Carling Cup 4th Round
Arsenal 2 – 1 Liverpool
1 – 0 Merida (19)
1 – 1 Insua (26)
2 – 1 Bendtner (50)
A cracking cup-tie ended with an experienced Arsenal side by Carling Cup standards, progressing to the next round. The young players came up trumps in an open game with both sides pushing forward whenever the opportunity arose. Fran Merida is garnering much of the praise this morning and he thoroughly deserves it, prompting continually throughout the evening, rewarded with his first senior goal for the club. I am sure players never forget those moments anyway but Merida would remember his strike whatever the circumstances.
Both sides traded blows in the opening quarter of an hour, Liverpool creating the best chance with Deggen spurning the opportunity to break the deadlock. Ngog sprang the offside trap, Silvestre taken out of the game by an excellent pass. As Senderos closed to make a challenge, the Frenchman backheeled into the path of Deggen who dragged his shot wide.
Seven minutes later, Gibbs found Bendtner outside the area, the Dane combining with Eduardo, set free with opportunity to shoot, he opted to square the ball to the onrushing Ramsey who had a tap-in but the Cavalieri charge stopped the ball reaching the Welshman. Ninety seconds later, that missed opportunity was rectified when Gilbert won possession on the right flank, Merida stepped in to take charge and let fly, finding the net via the near post with the goalkeeper helpless.
Joy was shortlived, Insua picked up Babel’s knockdown, spotted Fabianski off his line and let loose a dipping shot over the Pole and just under the bar. Fabianski’s positioning seemed normal for that situation but was rendered questionable by the finish. For the remainder of the first half, both sides probed. Bendtner had two decent efforts, one into the sidenetting whilst another found the Liverpool ‘keeper’s midriff rather than the net.
Shortly before half-time, the visitors were sent into a state of panic from a corner. Cavalieri lost the flight of the ball and Bendtner led the Arsenal charge after it, the ball pinging around the area like a pinball on speed before the Dane once more found the goalkeeper in the way rather than leaving the net bulging.
Five minutes into the second half and he rectified matters. Merida received Eastmond’s excellent pass on the left, before sliding in a pass to Ramsey, the Welshman put the ball into Bendtner’s path before the Dane gave the move the finish it deserved.
Liverpool had chances to equalise, Voronin and Deggen exchanged one-two’s for half the pitch before the Ukranian shot wide – had it been an Arsenal move, we would have been salivating at the skill before launching into six weeks worth of navel gazing about the finish. Or lack of it. Babel and Kuyt could have equalised but found themselves bereft of technique at the crucial moment or Fabianski in the way.
The final minutes of the game provided the only real controvesy when Aquilani shot at Senderos, the ball striking both hands as the Swiss blocked the ball’s path to Fabianski’s arms where it would surely have ended. Presumably the referee believed the ball hit the arms rather than it being a deliberate attempt to stop the ball illegally which is the only reason he surely did not give the spot kick.
There were so many positives from last night. Gibbs and Gilbert had excellent matches whilst Fabianski, Nasri, Eduardo and Bendtner all returned from injury with solid performances, ready it seems for the first team in proper competition. Silvestre and Senderos handled Liverpool well and brought their experience to bear faced with a lively forward thinking attack and midfield.
Wenger will no doubt be looking hard at Ramsey for more in the Premier and Champions League. He and Nasri were good together in the centre, boding well for the future. Once more though, young players came through and provided evidence that the Academy is firing on all cylinders. Merida, we knew about and he really needs to be tied down on a new contract so that his development can continue at the club. Eastmond was also impressive in handling Babel but more so because he is a full back by position. The question for Wenger is how does he bring everyone through into the full squad when it is already packed with such bright talent. A nice problem to have, I am sure.
Progress to the next round where the opposition is all Premier League, another opportunity for the younger players to show their mettle. Tottnehham looms on the horizon and the chance to show Robbie Keane just how wrong his belief is that Tottenham squad is as good as that of Arsenal.