28 October 2009

Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal

Cavalieri
Degen Skrtel Kyrgiakos Insua
Spearing Plessis
Kuyt Voronin Babel
Ngog

Goals:
Merida 19’
Insua 26’
Bendtner 50’

Any loss is disappointing, especially when the team’s already lost six, but this one doesn’t sting too bad. Arsenal, with Nasri, Bendtner, and Eduardo in the line-up, didn’t exactly play the Super Teens, and probably deserved their victory. However, an errant offside call when Voronin was through and a non-penalty when Senderos handled Aquilani’s (!!!) bicycled effort make it a bit bitterer.

It was an open, back-and-forth game that saw two brilliant first-half strikes, Arsenal on top of possession thanks to dominating the midfield, but with the scores level at halftime. Kuyt’s early volley wide and Degen’s plunge into the box only to toe-poke wide of the far post signaled Liverpool’s intent within 10 minutes.

But Arsenal established superiority, and should have went ahead in the 17th, furiously countering after a giveaway only to see an over-intricate Bendtner fluff a centering ball into Cavalieri’s grateful arms. However, Merida opened the scoring with a thunderbolt two minutes later after Voronin was loose with the ball in his own half. The 19-year-old was wide open and lashed an unstoppable shot past Cavalieri at the near post.

But Arsenal couldn’t keep hold of the momentum, and a similarly wonderful goal by Insua leveled matters. Babel smartly headed down a long ball for the left back, who controlled with his chest and unleashed an utterly perfect dipper that gave Fabianski no chance. Not a bad first goal for the club; it’s going to be tough to beat for goal of the season.

Despite the equalizer, Arsenal continued to set the tempo and tone. Ramsey, Eastmond, and Nasri out-classed Spearing and Plessis in the center, and Liverpool were often restricted to hitting on the counter. Ngog held up play well, and Degen had a few flashes of inspiration striding forward, but Arsenal always looked more likely to score the second.

And they had their chances. A lovely break in the 36th, again through Ramsey, found Merida free on the left. Cavalieri committed, Merida crossed, but Skrtel was there to head away for a corner. Degen got back for a last-ditch block in the 42nd after a nice one-two between Eastmond and Nasri before some comical defending from a corner saw Cavalieri flap at the ball in and stumble around his box before Bendtner’s swiveled shot thankfully struck him in the midsection.

But five minutes after the interval, Bendtner finally came good. A mix-up between Skrtel and Kyrgiakos when Ramsey and Bendtner were in the box saw the Dane pick up possession and get past Skrtel, smashing over Cavalieri. Sigh.

A lovely break between Degen and Voronin, with the two players exchanging five passes (?!), finished with Voronin narrowly missing the far corner in the 55th, but Arsenal continued to see more of the ball. Benayoun for Ngog in the 75th and Aquilani (!!!) for Plessis in the 77th helped remedy matters as Liverpool pushed for another equalizer, but the changes came too late. Of course, there were the non-existent offside and non-penalty.

Arsenal had a couple of chances on the break, with Skrtel barely getting back to contain Watt and Eduardo shooting wide, bracketing Babel failing to make contact with Kuyt’s center in the six-yard box in the 80th. The rebound eventually fell to Aquilani at the edge of the box, but Fabianski easily smothered the low shot.

Then came the two controversial moments. In the 87th, a tired Ramsey gave the ball away in his own half, and it looked like Babel’s neat touch sprung Voronin, but the assistant flagged. In the second minute of injury time, Senderos handled Aquilani’s overhead volley after a scramble in the box (I don't care if his arms were near his chest, they were up, stopped a goal-bound effort, and he basically caught the ball), but Wiley played on, and Arsenal spent the final seconds playing by Liverpool’s corner flag. And thus ends this year’s Carling Cup run.

