Blackburn came into this game looking to restore some pride after some recent poor performances. Consequently Hughes put out his best 11 with McCarthy on the bench in case things got rough.
Arsenal on the other hand arrived up North on the back of an impressive win against Chelsea. Brimming with either confidence or madness Wenger fielded a side containing none of the starting 11 who featured against the blues.
On paper this seemed like a very bold move. We were up North on a cold winter's night playing against a physical team. Three things we were supposed to bad at coping with.
Despite all that Wenger fielded a team who's average age was n-n-nineteen and included players who had never played a single minute of a Premiership game (Fabianski, Randall).
Randall in fact, has never started so much as a CC match.
None of this would matter too much if we had Toure or Gallas at the back but that was deemed an unnecessary luxury by Arsene. Nevermind I'm sure they'll be on the bench along with RVP or Adebayor I thought to myself.
I wasn't even close. With the bench being made up of Barazite, Gibbs, Mannone and Gavin Hoyte many fans would be forgiven for thinking that we could be in for a proper spanking. Even Walcott was missing from this one.
As usual Arsene knows better.
Right from the kick off the 'kids' showed their intent and displayed the beautiful one-touch pass and move that we've become accustomed to watching the first team display.
It was only six minutes before Diaby opened the scoring much to the delight and disbelief of the fans.
Some lovely one-touch passing followed by another superbly measured cross from Bendtner found Diaby in space on the opposite side of the penalty area. Diaby chose to hit it first time with his left foot and the ball curled over the keeper and into the corner. 1-0.
Coming from a player who supposedly has no left foot that was a seriously sublime finish - how much of it he meant is debatable.
The flowing wave of attacking moves continued as Bendtner dropped deep to draw his defender off the back line, a quick one-two with Diaby then he used his pace to create space for himself and carve out a chance in which he chipped the ball over the keeper.
It was a beautiful shot but came back off the bar with no-one there to slam it home. A classy shot though and if it was a couple of inches lower....
Seconds later Diaby threaded a curled ball through the Blackburn defence that almost reached Eduardo and resulted in a corner. Two things were clear at this early stage: Diaby was on fire, and Blackburn were being roundly humiliated by a bunch of kids.
They didn't let that get to them however, and started some slick attacking moves of their own, the second of which forced a superb save from Fabianski. Lord knows how he got down so quick.
The gunners then took charge again with more ball retention resulting in a superb long distance through ball from Denilson which found Eduardo who slotted the ball past Friedel, cool as a cucumber. 2-0.
"He just DOESN'T miss does he?" was the commentators reaction and I thought that summed it up perfectly.
When Eduardo gets through on goal there seems to be only one outcome. This is a proper finisher with an impressive strike rate. One that puts some of our other strikers to shame.
Friedel was left swearing in disgust at his players.
2 - 0 up with less than half an hour played?! Were we dreaming? This was an incredible start and definitely not in the script. What happened to that spanking everyone was talking about?
The Arsenal crowd started singing "Aaaaare you Tottenham in disguise?" and I was joining in at home.
Minutes later Eduardo had another chance from a tight angle after another great cross from Diarra.
Seconds later, Bendtner then cued up Denilson who had a crack but his effort went over the bar.
Blackburn were still under pressure.
Their response was swift and decisive as Derbyshire (offside) whipped in a dangerous ball for the in form Santa Cruz who prodded it home from close range. 2-1.
As in the Chelsea game we were not getting the best of the ref's decisions so even more mental strength was required.
Was Traore at fault for that goal? Occasionally he does come forward a bit too much which can result in him getting caught out of position. Too late to worry about that now though.
Half time score 2-1.
This took the shine off of our first half performance somewhat and didn't really reflect the run of play. We completely dominated that half and although the stats said that we had 60% possession it felt more like 90% as Blackburn couldn't get near us.
After the break Blackburn came on the attack again as Savage pumped a long high ball forward to Santa Cruz which left our back four stranded. He only had the keeper to beat so a goal looked inevitable but Fabianski did just enough to put him off and then somehow palmed the ball away from him.
The ball didn't go far though and Song had to get back to make a superb last ditch clearance resulting in a corner.
Song and Senderos seemed totally unaware of Santa Cruz's position and they were lucky not to have been punished.
They kept up a sustained period of pressure but we defended well and kept them at bay.
Not satisfied to sit on the lead we turned defence into attack and set Bendtner up with another shot on goal which was blocked this time.
Randall then added to our expanding yellow card tally with a late challenge on Warnock which resulted in a free kick.
Ex-gunner Bentley curled it into the box and up popped Santa Cruz again to head past Fabianski. 2-2.
All the fabulous work from the first half was undone and we wondered if this signalled the beginning of the end.
Song was having none of it though and began a one-man revenge attack which saw him rushing towards Friedel chasing a back heel by Denilson. Song bearing down on goal was not a sight I thought I'd ever see but a good sign of his fighting spirit.
Then came the succession of yellow cards as NewBolton took a leaf out of Villa and Newcastle's book by deliberately fouling whichever Arsenal player happened to be at the spearhead of a promising counter attack.
A shrewd and infuriating tactic which never seems to backfire as the carded player is always careful not to pick up another yellow, and the ref is always reluctant to issue it.
Denilson then picked up a yellow closely followed by a red and we were down to ten men with time still on the clock. Things were going from bad to worse.
The resulting pushing and shoving got Savage a yellow card which was the least he deserved. He did well to confirm his reputation as a complete twunt.
End of normal time 2-2.
We now faced the prospect of playing extra time with one man down and the possibility of penalties if the score stayed the same.
Shortly after the restart the talented substitute Nacer Barazite went down injured and was clearly in pain as he appeared to have dislocated his shoulder. He was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask and was replaced with midfielder Kieran Gibbs. The poor showing of Blackburn fans politely clapped him off the pitch.
The brief rest obviously did us some good as Song came running confidently out of defence looking for a useful pass. Eduardo sensed his intent and began an intelligent run across the defenders, Song seemingly having the game of his life threaded a perfectly weighted pass through their back four and Eduardo took the ball on confidently and once again slotted the ball past a hapless Friedel. 3-2.
The Crozillian surely now has nothing left to do to prove his finishing ability to the delighted Arsenal fans.
Adebayor and Walcott could learn a thing or two from this guy whose calmness and composure in front of goal is simply epic.
What came next was Blackburn's strongest and most sustained period of intense pressure. McCarthy came on to strengthen their attack as they repeatedly crossed dangerous balls into the box.
A goal mouth scramble with 2 shots on goal was closely followed by a Pedersen cross which found Samba at the far post. His header came back off the bar as Arsenal were helped by divine intervention.
Possibly the two most criticized players, Song and Senderos, managed to somehow keep Blackburn at bay for the tense twenty minutes after Eduardo scored, thus enhancing their reputations quite considerably.
When the final whistle blew the gunners punched the air with delight and relief as they had somehow achieved what on paper was impossible.
What a game! What a rollercoaster ride! What a performance!
For me the standout performances came from Song, Diarra, Diaby and Eduardo but I won't give player ratings as I'd only end up giving everyone a 10.
Sky Sports asked Wenger after the game:
"Whoever you face in the next round will you keep playing these kids?"
AW: "You know my answer."