Arsenal 2, Liverpool FC 1: Support workers offer signs of hope

By Ian Doyle on Oct 29, 09 07:26 AM in Journalists


THE end result may have been the same, but the emotions of the beaten Liverpool players as they trudged from the turf were markedly different.

A savage 6-3 defeat to Arsenal in the Carling Cup in January 2007 prompted furious debate over the strength of Rafael Benitez's squad and his youth policy.

However, there should be no similar post-mortem after the Anfield outfit slipped out of the competition to the same opposition at the Emirates last night.

Frustration and not humiliation was the overriding feeling among the travelling fans, with a makeshift Liverpool having done themselves justice, the supporting cast giving Benitez reasons for encouragement.

And with £20m Alberto Aquilani making his long-awaited bow in a Liverpool shirt, there were significant positives for the Anfield manager.

There was certainly no questioning the commitment and application of Liverpool's second string last night. After all, progress in this competition represents the best chance of first-team football for many of them.

That said, the harsh fact is that Liverpool have now lost five of their last six games, with their Carling Cup hopes under Benitez ended by London opposition for the sixth successive season.

But with a Premier League trip to Fulham on Saturday followed by a crucial Champions League showdown with Lyon, this fixture was firmly down Benitez's list of priorities.

There was no Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Jamie Carragher or Glen Johnson in the Liverpool travelling party, with only Dirk Kuyt - named captain for the night - and Emiliano Insua surviving from the team that comprehensively beat Manchester United at the weekend.

But that duo were among seven full internationals in the visitors' starting line-up, a figure matched by Arsenal - a fact that will no doubt be overlooked by many given the hype surrounding the Gunners' youth policy.

Youngsters Danny Ayala, Stephen Darby and Nathan Eccleston were all on the Liverpool bench, but eyes were only on Aquilani, available for the first time since his £20m summer arrival from Roma.

The Italian emerged for the final 13 minutes and was soon showing some fine touches, although it's obvious he remains some way short of full match fitness.

Liverpool could take heart from the manner in which they fought back to ensure parity at the interval following an entertaining and well-fought first period.

Benitez's side started the brighter, and should have been ahead in the ninth minute after a swift passing move cut through the Arsenal defence.

Voronin, making his first Liverpool start in almost 18 months, played in David Ngog, whose deft backheel played Degen in on goal with only Arsenal goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski to beat, but the Switzerland international hurried his shot horribly wide.

Arsenal responded strongly with Samir Nasri curling a free-kick wide from 20 yards after being fouled by Martin Skrtel, before Nicklas Bendtner was let down by some dreadful control following a clever one-two with Eduardo that put him clear inside the penalty area.

And Wenger's men were ahead on 19 minutes. Voronin's under-hit pass sold Plessis short, but there was nothing anyone could have done when Fran Merida unleashed a fantastic angled from 20 yards that flew beyond Diego Cavalieri and in off the goalkeeper's near post.

Liverpool, though, had enjoyed plenty of good possession and drew level just seven minutes later with another fine goal.

Skrtel's searching diagonal ball from the back - a ploy the visitors sought to utilise often - found Ryan Babel, the Dutchman laid the ball off neatly for Insua and the left-back smashed a dipping shot over Fabianski from 25 yards.

Not a bad way for the Argentine to score his first goal for the club. It maintained a remarkable record for Liverpool, the Anfield outfit now having failed to score in only one of their last 37 matches in this competition.

Arsenal's intermittently pretty passing lacked any real incisiveness and their next major threat two minutes from the break came from a simple corner that Cavalieri flapped at, prompting a mad melee that ended with Bendtner firing straight at the grateful goalkeeper.

But the home side regained the lead five minutes into the second half. With Liverpool's defence affording Arsenal far too much space, Merida crossed from the right, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Nasri got in a tangle and the ball broke to Bendtner, who easily held off Skrtel before firing past Cavalieri.

Liverpool went close to a second swift equaliser when Voronin and Degen passed their way down the right flank with the Ukrainian eventually firing his shot narrowly wide.

Voronin was also influential in Liverpool's best chance to equalise 10 minutes from time, the striker's pass slicing through the Arsenal defence and finding Kuyt, whose low cross was somehow missed by Babel from three yards out.

Eduardo struck across the face of goal as the visitors pressed, with Voronin testing Fabianski from range at the other end.

Liverpool threw on 18-year-old Eccleston in the closing moments for his debut but could not draw level, referee Alan Wiley somehow missing Philippe Senderos practically catch the ball inside the area while attempting to block Aquilani's shot.

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