By Benjamin Zand
Arsenal fought through an enticing battle against a weakened Liverpool side to win an intriguing 4th-round Carling Cup tie at the Emirates.
Arsenal youngster, Fran Merida, broke the dead-lock with a cannonball from 18-yards out past second-string Cavalieri.
The scoreline was only to be levelled with Liverpool’s Emiliano Insua firing a phenominal 25-yard dipping strike past Fabianski to secure his first goal for Liverpool. Liverpool then fell victim to a 50th minute power house into the roof of net by Nicklas Bendtner which proved to be the winner.
Arsenal, known for repeatedly fielding youth-sides in the Carling Cup, went for an unusually more experienced approach against a side which didn’t feature Gerrard, Carragher or Torres. With Wenger deciding to include several first team players in his side who he deemed to be in need of match practise.
The weakened Liverpool side almost took its chance early on though, with a cheeky back-heel from Liverpool’s Ngog finding the feet of Phillipe Degen, with the full-back only managing to pull his attempt wide.
Despite Liverpool’s early dominance, Arsenal’s swift play and crisp passing, which seems to feature in every Wenger team in spite of who’s playing, brought about a fantastic opener. With Fran Merida powering a left footed screamer in off Liverpool’s left-hand post. This came after some great determination from 18-year old Arsenal debutant Craig Eastmond, who put in a great display, and managed to win the ball on the edge of the Red’s box.
Celebrations were cut short though when a cleverly placed nod down from Babel led to an equally wonderful strike by Liverpool full-back Insua, leaving Arsenal keeper Fabianski hopeless.
Arsenal’s winner came through a powerful strike from one of their more experienced members, Bendter, who shrugged off pressure from Martin Skrtel to fire a shot into the roof of the nest past Cavalieri. Cavalieri, who was not the best on the night, had a couple of nervous moments. With one being a huge escape from embarrassment, after he missed a cross and then ran around the box cluelessly trying to obtain the ball creating a goalmouth melee with players coming in from every angle, but in relief gathered Bendter’s close range shot on the turn.
Both teams had weakened defences, and that combined with both of their desires to attack, led to a captivating game.
Liverpool had their chances to equalize, with Vorinin firing wide from close-range, and Babel missing a fantastic oppurtunity after failing to latch onto a cross from Kuyt, who captained the side in the absence of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, but they just couldn’t get the breakthrough.
Although Liverpool slumped to their 7th defeat of this campaign, which is nearly double that of last season, there are still positives to take out the game. Like great displays by many of their fringe players, with Jay Spearing having a particularly promising game, and with the appearance of 20-million pound signing Alberto Aquilani who made his debut, and finally returned after months of recovery. Aquilani also impressed, making a cameo late in the 2nd half and
showing some decent touches and energy, and nearly awarding his team with a penalty when his overhead shot hit the arms of Senderos, only for Alan Wiley to dismiss the claims.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said of the game, when talking to the BBC, “The worst thing was the result, but the players showed passion, character and quality – Aquilani was one of these players. You can see he can pass the ball and make a difference in the final third. He is getting closer every day, but he needs games to improve his match fitness. It’s a question of time.”
Arsenal though, once again triumphed in the Carling Cup with a team mainly of youth players, continuing their impressive home record against Liverpool, who have failed to win at Arsenal since 2000.
Speaking of the match, Arsene Wenger said when asked by the BBC, “Overall it was a game of top quality with two teams who really went for it, played at a high pace. We gave people what they paid for – top quality. The experienced players played well, so did the young players. Liverpool came back to 1-1, and we still managed to win, that shows we have also mental resources.”