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Wenger hints at policy change after lucky escape

Gunners scrape through 3-1 on penalties after lasp gasp equalizer against Doncaster

Wenger hints at policy change after lucky escape

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hinted that he might change his policy of fielding under-strength sides in the League Cup after seeing his team just make it into the semifinals of this season's competition following a penalty shoot-out win away to League One side Doncaster.

The Gunners were on the brink of going out to a team ranked 44 places below them when Gilberto scored in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of extra-time to level the match at 2-2.

Arsenal, already into the knockout stages of the Champions League but 20 points behind Premiership leader Chelsea, then held its nerve to win Wednesday's shoot-out 3-1 at Belle Vue.

The Gunners will now face Premiership high-flyers Wigan in next month's two-legged semifinal.

It will be the first time the Latics, newly promoted this season and currently two points above Arsenal in sixth place, have played in a major semifinal after their 2-0 home win on Tuesday against Bolton.

Although the Gunners have been kept away from perennial rival Manchester United, which instead take on Blackburn, Wenger was in no doubt about the difficulty of the task now confronting two-times League Cup winners Arsenal.

"We will have a very tough game against Wigan," Wenger told Sky Sports after Tuesday's thrilling encounter. "We play first over there. I will see what I will do because it will be a unique opportunity for them to go to the final and we want to go to the final as well," he said, hinting he might field a stronger team than usual.

"It will be a very exciting game," added the Frenchman, whose side beat Wigan 3-2 last month.

Doncaster, which were playing non-league football just over two years ago, had already knocked out Premiership duo Manchester City and Aston Villa on its way to a first appearance in the last eight of the League Cup since 1976.

And it was on course for a third scalp when Michael McIndoe scored in the fourth minute.

They stayed 1-0 up until the 63rd minute when Arsenal's teenage striker Owusu-Abeyie's deflected shot secured an equalizer.

But substitute Paul Green capitalized on a defensive howler by Philippe Senderos to put Doncaster 2-1 up in the 104th minute before Brazil World Cup-winner Gilberto gave the Gunners a lifeline

Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who made two good stops in normal time, was the hero of the shootout with two more saves.

"Penalties are lucky - sometimes you save them, sometimes you don't," Almunia said.

Doncaster manager Dave Penney said, "It's a cruel way to go - we know the ecstasy of winning on penalties against Manchester City and now there's the dejection of losing tonight.

"But the players were magnificent - they were up against top-quality players and our work ethic was excellent - and so was the quality of football.

"We should have seen it out but there were some tired legs out there," Penney admitted.

And Penney said the Gunners stars had offered their support to the Rovers side in its battle for promotion to the Championship.

"A couple of people on their side have said 'now go and win the league'," said Penney whose side currently lies ninth in England's third tier League One. "And we'll try and reproduce what we've done tonight (in the league)," he said.

Meanwhile, at the Riverside, Paul Dickov's last minute goal saw Blackburn advance into the last four Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, League Cup winners in 2004.

Rovers now face Manchester United, which beat Birmingham 3-1 on Tuesday.

Blackburn manager and former United striker Mark Hughes said, "I think a lot of good teams would have struggled to match us this evening, whoever we played. The semifinal over two legs is a great opportunity for us.

"I thought we were excellent from start to finish. We dominated the game and looked really strong and powerful right through the game."

A dejected Boro boss Steve McClaren said, "I'm very disappointed, very angry. We have limped out of the tournament.

"I can't defend the performance, the performance was poor. We were second best to everything."


Updated : 2021-06-13 08:05 GMT+08:00