I have to say the starting line up surprised me a lot. I couldn’t believe Wenger was starting with so many senior players. In a way, it was more of an Arsenal second eleven rather than a youth team that we have come to expect in the League Cup. Craig Eastmond was probably the only real youngster (by our standards) and it was an even bigger surprise to see him being chosen over Coquelin.
I think Arsene remembers the defeat to Spuds in the Cup a couple of years back and was wise enough to avoid the same mistake. Liverpool put out a very strong side themselves and if we had gone in with most of the youngsters the result might have been embarrassing and deflating. A simple example of this was seen late in the day when Skrtel brushed off Watt inside the Liverpool penalty area. Well, the wise man made the right decisions once again and we had a fantastic game.
My man of the match in this game was Nasri. I think he was everywhere and played a role similar to that performed by our captain. His touch looked good and so did his dribble. He also had enough stamina to last the duration of the game without dropping the pace. As Arsene said, we now have to wait and see how he feels over the next couple of days. If he doesn’t feel any physical strain after today’s exertions, he could come straight into the starting line up for the big derby.
Merida has always been easy on the eye. He has that Zidanesque presence in the field. One never gets tired of watching him even if he makes a mistake or two. Tonight, he added a lot of pressing and tackling to his skillful display. His passes and goals didn’t impress me too much as I expect him to be at that level. But Arsene always spoke of him as a late developer, physically, and it was his physical strength and presence that impressed me most. If he wants to be a big player in the premier league he will need all that hard work to support his natural skills on a day to day basis. He might even find a place on the bench ahead of Wilshere.
The third name on my list is Eastmond. To be honest, I have seen a little bit of him in the U-18’s and the reserves, just not enough to have noticed him as a top performer. But I don’t doubt Arsene and his staff for one moment. They have done a fantastic job in identifying this boy’s talent and moving him from right back to the center of midfield. He looked well composed and read the game really well. He also showed the never say die spirit that is so essential for a defensive midfielder. Plessis and Spearing are much better known than Eastmond but he easily out classed them.
The back four also had a decent game. We made a few mistakes but they covered well for each other. Fabianski also had a good game and might find himself between the poles at the weekend. Ramsey and Eduardo had an average outing. They have established themselves and my expectations with them are a little high.
The only disappointing player was Bendtner. I don’t know if the opposition goal keeper had an effect on him or not but his attitude was very cavalier and wasteful. He took his goal well and the finish with the left foot was heart-warming but overall he could have done much more.
We also saw some of the first team problems seeping down to this team. At times the players switched off and some of the midfield and full back runs were not tracked. An obvious example is the goal we conceded. If you look closely, at the time when Babel heads the ball back to Insua, we only have our back four and Bendtner in the picture. No one from the midfield was anywhere close the ball and the young Dane didn’t do enough either. The problem is likely to be much more deep rooted rather than being individual errors.
In the post match press conference someone asked Arsene how many of these players will make it to the first team. Le Boss said all of them. He also mentioned that quite a few have already played at that level. It also explains the quality of the game being so high and Wenger rightly likened it to a European tie.
Later in the day when I checked the other scores and reports it emerged that most other top teams had played their big names. No wonder the cream of English football reached the quarter finals. I am not sure why the top clubs are fielding such strong teams in this competition. It might have something to do with the competition being very tight at the top and everyone hoping to win at least one trophy. From our point of view, I think we also have to consider the fact that we have a larger number of fit players this year compared to the last two seasons. Wenger has to give them some game time and it is understandable that the youngsters would have to miss out.
The squad must be high on confidence before the Spuds game and we can just start another winning streak.