Merida 19, Bendtner 50
An interesting and entertaining night which, despite the defeat, gave us a fair deal to feel positive about?
Arsenal may be further on down the road in terms of youth development and strength in depth however, that said the side fielded tonight showed just how far Rafa has come since the sides last met in the competition three years ago. Plenty of youth, new and not so new but rarely seen, faces in evidence tonight and not least of course the long awaited debut of Alberto Aquilani.
As expected Rafa rang the changes with Cavalieri, Degan, Kyrgiakos, Spearing, Plessis, Babel and Voronin all getting starts. Aquilani was on a young bench. There were plenty of unfamiliar faces in the Arsenal side which suggesting, if nothing else, we had more experience?
The first move of note was in the eighth minute when Degan moving forward collected Ngog’s nifty back heel and was presented with an excellent chance which he drilled wide with the outside of his foot, a poor miss. This was immediately replicated by Arsenal with a tidy, short passing build up involving Gibbs, Eduardo and Bendtner that should have seen the Dane score.
However it didn’t take long for things to come to the boil as both sides exchanged quick goals. Merida blasted in from range via Cavalieri’s near post. The ball was given away to Arsenal from our throw in by Voronin who about ten minutes earlier had signalled to the bench that he was injured and wanted to come off! Why was he still on the pitch if he was injured? Our equaliser bought back memories of Robbie Keane’s goal in last season’s 1-1 league draw. It was a long ball from the back which Insua, in an unusually forward position, despatched after Babel’s knock down with a nasty, dipping volley.
This was developing into a good, open ended, attacking game. The marking for our goal suggested there was space to exploit in the Arsenal defence and further chances to be had. They, despite their young years, showed enough imagination and confidence to suggest that they could also create more as seen when Merida went close again getting on the end of a move that should have been stopped as it began deep in our half.
Because of the good football the ending to the first half was inappropriate with an almighty, en masse goal mouth scramble in our area. Cavalieri might as well have been on the moon such was his positional awareness, at one point the ball was behind him! Thankfully it was hacked away, by someone!
The second half continued where the first had left off. Spearing arrowed one wide however, Bendtner, who had missed a couple in the first half, finally made amends with a straight forward goal that exploited some indecision between Skrtel and Kyrgiakos.
It took Voronin close on an hour to make his mark with a decent effort that just went wide after a good exchange of passes with Degan. However, on the whole the Ukrainian had an indifferent evening at times looking clumsy, slightly off the pace and rather lost. More match practice is needed but one wonders how much he will get with us? For someone who said he had no intention of going back to Berlin it was a rather flaky performance which further enhances Ngog’s already strengthening claim in the striking pecking order.
Around the hour, Babel’s low free kick tested Fabianski. However, although Arsenal grew stranger one always felt we would have more than one chance before the final whistle. Kuyt squared a lip smacking cross across the six yard area which Babel passed on. Voronin also produced a low hard drive which had it been a foot or so the left or right would equalised and was then, wrongly, adjudged to be offside when he was on a one on one situation with the keeper .
Before that Benayoun and then at last Aquilani were introduced to try and give us a boost. The Italian was involved straight away and did okay and nearly provided a sensation with an overhead kick attempt (did Senderos handle it?) however, understandably, it is early days.
A close fought game that both sides had opportunities to win. I guess there was no real pressure for either side and that showed in the openness of the play. Arsenal will feel pleased at their blossoming youth policy and us well, it was OK and although we are out, we have no real reason to feel too downhearted?
Liverpool: Cavalieri, Insua, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Degen, Babel, Plessis, Spearing, Kuyt (captain), Voronin, Ngog. Subs – Reina, Aquilani, Benayoun, Darby, Dossena, Eccleston, Sanchez Ayala
Arsenal: Fabianski, Gibbs, Senderos, Silvestre (captain), Gilbert, Merida, Ramsey, Eastmond, Nasri, Bendtner, . Subs – Bartley, Coquelin, Frimpong, Randall, Sunu, Szczesny, Watt