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The Carabao Cup of 2021/22 brought a layer of unexpected joy to Sunderland fans. It was an exciting run that culminated with us playing one of the best teams left in the competition in Arsenal in the quarter finals.
Lee Johnson’s men dispatched with Blackpool, Wigan and QPR along the way - all away from home - before they were given the daunting but exciting draw with the Gunners.
Ultimately, it would be a step too far for us and although we showed glimpses of some really good football at times, we lost convincingly 5-1 to Arsenal’s second string.
In many ways, it showcased the best and worst of Lee Johnson’s teams in this game. Johnson’s ability to get the team playing some swashbuckling stuff at times was evident here where the team tried to counter at pace as much as they could.
This paid dividends for the Sunderland goal scored by Nathan Broadhead as he latched on to Elliot Embleton’s superbly-weighted pass. In the second half, Embleton went close himself to adding another when his curling effort from outside the box hit the outside of the post.
As was typical during his time at the club, Broadhead picked up an injury just after scoring and with that, so did our goal threat as the Welsh man was in a rich vein of form around this time.
Whilst acknowledging the higher standard of opposition, there were times here when fans would be forgiven to watch from behind the cushion as countless times the Sunderland defence were exposed as being way below the level of their opponents.
Arsenal’s multi million flop Nicolas Pépé must have thought Santa Claus had come early this year in the shape of Denver Hume as the poor Sunderland defender was embarrassed time after time with the fourth goal for the Gunners a clear example of the gulf in class between the two teams.
Pépé cheekily flicked the ball between the legs of Hume before crossing for hat trick hero Eddie Nketiah to casually slot the ball home.
Arsenal’s 18-year-old debutant Charlie Patino then capped a superb night for the Gunners with an injury-time fifth with the game over as a contest at this stage.
Ultimately, it was a 5-1 defeat but there was no shame in losing a game against an opposition of significantly greater quality. Johnson’s men had certainly surpassed expectations by making it to this stage at all.
After the game, the Sunderland manager described the game as a great learning experience for his team and had no shame in the final score.
I thought we had a really good spell just after we scored, we grew in confidence and Arsenal found it quite difficult to get us off the ball in that final third. Earlier on in the game I think we threw the ball into the box too early, but we scored a really good goal and overall I’m really proud of the players. We’ve been beaten 5-1 but we have had some good spells in the match.
The bigger picture for us is that it’s a great learning experience for our players. We’ve said in there that now they know the standard, and even senior players can take it away. When you can feel the quality of Premier League opposition, you learn so much more than you do in something like a passing drill I’ve put on in training.
It was one of Johnson’s final few games as Sunderland manager as just over a month later, the manager was sacked following a 6-0 thrashing at Bolton Wanderers.