A first senior hat-trick for Eddie Nketiah guided Arsenal to a comfortable victory over Sunderland and into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
The back-up striker has reportedly turned down a new deal at the Emirates Stadium and is out of contract in the summer but shone in a 5-1 win which also saw Charlie Patino score on his first-team debut.
Nketiah opened the scoring before Nicolas Pepe doubled the lead, while the in-form Nathan Broadhead scored his sixth goal in six games to pull one back for the Black Cats before the break.
Any threat of a shock was extinguished within 13 minutes of the second half as Nketiah provided two smart finishes and Patino came off the bench to add the gloss with a late fifth.
Mikel Arteta’s side sit fourth in the Premier League and showed nine changes from Saturday’s win at Leeds as only Ben White and Martin Odegaard kept their places.
Sunderland wanted a early penalty as Ross Stewart went down in the box under close attention from Mohamed Elneny – but there appeared to be no contact and the claims were waved away.
A stroke of luck almost put the hosts ahead as a Nuno Tavares cross was turned against his own crossbar by Eddie Embleton with Arsenal starting to knock at the door.
The deadlock would be broken soon after, Rob Holding’s header well-saved by Lee Burge, only for Nketiah to knee home the rebound from close range.
Pepe, the club-record signing given a rare start by Arteta, doubled the lead as he exchanged passes with Cedric Soares before seeing his strike deflected past the helpless Burge.
But if Arsenal thought they were coasting into the semi-finals, they were wrong.
Sunderland would hit them on the break, Broadhead coolly finishing a quick-fire counter from the visitors to half the arrears.
Bernd Leno was then forced into a low save to keep Arsenal ahead as the Sky Bet League One side ended the half on top – although they did lose Broadhead to injury before the interval.
Sunderland boss Lee Johnson had joked about wanting to face Arsenal in the quarter-final after seeing off QPR in the previous round – saying facing the Gunners or their north London rivals Tottenham would let them face “the really big guns” in a two-legged semi-final.
He dismissed the comment as “dad banter” on the eve of the tie but Arsenal showed – in the minutes following half-time – that even their much-changed side were more than enough to see off Johnson’s spirited visitors.
⚡️ Charlie Patino— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 21, 2021
🔴 The 886th player to represent The Arsenal
😍 Scores on his debut! pic.twitter.com/UfuE79j4nO
Two flicked finishes from Nketiah would settle the contest, the first from a Tavares cross and the second after some superb work from Pepe – who impressed on his return.
Embleton had hit the post in between but Sunderland were out of the tie as their vociferous following sang throughout.
Arteta was able to hand a first-team debut to highly-rated midfielder Patino for the final 10 minutes, the England Under-19 international replacing fellow academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe and sliding in to convert another Pepe assist to put the cherry on top of the cake for Arsenal.