part, that was a comfortable win. Arsene Wenger decided to play a team similar to that of last week in the Europa League, with a neat blend of youth and experience, and his Arsenal team played with precision and pace in the first half, opening up, but, crucially, not finishing off Doncaster Rovers, and ultimately saw out the victory in the second half, even with several scares after the break. A nice goal from Theo Walcott, who collected a wonderful long-range pass from Alexis Sanchez, opened the scoring, and Arsenal were able to see out the victory. But there were certainly nervy moments in the second half that prove this was a far more competitive game than it should have been.

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The first half started in open and positive fashion. Arsenal fizzed the ball around with great pace and precision; their passing was extremely sharp with Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez at the heart of everything. The first, clear-cut opportunity fell to Olivier Giroud, who, acrobatically, struck the crossbar with a contorted overhead kick, after Wilshere’s inventive scooped through ball. Then, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alexis Sanchez connected twice down the left flank, with penetrating one-twos: the first time Maitland-Niles flashed a low ball across the penalty area that didn’t quite fall to a teammate; the second time pulling the ball back for Wilshere, who couldn’t convert the first-time opportunity.

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As the game continued it was clear that, as expected, this would be the pattern of proceedings: Arsenal dominate the ball, working it through the midfield, looking to create those angles and opportunities against a tight, regimented and disciplined Doncaster defence. It is one of those games that can be frustrating if an early goal cannot be found. And as the game ticked by the 20-minute mark, there were murmurings of concern and nervousness. Thankfully, they did not last long.

Alexis Sanchez, who drifted throughout the pitch, always looking for the ball, attempting to influence the game as heavily as possible, dropped into the central midfield area, took one, piercing look up and immediately knew his target: Theo Walcott. Walcott had made his archetypal outside-in run, standing just behind the opposing full-back, using a slightly-too-deep centre-half to stay onside. Sanchez found him with a wonderful, raking ball and Walcott took one touch to compose himself before lifting a shot up and over the onrushing Ian Lawlor. It was an excellently worked and finished goal, and was just what Arsenal deserved and required.

The game lost its bite a little towards the closing stages of the first half. While the pattern was the same — Arsenal dominated the ball and Doncaster sat deep –, the Gunners’ passing was a little slower, lacking the same intensity at which they carved open their visitors earlier on. Opportunities were becoming increasingly difficult to fashion and Lawlor was not worked all that hard. In fact, it was Doncaster who perhaps had the best chance, just before halftime, as Alfie May sped down the inside-right channel, only for his shot, from a tight angle, to thunder into the side netting.

In the second half, though, it was clear that Arsenal were beginning to rue their missed chances earlier on. Doncaster pressure the Gunners, making them nervy in possession and exposed at the back. Alfie May had the best chance, as he eased Reiss Nelson off the ball, drove towards goal, only for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to close him down at lightning speed and recover well. But while Doncaster were not able to beat Ospina, they showed their threat, and it was enough to make Arsenal stand up and take notice.

Arsenal, thankfully, responded well. Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud began to assert their influence on the game again, interplaying with neat triangles, pulling and probing the Doncaster defence, searching for that final, penetrative final pass. They controlled the game with far more assurance and conviction than earlier on in the second half, and even with just a one-goal lead, began to dictate play.

But it was only a fleeting moment of control, as Doncaster began to pile forwards once again. John Marquis came on just before the 80th minute and had two first-time efforts with his first two touches of the ball: the first flew over from a tight angle; the second a difficult volley that he could not control. The signs, though, were there, and because of Arsenal’s inability to kill the game when they had the chance, this was a much tenser and closer game than it ever should have been.

Doncaster continued to create glimpses of opportunities here and there.  Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ pace again rescued Arsenal, as he recovered from his own back pass to prevent a clear one-on-one, a couple of whipped crosses had to be attended to carefully with attackers lurking, and a Matty Blair header was brilliantly deflected by David Ospina amid a series of Doncaster corners.

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Ultimately, though, Arsenal were able to see out the final few minutes and progress through to the fourth round. There were certainly moments of concern in the second half, and Wenger will not be happy with the wasteful finishing earlier on that prevented his side from killing the game off. But a win is a win, especially in a cup competition, and the Gunners live to fight another day… just.