Newcastle 0 Arsenal 4: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes Theo Walcott is ready to “go to another level” after his double helped the Gunners to a 4-0 win in their Carling Cup fourth-round tie at Newcastle.
The England winger struck his first goals since returning from injury as the Gunners ran riot after half-time to cruise into the quarter-finals and Wenger lavished praise on the young livewire.
“Walcott is more composed in front of goal this season,” he said.
“His first touch is better. He is an intelligent boy and because of that he will always improve.
“He was flying at the start of the season and now he is just coming back from injury.
“You can see today that he is ready to go to another level.”
The Gunners surged into a 2-0 lead courtesy of an unfortunate Tim Krul own goal and a controversial second from Walcott to condemn the Magpies to a third defeat in four attempts at St James' Park.
If there was a touch of misfortune about the opening strike in first-half injury time — Ryan Taylor's defensive header hit the unwitting Krul and dropped into the net — there was more than a hint of injustice about the second when Nicklas Bendtner, who had run from an offside position, collided with Mike Williamson as he attempted to get to Walcott.
But Bendtner's 83rd-minute strike and Walcott's finish two minutes from time oozed class as the Gunners powered their way into the last eight.
After the game, Magpies officials released a statement confirming their intention to retain the services of boss Chris Hughton, whose future has been the source of frenzied speculation in recent days.
The statement said: “Chris is our manager and will remain our manager, and it is our intention to re-negotiate his contract at the end of the year.”
Hughton had made no secret of the fact that the Carling Cup was little more than a pleasant distraction during a season in which the only objective is survival.
In the circumstances, it was little surprise that he rested nine of the men who fought out a 2-1 win at West Ham on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger made the same number of changes, but the relative strengths of the respective squads was made abundantly clear when the Frenchman was still able to name the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Denilson, Walcott and Tomas Rosicky in his starting line-up.
However, they could have fallen behind with 14 minutes gone when Nile Ranger ran on to Danny Guthrie's ball over the top and rounded keeper Wojciech Szczesny, only for Koscielny to block his shot.
But Arsenal failed to clear their lines and, when the ball fell to
Smith 25 yards out, he unleashed a thunderbolt which looked destined for the back of the net until Szczesny managed to tip it on to the bar.
The home side’s luck enjoyed no particular improvement when Krul put the ball into his own net with seconds of added time remaining. Things got worse when the Gunners extended their lead in controversial fashion with 53 minutes gone.
Walcott ran on to John Djourou's defensive header from an on-side position, but Bendtner, who had been offside, appeared to block Williamson as he attempted to cover across.
However, referee Andre Marriner allowed play to continue and Walcott calmly chipped Krul to make it 2-0 with Newcastle protests counting for nothing.
Danish star Bendtner made it 3-0 seven minutes from time and Walcott wrapped up the win with a pacy run and finish five minutes later.