The media will praise Arsenal’s kids, and Ramsey, Eastmond, and Gilbert admittedly played well. Ramsey especially. But this wasn’t an Academy side Liverpool faced, and Arsenal was better on the day. Maybe if it’s at Anfield, it’s a different result. Yes, some players frustrated (yet another opportunity not seized by Babel, while you can’t help but be disappointed in the midfield, even considering its inexperience), but there were a fair few positives to take away.

As said above, Ngog and Degen had their moments. It was a massive, massive goal by Insua, which will only boost his confidence. Kyrgiakos was solid, showing no effects of injury, although the mix-up for Arsenal’s winner was a bit embarrassing. Academy player Nathan Eccleston (good name) saw a few minutes of action at the end. Most noteworthy, obviously, was the debut of Alberto Aquilani.

It’s early days, but Aquilani looked different class when he came on. The range of passing was especially evident (with an absolutely brilliant cross-field ball reminiscent of You Know Who), but just the way he carried himself and the positions he got into oozed potential. Even in a cameo role he looked a player, and it would have been a dream to see him win an injury-time spot kick.

It sucks to be out of the cup, but the B-team wasn’t bad, Aquilani got his debut, and it was an entertaining spectacle. Fair play to Arsenal; on their pitch, they were better. Oh well. Vastly more important is the trip to Fulham on Saturday.

8 comments:

Mike Georger said...

"As said above, Ngog and Degen had their moments"

And both got taken off while Babel and Voronin got the full ninety. Baffling.

Mike Georger said...

"didn’t exactly play the Super Teens"

Soccernet headline: Young Gunners see off Reds

drew said...

I'll go ahead and put the boot in, I guess: Skrtel was really poor tonight. Admittedly he was up against capable players in Eduardo and Bendtner, but he looked nothing like the player who forced his way into the starting 11 last year.

I'm hoping Plessis was offered a new contract just to keep some value when we sell him on, as I can't see him near our midfield with how lost he looked most of tonight. Spearing was solid except when presented with the shooting opportunities you would expect him to put on target, but he had to chase Arsenal's trio all night.

Cavalieri looked much less certain than he has in previous appearances; he needs to get that sorted.

If this were the more important cup, I'd want some questions asked of Rafa--specifically why Benayoun wasn't on earlier--but I suspect he got what he wanted out of this one, Skrtel and Babel aside: it allowed him to exit the cup gracefully and give a run-out to the fringe players quiet and a debut to Aquilani. I'm hoping to see him against Lyon (since I really don't want us needing him against Fulham).

nate said...

Georger - No surprise about Soccernet. Won't be the only one. Arsenal were younger than Liverpool, but not by much, and were more experienced than usual for the 4th round of the Carling Cup.

I was a bit surprised by the substitutions as well, mostly in how they didn't happen until the 75th. But Benitez was obviously hesitant to use Benayoun, and didn't want to play Aquilani for more than 15. Ngog was tiring, and Babel has speed to burn (even if he rarely seems to use it correctly). And Voronin should have had the chance to equalize in the 87th. Aqua, Yossi, and Eccleston were the only attacking subs on the bench.

Drew -

1) Yeah, Skrtel hasn't looked the part since colliding with Carra in the first match. People forgot how young he is, at 24, for a center-back (so's Agger). He'll come good, but he's 3rd choice now. 4th against teams who play the long ball with Kyrgiakos' aerial presence.

2) I come off as a bit harsh to Spearing and Plessis. For one, they were outnumbered by Ramsey-Eastmond-Nasri with Arsenal's 4-3-3. And yes, Spearing had a lot more bite in the second half. But Plessis' best match is still his debut against Arse in April 08. And as much as it pains me to say, given he's a local lad and still quite young, Spearing often looks a level below Liverpool.

3) Dunno how much longer Cavalieri will be back up if he plays like that, although neither goal was "his fault." It's just Gulasci's done well for the reserves and Hungary u20s, so it seems like he could make the step up in a season or two. 19's young, but if he can play...

Mike Georger said...

