Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Young Gunners humiliate Reds
Liverpool 3-6 Arsenal
There seemed to be a wistful tone to the pre-recorded half-time rendition of 'The Fields of Anfield Road'. For the second time in four days, Arsenal ended their interest in a domestic cup competition and, to paraphrase another Anfield anthem, their dreams were tossed and blown. And in particularly unpleasant circumstances.
Liverpool's Carling Cup aspirations were crushed by Arsenal's resident Beast, Julio Baptista, who scored four as they conceded six goals at home for the first time since 1930. It was the sort of scoreline that defies belief but then Liverpool's week has been - in the worst possible sense - unbelievable.
They were unbeaten at home against English opposition in 2006. So to suffer one defeat at Anfield may be regarded as unfortunate. Two was little short of disastrous, both in the manner and the consequences, because Liverpool capitulated in a match where they were clear favourites.
Their opponents were effectively, Arsenal's reserves, albeit augmented by Kolo Toure and Cesc Fabregas, who went three better than their supposed superiors in the first team. Liverpool were weakened too, but not to the same extent. Theirs was a side that featured experience in every department.
Arsenal's Academy, evidently, is flourishing. Their outfield players' average age was just 20 years and 11 months and Wenger stands vindicated.
'We have showed why I have said for a long time that I will not buy,' he said. Now he is contemplating playing his rookies against Tottenham in the semi-final.
'I am highly tempted to,' he explained. 'They came to Everton, they beat Everton, they came to Liverpool and beat Liverpool they have earned the right to play.
'It is a very satisfying night. I feel there is a continuity within the club, that the future of the club is very, very promising. I didn't expect to score six goals but I'm very pleased with the way we tackled the game and with the fluency of our game.'
Rafael Benitez, in something of an understatement, said: 'It is a disappointing game and result. We need to try to forget as soon as possible, think about the Premier League, [Saturday's opponents] Watford and also the Champions League.'
The Spaniard spared Jerzy Dudek further punishment by refusing to blame any individual. 'We win all together, we lose all together,' he added. 'The difference for me was that each attempt was a goal.'
The identity of the destroyers was particularly unlikely. If Wenger had confidence in his forward pairing, he was alone. The consensus was that Jeremie Aliadiere was too insubstantial - in his contribution as well as his stature - to have a long-term Arsenal future. Baptista had the stature - some would say rather too great a stature - and the pedigree, but had been no more convincing.
But little and large prevailed, and in some style, contributing five goals in a manner that suggested both are equipped to succeed at Arsenal. Aliadiere supplied the opener with three deft touches. The first, and best, controlled Toure's terrific pass after he had sprung the Liverpool offside trap. The second was a low shot that rebounded off Dudek's left leg and back to the Frenchman to find the unguarded goal.
Baptista joined him on the scoresheet, whipping a free kick past the statuesque Dudek. His second game in added time at the end of the first half, a simple finish after Aliadiere had eluded the offside trap again, though that appeared fortunate.
Sandwiched by Baptista's first-half brace was Alexandre Song's first for Arsenal, the product of catastrophic defending. Dudek's attempts to claim Fabregas' curling corner were pitiful, the ball clipped Sami Hyypia before bouncing in off Song. Following his culpability in Tomas Rosicky's goals on Saturday, it must mark a sad death knell to Dudek's Anfield career.
The Goalkeeper's heroics had secured Liverpool their most memorable cup triumph for two decades in Istanbul and, though displaced by Jose Reina, his reward was first-team football in the cups this year. Now Liverpool are eliminated from both. Dudek did, however, supply both a postscript and a reminder of his finest moments for Liverpool with a penalty save to deny Baptista.
His hat-trick was merely postponed. The Brazilian drilled in from 25 yards after excellent work from Aliadiere on the left flank. Then, with echoes of his second goal, he swept in Arsenal's sixth and his own fourth. There was a certain inevitability that the instigator was Aliadiere, with a devastating burst of speed that was reminiscent of Thierry Henry.
Liverpool were unable to stop him. Though their three senior outfield players contributed their goals, Benitez's team selection will be questioned. He should either have fielded his strongest side or a team as youthful as Arsenal's; they could not have done much worse.
'I was surprised because last time we came here in the Carling Cup they said they would play their normal side,' Wenger added.
Parity had been swiftly but briefly restored by Robbie Fowler's flick, bringing him a 31st League Cup goal. It followed Fabio Aurelio's low free kick. Though Manuel Almunia parried well, Luis Garcia reacted fastest, pulling the ball back from an acute angle for Fowler to convert at the near post. After four more Arsenal goals, Steven Gerrard and Hyypia reduced the deficit with a glorious volley and a thumping header respectively, it was ultimately irrelevant.
They were already 4-1 behind at half-time when the man on the PA sent out an SOS to Shirley Williams. It is a sad state of affairs when Liverpool are looking for Liberal Democrats in semi-retirement. Still, her time in politics does give an experience of humiliating defeats. Liverpool can empathise.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jeremie Aliadiere - Something your correspondent never expected to write. Baptista's four goals makes him an obvious candidate, but, in the words of Wenger: 'Aliadiere was absolutely outstanding'.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: The squad may be large, but they lack strength in depth. The youngsters Benitez promoted seemed to lack the class of their Arsenal equivalents, the veterans Hyypia and Fowler suffered from a crippling lack of pace and poor Dudek's Liverpool career may be over.
ARSENAL VERDICT: The future, as Wenger said, looks exciting. This was not even Arsenal's strongest youthful side. Besides the 11 he fielded, Emmanuel Eboue, Gael Clichy, Philippe Senderos, Mathieu Flamini and Nicklas Bendtner were absent for various reasons. But all, it seems, play with the style that has become Arsenal's hallmark under Wenger.
THE CURSE OF THE LEFT WINGER: Liverpool's evening even started badly. After five minutes, Mark Gonzalez collapsed in agony and was stretchered off. While the press box pondered how to spell 'tibia', X-rays revealed a six-inch laceration and heavy bruising but no break. His replacement was Luis Garcia, who in turn went off injured with 15 minutes remaining in what Benitez thought might prove the more serious injury.
SPARE A THOUGHT: For the man from Liverpool's official website, pondering the Man of the Match when Messrs Aliadiere, Baptista, Fabregas and Toure were ineligible. It's safe to say he didn't plump for Jerzy Dudek.
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