By Dan King
Newcastle's dreams of League Cup glory ended for yet another season as they were well-beaten by a clinical Arsenal side - although the final score was extremely harsh on Chris Hughton's team.
The Magpies have never won this competition - the nearest they've got was when they reached the final in 1976, but lost to Manchester City - and were denied a place in this year's quarter finals after a freak own-goal and a display of fine finishing from Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner.
United, meanwhile, saw chances go begging and will now have to hope for better luck against Sunderland on Sunday.
Hughton made nine changes to the side which beat West Ham four days earlier, with Tim Krul and Mike Williamson the only survivors. Ryan Taylor, a scorer in the previous two rounds, started at right-back with Tamas Kadar at left-back and Williamson partnered in the centre of defence by James Perch.
Arsenal also rang the changes, but still included a whole host of full internationals, with the likes of England's Walcott and Keiran Gibbs, Mexico's Carlos Vela, Czech Republic's Tomas Rosicky, Ivory Coast's Emmanuel Eboue and Denmark's Bendtner all starting and the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andrei Arshavin and Bacary Sagna all on the bench.
The game began at a breakneck speed, with chances for both teams inside the opening four minutes. Arsenal threatened first, making a great save with his left leg to deny Tomas Rosicky, then seconds later Vuckic hit the side netting after good work from Ranger - with many in the ground momentarily believing the ball had gone in.
Emmanuel Eboue struck from distance, but too close to Krul, Ryan Taylor headed off the line following a lightening run from Walcott and Bendtner saw his shot fly just past the far post as Arsenal displayed the kind of football they're renowned for early on.
But Newcastle twice came agonisingly close to taking the lead. First, Alan Smith won the ball with a great tackle and fed Guthrie, whose ball over the top exposed Arsenal and allowed Ranger to run free. He rounded young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and had a virtual open goal, but waited too long to shoot and saw his effort blocked.
Then Smith hit a thunderbolt from fully 30 yards which looked for all the world like it was flying in for his first Newcastle goal, but struck the top of the bar.
Finally, after a frenetic first 15 minutes, the pace slowed for a while, but Lovenkrands still got the ball in the net after a Vuckic through-ball only for him to be - correctly - flagged offside.
At the other end, Perch survived a penalty appeal as the ball appeared to bobble up in the box and strike his hand, while Krul twice denied Bendtner from outside the area.
But Krul was left the same colour as Arsenal's shirts in first-half injury time after conceding a horrible own goal. Theo Walcott's deep corner was only half-cleared and was headed back goalwards by Bendtner. It went past Krul, who perhaps should have saved it, but Ryan Taylor hacked it off the line... only for his clearance to strike Krul and bounce back into the goal. It gave Arsenal the lead with virtually the last kick of the half.
Newcastle could have levelled early in the second period, when Danny Guthrie's corner found Perch, who did well to get up but headed over when he should have found the target.
And on 53 minutes, Arsenal made it 2-0 with a controversial goal which could have been disallowed for a number of reasons - but was instead allowed to stand by referee Andre Marriner and his assistants, Glenn Turner and Andy Newbold.
Both Bendtner and Walcott were stood offside as Johan Djourou headed the ball forward - Bendtner by about 15 yards - but play was allowed to continue as Walcott raced onto it and hared towards goal. Mike Williamson came back to try and challenge the jet-heeled England man and was barged into by Bendtner, who was not only guilty of a foul but also surely interfering with play as he challenged for the ball. With Williamson out of the picture, Walcott had the simple task of going clean through and beating the exposed Krul but it was quite simply a goal which should never have stood.
Hughton responded by bringing on Andy Carroll and Jonas Gutierrez for Lovenkrands and Routledge, and Newcastle continued to battle gamely. Guthrie lofted in a ball for Ranger, but the young striker lost his footing at the vital moment, then Carroll volleyed wide after Vuckic teed him up.
Ranger then headed wide from a Guthrie corner and Ryan Taylor saw a shot saved by Szczesny, then from another corner, Williamson nodded back across goal and Ranger's effort was blocked on the line.
And in the final two minutes, Arsenal put the gloss on the scoreline with two more goals. Always so sharp on the break, they counter-attacked from a United attack and from sub Cesc Fabregas' pass, Bendtner arrowed a superb shot into Krul's top right-hand corner. Then with two minutes left to play, Walcott again beat the offside trap - this time fairly - and slotted home for his second.
Inbetween times, Carroll headed over the bar, Taylor saw a free-kick magnificently saved by Szczesny and Carroll smashed an effort just wide. And even after the fourth, Carroll saw the Arsenal keeper make another superb save after the number nine had galloped through.
It was just one of those nights, and Newcastle will hope for better fortune and better finishing against Sunderland on Sunday.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Tim Krul, Ryan Taylor, Tamas Kadar, Mike Williamson, James Perch, Wayne Routledge (sub Jonas Gutierrez 57), Danny Guthrie, Haris Vuckic, Alan Smith (sub Joey Barton 71), Peter Lovenkrands (sub Andy Carroll 57), Nile Ranger. Subs not used: Ole Soderberg, Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Cheik Tiote. Bookings: Smith, Barton.
ARSENAL: Wojciech Szczesny, Emmanuel Eboue, Kieran Gibbs (Bacary Sagna 19), Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Theo Walcott, Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Craig Eastmond, Carlos Vela (Cesc Fabregas 71), Nicklas Bendtner (Jay Emmanuel-Thomas 84). Subs not used: Lukasz Fabianski, Andrei Arshavin, Henri Lansbury, Havard Nordtveit. Bookings: Sagna.