Thursday, October 29, 2009

Match Report: Arsenal 2 - 1 LiverpooL

Teenager Fran Merida netted his first Arsenal goal as Arsene Wenger's young Gunners beat Liverpool 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup.

Just back from the Under-20 World Cup with Spain, the 19-year-old former Barcelona trainee drilled in a fine first-half strike as Wenger's faith in youth was once again justified.

Nicklas Bendtner, himself only 21 but now a regular in the side, produced a powerful finish after 50 minutes to put Arsenal into the last eight after Emiliano Insua had equalised.

As expected, Wenger had shaken things up in the team selection for his 750th game at the helm, naming an entirely different starting XI from the one which let a 2-0 lead slip during the closing stages at West Ham in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday.

There was, though, a more experienced look to this Gunners team, with veteran Mickael Silvestre captaining the side at the ripe old age of 32, while French midfielder Samir Nasri made his first appearance of the season after recovering from a fractured leg, while Croatia striker Eduardo was also in the team.

Only Dirk Kuyt, the Reds captain tonight, remained from the Liverpool side which had defeated Manchester United - although there was a welcome place on the bench for Alberto Aquilani, who had yet to play following his big-money summer move from Roma.

The hosts started well, and Merida - who almost went out on loan to Levante, only for Wenger to pull the plug on the deal at the last minute - fired a low effort just off target.

Liverpool created a decent opening when a clever backheel from David Ngog, on target at Anfield to help sink United, released Philipp Degen on the edge of the penalty area, but the Swiss defender dragged his shot across the face of goal.

On 10 minutes, Nasri was upended by Martin Skrtel just outside the Liverpool box, but chipped his free-kick over the wall and wide.

Bendtner then overcomplicated a one-two with Nasri, trying to stab the ball square to Aaron Ramsey, rather than just shoot when clear through.

Merida showed him just how it should be done with a fine strike on 19 minutes.

Craig Eastmond, 18, stole possession on the right, and the ball broke for Merida, who promptly smashed a first-time, left-foot shot in off the post past Diego Cavalieri.

Arsenal, though, had their lead only until the 26th minute when Insua netted a fine equaliser.

A long ball up field was knocked down by Ryan Babel, and it dropped perfectly for Insua, who drilled a looping shot up over Lukasz Fabianski from 25 yards for the Argentinian defender's first goal in English football.

Arsenal were soon back on the offensive, with Eduardo and Ramsey combining to set Merida clear on the left side of the penalty area, and the youngster did well to stay on his feet as Cavalieri charged out of goal.

There was another let-off for Liverpool when Cavalieri dropped the ball in a crowded six-yard box, but enough black shirts were around to clear.

Arsenal kept up their momentum following the restart, and went ahead again five minutes into the second period.

A sweeping move saw Merida feed the ball through to Bendtner on the penalty spot.

The Denmark international held off Skrtel before smashing his shot into the roof of the net.

To their credit, Liverpool came back strongly.

Fabianski had to get down to save a low, 25-yard free-kick from Babel which would have crept inside the keeper's right-hand post.

With 17 minutes left, Wenger made a change when 20-year-old Mark Randall and Hackney-born striker Sanchez Watt, 18, replaced

Eastmond and Bendtner, while Liverpool sent on Yossi Benayoun for Ngog.

Aquilani, the £20million man coming back from knee surgery, also got a long-awaited run-out, Damien Plessis making way.

Liverpool almost snatched an equaliser when Kuyt swept the ball across the six-yard box, but Babel, sliding in, just could not make contact.

Eduardo drilled his shot wide of the far post, but Arsenal had done enough to secure a place in the last eight.

Rafael Benítez's Liverpool Youth Policy Very Much Still A Work In Progress

The Carling Cup, according to Rafael Benítez, is “a special competition”. But it is a competition that has often demonstrated the paucity of Liverpool’s resources beneath first-team level in recent years, whether that means home-grown youngsters, imported teenagers or disenchanted senior professionals who are stagnating and in desperate need of a run-out.

As well as the debut of Alberto Aquilani, almost certainly as a substitute, Liverpool’s squad that faces Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this evening will include Jay Spearing and Nathan Eccleston, two bona fide home-grown players, and David Ngog.

But there will also be Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena and Andriy Voronin, whose services Benítez has retained only to keep up the numbers in a squad that is alarmingly short of strength in depth, and Ryan Babel, the former Ajax protégé, whose career has stalled.

Diego Cavalieri, the Brazilian goalkeeper, and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, the 30-year-old Greece defender, will also be on duty in the knowledge that they will not be troubling Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher any time soon.

For all the uninformed criticisms of Benítez in recent weeks, his approach to the Carling Cup is curious, particularly when set against the dozens of young players he has signed.

He has spoken of his desire to replicate Arsenal’s successful model when it comes to developing youngsters. But, whereas Arsène Wenger views this as the arena in which to test his youngsters, the Liverpool starting line-up away to Leeds United in the previous round had an average age of 27.