He could have stopped the first, and my god what was he doing with that scramble? If Pepe gets hurt or gets sick from his Rogaine use ... lord help us.

Plessis is two footed, so he's got that going for him. Kid needs to beef up.

Anonymous said...

I'm not all that disappointed with the result considering the competition and the side we put out. It was always going to be difficult away from home.

I think if you take our best 11 against their best 11, we come out on top. We still have the 2 best players on either team and our keeper is far and beyond anyone they can put out there.

However this was a good measuring stick for our youngsters against theirs, and ours failed the test. Our best players on the night were Degen and Kuyt (Insua's moment of extreme brilliance notwithstanding), not exactly youngsters. Ngog was pretty good though. Good, but not great.

But their best players were Ramsey (18) and then a bunch of guys I'd never heard of like Eastmond (18), Merida (19) and Gilbert (22). Looked up all the ages for both teams up on Wikipedia, as I was curious. I also thought Gibbs (20) played well for them at left back, making a few really good challenges that killed attacks for us. Ramsey looked very confident and composed in the middle of the park.

On the other hand, our young central midfielders, Spearing (20) and Plessis (21), were invisible until Aquilani (a definite reason for optimism) came on and brought some quality.

Also, for those downplaying the youth of their squad, our squad (all 14 players used) had an average age of 24.3 while theirs was 21.6. And it might have been younger if 17 year old Jack Wilshere hadn't been injured for them. Also guys like Bendtner and Nasri probably wouldn't have played had they not been coming back from injuries. And they still had the oldest player on the pitch in Silvestre (32).

It was just really discouraging to see that, while Arsenal can probably continue to field quality sides with reliable depth for years to come just on the strength of their current reserve and youth teams, we will almost certainly be dependent on the transfer window to improve ours. And who knows how much cash we'll have to spend.

I guess my main beef with this game is that if we're not going to field a top side in this competition, why do guys like Voronin get a start ahead of someone like Eccelston? Give Ayala a run out, or Darby. If they're not going to play in this competition when will they ever play? We know what Voronin brings to the table (very little), let's find out what some of the younger kids can do.

There are some positives to take, notably Aquilani's performance. He really did impress me during his short stint, although I'm not sure why he can't play more than 15 minutes. Can't wait to see him fully fit. Some of his passes (especially that long ball to Degen) made me think of Xabi. Perhaps he could slot in next to Masch in the 4-2-3-1.

nate said...

I had Arsenal's average age as 22.36 (but the same number as you for Liverpool), but the point remains the same. Yeah, they were younger.

But Wenger's had how many more years of youth development in his 13 years at the club?

Arsenal's spent the last 5 years, at the least, focused on youth development. A look at their squad list shows the number of players under 22. But more importantly, because Wenger's been in charge so long, even the academy's built in his image. Those "kids" played the same style of football as Arsenal's first team.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's using more youngsters than a season or three ago, but it's more plugging pegs into holes. The B-team didn't play like the first team, and it was almost a different formation (closer to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1).

When Benitez has been manager of Liverpool for 13 years, the youth team and reserves will assuredly look a lot more coherent.

drew said...

Our reserves beat United's in the Lancashire Senior Cup on penalties tonight and are tied on points at the top of their league table (trailing Utd on goal difference), so they're not doing badly at all.

(That was a United team tonight, by the way, that included the impressive-looking Zoran Tosic, who scored a free kick through a dreadful wall. Set pieces! *shakes fist* Point being, by himself he cost more than Liverpool's entire squad.)

The performance added an exclamation point to our goalkeeping depth--Bouzanis had some great stops and then saved a pair in the shootout--and also saw very good performances from Amoo, Eccleston (the goal scorer), Irwin, and especially Ayala and Mavinga at the back. And all of this without Pacheco, who so far this season has been the best player at the reserve level (as he really ought to be).

I'm still not sure how many we have down there who will end up as useful squad members, but they're headed in the right direction.