Degen Skrtel Kyrgiakos Insua
Kuyt Voronin Babel
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.