Benítez, of course, seems to be damned whichever course of action he takes; in January 2005, four months before winning the Champions League in his first season at Anfield, he was widely criticised for fielding a reserve team that lost to Burnley in the FA Cup.

One of the players likely to be rested this evening is Emiliano Insúa, the 20-year-old left back, who was signed from Boca Juniors for a pittance and recently made his debut for Argentina.

Insúa apart, though, there are not many young players challenging for first-team places and it will be interesting to see how many on duty tonight are still at Anfield next season. A run in the competition may be their best hope of persuading Benítez that they are worth persevering with.

Liverpool Keen On Sampdoria's Hungarian Youngster Vladimir Koman

Liverpool are keen on securing the services of Sampdoria midfielder Vladimir Koman, The Daily Mirror claims.

The Hungarian starlet is currently on loan at Bari and is valued at £4 million.

Koman, who is building a reputation as a free-scoring midfielder, is under contract in Genoa until 2012.

The 20-year-old caught the eye during the recent Under-20 World Cup, scoring five goals in six appearances as he helped his country to third place in the tournament.

It is understood that Reds boss Rafael Benitez is a fan of Koman and wants him to join the burgeoning Hungarian contingent at Anfield, which includes fellow internationals Peter Gulacsi and Krisztian Nemeth - the latter currently on loan AEK Athens.

Arsene Wenger: Arsenal Wanted Alberto Aquilani

Alberto Aquilani is expected to make his debut for Liverpool against Arsenal on Wednesday night but Arsene Wenger has revealed that the Italian could have been donning the red shirt of the home side.

Aquilani joined Liverpool from Roma for a fee of £20 million over the summer but has been prevented from making his debut due to injury. With his fitness problems now behind him, the Italy international should make an appearance in the Carling Cup tie.

But Aquilani was also a player who interested Arsenal following some eye-catching performances in Serie A and Wenger only halted his pursuit when the player suffered from fitness problems last season.

"Yes I know him well," Wenger told the club's official website. "He played against us in the Champions League last year and came off the bench in Rome. He is a talented player but has been troubled a lot by injuries.

"We followed him for one or two years but he did not play a lot last year so he got a little bit out of sight for us and we lost our interest in him."

Arsenal are expected to stick with tradition and field a weakened team in Wednesday's game but Samir Nasri could make his return from a broken leg and Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner have also been named in an 18-man squad.

Liverpool FC's Andrea Dossena Wants Return To Italy

Andrea Dossena would like to return to Italy, according to his agent.

The Liverpool left-back has recovered from a groin injury and could feature in the Carling Cup tie at Arsenal.

The 28-year-old was strongly linked with a move to Napoli this summer after just one season in the Premier League with Liverpool following his move from Udinese.

“It’s clear that the player would like to return to Italy,” Dossena’s agent Federico Pastorello said.

“He is playing very little at Liverpool and he doesn’t want to miss the train for the World Cup.

“I hope that, having recovered from the injury, he will play in the Carling Cup.

“Andrea, in any case, must do the maximum to return to have a regular spot at Liverpool.”

Liverpool: The Ref Was Right

Contrary to what Sir Red Nose said, the ref was right in not sending off Carragher when he brought down Owen outside the box. In an article in Tuesday's Guardian a senior, un-named, ref agreed with Marriner's handling of the matter.

He said: "Ferguson clearly doesn't understand the law about the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

"The fouled player has to have full control of the ball and has to be moving towards the goal but Michael Owen did not fulfill either condition.

"Andre Marriner was absolutely right to award a yellow card and a direct free-kick.

He added: "It would have been totally wrong for him to have sent Jamie Carragher off. And Sir Alex should never have said that Andre Marriner was not an experienced referee when he is on the Fifa list and got all the important decisions right on Sunday."

The fact that Ferguson doesn't understand the law would come as a great surprise to you all I'm sure, he's been only managing football clubs for 30 odd years, not nearly long enough to learn the law apparently.

Rafa Benitez Wants Wembley Trophy Glory

Rafa Benitez has banished thoughts of revenge as he bids to take a step closer to fulfilling one of his ambitions as Liverpool manager.

The Reds face Arsenal in the Carling Cup fourth round and Benitez has no wish to experience a scoreline similar to when the sides last met in this competition.

That was back in January 2007 when Benitez was left stunned as Arsenal won a bizarre match 6-3, three days after knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

However, the Anfield boss is not thinking about the events of that night and is simply concerned with building on Sunday’s impressive Premier League victory over Manchester United.

So even though important fixtures with Fulham and Lyon are looming, Benitez is not treating the trip to the Emirates Stadium lightly as he is anxious to lead the Reds out at Wembley.

“We try to approach things always one game at a time,” said Benitez. “It’s the Carling Cup and it’s Arsenal, so it is a little bit different to normal.

“But the mentality and the confidence will always be the same; we know we have got to go down there and win and the players will be ready.

