Report: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
A spirited mix of Arsenal youth and experience produced a resolute performance to edge past Liverpool 2-1 in the Carling Cup fourth round at the Emirates Stadium.
There was plenty of attacking endeavor on show and the packed stands were treated to three top-class goals. Fran Merida netted his first goal in Arsenal colors on 19 minutes, but his excellent strike was canceled out by an equally good finish from Emiliano Insua six minutes later.
Nicklas Bendtner restored Arsenal’s advantage five minutes into the second half and the Gunners held on for victory and a place in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Liverpool made a bright start and a neat pass from Andriy Voronin to David Ngog saw the Frenchman release Philip Degen with a deft back heel but the full-back poked his shot wide with the outside of his boot. Arsenal responded with a slick move involving Aaron Ramsey, Eduardo and Bendtner that needed Diego Cavalieri to dash off his line and smother.
The Carling Cup has been a stage for Arsenal to blood their youngsters and another player off the Arsene Wenger production line announced himself on the Emirates in stunning style.
On 19 minutes, Voronin gave the ball away in sloppy fashion and he was made to pay a heavy price as Merida advanced towards the edge of the box before thundering a shot from 18 yards in off the near post. It was his first goal in Arsenal colours since making the move from Barcelona and it was nothing more than they deserved.
An inexperienced Liverpool team could have found the challenge of facing a dashing Arsenal side all too much, but they dug in and found a leveller from an unlikely source. A long, diagonal ball was nodded down by Ryan Babel into the path of Insua who chested the bouncing ball into his path before lashing a dipping volley from 25 yards up and over Lukasz Fabianski.
Cavalieri almost handed Arsenal the initiative a minute before the break when dropping a cross into a crowd of players. A game of pinball ensued before the ball fell to Bendtner, but the Dane fired his shot straight into the arms of the keeper.
Liverpool threatened with a cross from Ngog at the start of the second-half, but it was Arsenal who edged ahead following another slick move.
Merida collected a pass on the left wing before rolling the ball in to Ramsey. The Welshman allowed Bendtner to take over and he created a yard of space on his left foot before slamming a shot into the roof of the net. Arsenal continued to play slick and incisive football, but did not kill off the game. However, unlike the first-half, Liverpool’s response was muted and Rafa Benitez threw on Aquilani with 15 minutes remaining.
The introduction of the £20 million man for his debut pepped up Liverpool and Ryan Babel should have levelled but made contact with only thin air from six yards. Voronin and Aquilani shot straight at Fabianki, but the increased tempo also sparked Arsenal into life and Eduardo went close after breaking through three tackles.
Aquilani showed flashes of quality and had a penalty shout against Philippe Senderos waved away, but he was unable to make the fairytale debut as Arsenal held on for victory.