Arsenal 2 (Merida 19, Bendtner 50) Liverpool 1 (Insua 26)
A mix of experience and youth was enough to see off the challenge of Liverpool in an entertaining game, made all the more fun by the visitor’s admirable attacking intent. In the end, we sneaked home in one of the most enjoyable games I’ve seen all season.
Carling Cup sides are always difficult to predict, but I got nine of the starting eleven right before the game. Bendtner played, which surprised me as I expected him to be pencilled in for tomorrow’s derby, and Eastmond made a very impressive debut in the holding role. I don’t know what it is about our youngsters, but they don’t seem in the slightest bit overawed by these occasions, and Eastmond was no different, slotting in seamlessly.
The first half was the tale of two stunning goals – Merida lashing in a left foot belter than was hit so early that Cavalieri didn’t stand a chance, before Insua scored an equally impressive strike that dipped viciously over Fabianski’s head.
The latter goal was one of those where you instinctively look for fault in the keeper’s position, but he was only about three yards off his line, and the shot was hit was such venom that he, like Cavalieri, had no hope of saving it.
Elsewhere, Ramsey was running the show, while Bendtner also impressed, albeit seeming to try a little too hard – I got the impression he felt, as a senior player, he should score on these occasions, and he was trying efforts from crazy angles, with teammates better placed.
In the second half, Bendtner visibly relaxed, fitting more into the team flow, and got his reward with the winning goal, some good close control ending with a finish very similar to Torres’ at the weekend.
Liverpool, to their credit, went for it, and Babel came close to equalising before Senderos handled Aquilani’s overhead kick. Despite the fact it clearly hit his hands, they were in a natural position and it would have been harsh to give the spot kick.
Speaking of Aquilani, he looked class. But then his talent was never in doubt. His legs are.
Despite visibly tiring, we hung on, with Nasri and Eduardo completing a crucial ninety minutes for them, which also guarantees neither will start tomorrow.
It is difficult to pick out impressive performers, as there were plenty. Bendtner led the line well, Silvestre and Senderos were decent at the back, Fabianski’s return was assured, but the stars for me were the midfield trio – Eastmond, Merida and Ramsey in particular were outstanding. Diaby and Denilson, be warned.
So the quarter final line-up is complete, the other seven being United, Chelsea, City, Portsmouth, Spurs, Blackburn and Villa. It’s as strong a set of teams as I’ve seen at this stage of the competition. The draw is on Saturday.
And so we move on to the Spurs game tomorrow, which should be an absolute cracker (although hopefully not 4-4 again). I’ll preview that later.