“Every year is different and you cannot think too much about what happened in the past because circumstances change all the time. To beat Arsenal – or any of the top sides – is a challenge and that is always our target. It doesn’t matter what the competition is, always you want to win.”

No club in the country can better Liverpool’s tally of seven League Cup wins and Benitez would love nothing more than to be the man who guides them to an eighth success next February.

He, after all, was at the helm for the Reds’ last appearance in the final – against Chelsea in 2005 – and success in the Carling Cup is high on his list of priorities.

“If you can progress in a competition, that is what you have got to do,” he said. “You have got to select the right players for each game and it depends on the programme you have.

“But we are always thinking about progressing and winning and the Carling Cup gives us that first opportunity. I would love to win a trophy with Liverpool at Wembley.”

Benitez – who expects skipper Steven Gerrard to return at Fulham on Saturday but will be without Albert Riera and Martin Kelly for another fortnight – will undoubtedly make changes to the side that beat United three days ago.

He will mix youth and experience but there is a frustration that the Spanish FA’s insistence on calling up exciting young striker Dani Pacheco for a under-19 tournament next week has cost him the chance of making his debut.

Critics Have Made Me Stronger, Says Liverpool Fall Guy Lucas

Kop fall-guy Lucas claims the flak he has taken has made him stronger.

Lucas has borne the brunt of supporters' frustrations during Liverpool's rollercoaster start to the season.

The Brazilian has been given the unenviable task of trying to replace fans' favourite Xabi Alonso at the heart of midfield and has been singled out for criticism by supporters.

Lucas answered his doubters in the stands with one of his best performances in a Liverpool shirt in Sunday's massive 2-0 win over Manchester United.

He says that energetic display has given him a huge boost and he thanked Rafa Benitez for sticking by him.

"I'm still young. The criticism just makes me stronger and more determined to keep working and keep focused, because those are the only things that can help me improve," he said.

"I've heard a lot of things said about me, but I don't really read the newspapers. Maybe I should when people start writing good things about me! But I'm just trying to be focused on my game.

"I feel I'm growing in confidence this season. I'm a totally different player to the one who arrived at Liverpool.

"I have confidence from Rafa. He is really important for me at the moment and he's given me my chance.

"On Sunday, it wasn't just about me showing quality, it was about the whole team showing it. I still have to improve a lot, but hopefully I can keep progressing."

Lucas' performance against United could not have been better timed with Alberto Aquilani finally ready to make his first-team bow.

The £20million Italian international could be on the bench for tonight's Carling Cup tie at the Emirates and is expected to take Lucas' place when he is fully fit.

Lucas, 22, is refusing to worry about Aquilani's return and is focused on beating Arsene Wenger's young Guns to keep alive Liverpool's hopes of Carling Cup glory.

"We want to be in the final of all the competitions," said the Brazil international. "We don't know what Rafa will do with his team selection. Maybe he will make changes as we have a lot of important games at the moment. But we want to progress as far as we can in the Carling Cup.

"We know it will be a difficult game as Arsenal are playing some really good football. They can pass the ball really well, they are creating a lot of chances and scoring a lot of goals.

"We want to get through and we know we have to produce another good performance like we did against United. With the confidence we have now, we can show more quality than maybe we were doing when we were losing games."

Liverpool have never won at the Emirates and were mauled 6-3 by Wenger's kids when they last met in the competition in the quarter-finals in 2007.

But Lucas claims beating United has given them the belief that they can defeat Arsenal.

"Sunday was a perfect day for us after four defeats in a row," he said. "We played really good football in beating a really good team. We still have to improve a lot, but this victory can give us confidence to go on to Arsenal and win through in the Carling Cup.

"We have just to keep on going now. We've shown character and quality against United and if we can play like that in all the games, then it will be really difficult to beat us."

David Ngog, who scored Liverpool's second against United, has been tipped by Ian Rush to become a star at Anfield.

Rushie feels the French Under-21 star, who has netted three times in six appearances this season, has the potential to be a prolific goalscorer and will lead the Reds' attack against Arsenal.

Legendary marksman Rush said: "David's still rough around the edges, but the Anfield coaching staff are clearly working hard on him and he has undoubted potential.

"The experience of scoring a winning goal against United will only help his development."

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Is A Survivor, Says Arsenal's Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is confident Rafa Benitez will get over the problems that are continuing to overshadow Liverpool's victory over Manchester United.

The Reds' 2-0 Anfield win over their fierce rivals brought an end to a four-match losing streak and kept Benitez's side in the title race.

But as the turmoil behind the scenes goes on involving a potential buyout of American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, speculation over Benitez's future continues.

Ahead of the Carling Cup tie between Liverpool and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger said: 'You would say for them with the environment they were in it was a vital win over United.

'I must say on the day they deserved to win because they dominated this game.

'I believe Rafa is handling the pressure very well. It's not always easy but I believe in this job you need to resist the stress and the pressure because you cannot dream to go for a career in this job without coming into these kind of situations, so that's an absolute necessity to go through this kind of period and survive.'