Fran Merida strike helps Arsenal beat Liverpool
The Spaniard’s debut goal for the club helped the Londoners to a 2-1 win on a night of young talent
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1. So in the end, both managers kept their powder dry for this pulsating Carling Cup Fourth Round encounter at the Emirates stadium, with Liverpool's Emiliano Insúa and Dirk Kuyt being the only players on either side to have played in the weekend's Premier League matches. But if anything, the game was all the better for the mixture of starlets, fringe players and returnees from injury who played, all eager to impress their respective gaffers.
The home side welcomed back Samir Nasri from a broken fibula suffered in pre-season training, and handed a debut to Craig Eastmond, an 18-year-old English winger. Both teams started brightly enough, with Kuyt and Jay Spearing having efforts for the visitors, and Spaniard Fran Merida and Nasri going close for the Gunners.
But Arsenal broke the deadlock on 18 minutes when Merida, from the same Barcelona production line as Cesc Fabregas, shot into the top right corner of Diego Cavalieri's net from outside the box for his first strike for the Gunners. The 19-year-old had been set up for the goal by Eastmond, the pair recreating their feats for Arsenal's youth team.
Liverpool struck back within minutes, when Insua also scored a debut goal for his club. Set up by a knocked down ball from Ryan Babel, the Argentinean let fly from distance with a volley that dipped and swerved a little and which left Lukasz Fabianski for dead. Arsenal pushed to take back the lead before half time, with Merida and Nicklas Bendter both forcing Cavalieri into saves, but the teams went in level.
Arsenal were soon back in the lead after the interval, when a move instigated by the effervescent Eastmond and Merida looked to have run its course until the giant Dane Bendtner bundled past Martin Skrtel in the Liverpool defence and shot home past Cavalieri. Both sides continued to attack, with Rafa Benitez showing his hunger for a result by first bringing on the livewire Yossi Benayoun, then, with ten minutes to go, giving Alberto Aquilani his long-awaited Liverpool debut.
The Italian immediately showed signs of why Benitez had splashed out £20m on him, playing a couple of delightful passes and having a shot on goal which appeared to have been blocked by Philippe Senderos's hands, but referee Alan Wiley waved away appeals for a penalty. The 25-year-old did enough to warrant a mention in dispatches from his manager afterwards: "The players showed passion, character and quality - Aquilani was one of these players. You can see he can pass the ball and make a difference in the final third."
Meanwhile for Arsene Wenger the match was another display of the rich seam of talent at Arsenal. "The young players have all shown so much quality," he told the Times. "Merida is 19, Ramsey is 18, Eastmond is 18, so they are all very young. It was a game of top quality, which gave the people what they paid for. The players were up for it, the passing was good and to play in a game of that quality, they deserve a lot of credit.
"Fran is a quality player," the Frenchman continued. "He comes from a very good school. I kept him because I felt he had the quality to break through, but when you look at all the players who did not play, of course the competition for players is very difficult." ·
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