Arsenal 1 Doncaster Rovers 0: Ferguson frustrates Wenger as Doncaster take pride

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) and Doncaster Rovers' Joe Wright during the Carabao Cup, Third Round match at the Emirates Stadium, London. (Picture: PA)
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) and Doncaster Rovers' Joe Wright during the Carabao Cup, Third Round match at the Emirates Stadium, London. (Picture: PA)
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Wenger versus Ferguson was, without doubt, the rivalry that defined English football around the turn of the Millennium.

The air crackled between two managerial greats, their determination to get one over the other meaning the barbs flew thick and fast as Arsenal and Manchester United wrestled for supremacy.

Matters cooled in later years, the Gunners’ decline meaning Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez instead found themselves in Sir Alex Ferguson’s sights before the game’s most decorated manager retired in 2013.

Last night, however, the two old foes were reunited – albeit not in battle, with Sir Alex’s presence at the Emirates being very much a watching brief as son Darren took his turn to go head-to-head with the Frenchman.

And what a tussle it turned out to be, as Ferguson junior’s Doncaster Rovers gave a home side boasting both World Cup and Copa America winners an almighty scare before bowing out of the competition.

Theo Walcott’s first-half strike proved to be the difference between two clubs who operate in wholly different football landscapes but it could have been so, so different.

Doncaster Rovers' Tommy Rowe (left) and Arsenal's Reiss Nelson (right) battle for the ball during the Carabao Cup (Picture: PA)

Doncaster Rovers' Tommy Rowe (left) and Arsenal's Reiss Nelson (right) battle for the ball during the Carabao Cup (Picture: PA)

Alfie May fired into the side-netting just before the interval, while Tommy Rowe and John Marquis should have done better when presented with good chances during the second half.

Liam Mandeville was then unfortunate to see his shot deflected agonisingly wide by Per Mertesacker after he had flicked the ball cleverly over Rob Holding to create the opening.

Moments later, Matty Blair was the Rovers man holding his head in frustration after his looping header from a corner hit the top of David Ospina’s crossbar.

Had any of these chances gone in and had May and Ben Whiteman not both been reeled in by the electric pace of Ainsley Maitland-Niles when played clear, who knows how the night might have panned out.

For a side who have not scored in five league outings, such a lift in confidence could be vital come Saturday’s tough-looking assignment at Plymouth Argyle.

Richard Sutcliffe

As it is, Rovers are out but they exited with their heads held high and the 5,000 fans who had made the trip from south Yorkshire chanting, ‘We’re proud of you’.

For a side who have not scored in five league outings, such a lift in confidence could be vital come Saturday’s tough-looking assignment at Plymouth Argyle.

Among those whose belief must be sky high after such a bright showing is Rodney Kongolo. The loanee from Manchester City has been something of an enigma since moving to the Keepmoat in the summer, brilliant one minute and then hugely frustrating the next.

On one of European football’s grandest stages, the Dutch-born winger’s display was the sort to suggest he has a bright future in the game.

Arsenal have not lost in the League Cup to lower league opposition since Walsall claimed a shock quarter-final triumph at Highbury in 1984, a run that last night’s victory stretched to 29 games.

Rarely in that time can the Gunners have been so in control as they were against Darren Ferguson’s men in the early stages.

Fielding a front three of Alexis Sanchez, Walcott and Olivier Giroud, the hosts tore into the League One side from the outset.

Doncaster tried to flood midfield early on with numbers but with Arsenal’s full-backs getting forward at every opportunity to bring yet another dimension to the attack, there was simply no let-up for the visitors.

No less than seven chances were created in the opening ten minutes, the pick of which saw Ian Lawlor deny Walcott and Sanchez with impressive saves.

Giroud also hit the crossbar with a spectacular bicycle kick during the early onslaught that saw the French striker have a very good appeal for a penalty turned down when wrestled by Andy Butler, who looked to be trying to claim early the shirt that he had promised Arsenal-supporting son Ashton before heading south.

Rovers somehow survived this early onslaught but they couldn’t hold out indefinitely and there was little surprise when the deadlock was broken in the 25th minute.

A chipped pass from Sanchez created the opening, albeit with a little help from Niall Mason who totally misjudged the flight of the ball, which Walcott capitalised on with a deft touch and finish past Lawlor.

Walcott should have repeated the trick early in the second half after being released by Giroud, but this time his dinked shot cleared the crossbar.

That let-off sparked Rovers into life and the League One side enjoyed their most productive period of the game.

The equaliser, though, wouldn’t come as a combination of profligate finishing and that blistering pace of Maitland-Niles as the last man ensured it was Arsenal who progressed.

Wenger said afterwards: “I was surprised by Doncaster’s quality and their level.

“They will have no problems staying in the league.”

Arsenal: Ospina; Holding, Mertesacker, Chambers (Dasilva 46); Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Wilshere, Nelson (Willock 84); Walcott (Iwobi 76), Sanchez, Giroud. Unused substitutes: Monreal, Akpom, Dasilva, Macey, Nketiah.

Doncaster Rovers: Lawlor; Wright, Butler, Mason; Blair, Whiteman, Houghton (Alcock 62), Kongolo, Rowe; Coppinger (Mandeville 62), May (Marquis 76). Unused substitutes: Williams, Marosi, Toffolo, Garratt.

Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).