LONDON, October 29 – Arsene Wenger predicted his crop of Arsenal youngsters would reach "the top level in the game" after they scalped Liverpool in the League Cup fourth round.The Frenchman did not pick any of his regular Premier League starters for Wednesday’s 2-1 victory against the Reds at the Emirates Stadium, but it made little difference against opposition who also boasted an unfamiliar look.
Goals from Fran Merida and Nicklas Bendtner were enough to see off Liverpool, who had levelled through Emiliano Insua’s excellent long-range volley, but it was the composed and polished quality of his tyros’ football which impressed Wenger.
"I thought the quality we showed made this more of a European Cup game than a League Cup game," he said.
"Our players were up for it, the passing was very good. The ball was played at a high pace and we gave people what they paid for – top quality – and I am very happy to say that.
"Everyone did well. We had mental resources, as well, to come back when they equalised. It was very impressive and it shows you why we did not need to spend a lot of money during the close-season.
"Nearly all of the young players have already played in the first team. I think all who played will make it at the top level in the game."
Wenger reserved his most glowing praise for Merida, the Spanish youngster whose future at the club was in doubt during the close-season when he was almost sent on loan to Levante.
The manager eventually decided to keep him at the club and the decision reaped rich rewards as he struck a sublime goal – a rising left-footed shot that went in off the post – and helped set up the second for Bendtner.
"Merida is a quality player," Wenger said. "He comes from a very good school, by which I mean the Spanish school. But our school is also in line with the way he has been educated.
"He can certainly break through and I want him to stay here. I kept him as I thought he had the quality to break through. He shows perfectly the way we play football."
There was also positive news for Wenger in seeing Samir Nasri complete his first 90 minutes since breaking his leg on the club’s pre-season training trip to Austria.
Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, also had good news on the injury front, as he gave Alberto Aquilani his first appearance in a Liverpool shirt since his move from Roma in the August.
The Italian midfielder had been sidelined with a long-standing ankle injury and, while he clearly needs more match practice before reaching his peak condition, Benitez believes he can supply the guile that has been absent from his team since the departure of Xabi Alonso.
"The worst thing was the defeat and the result but there were positives, passion, character, quality and Aquilani was one of these players," he said.
"He needs to improve his fitness but he can pass in the final third and make a difference to us.
"For us, he could be an important player because we need quality and he is that kind of player. But we can’t push too hard with him. He just needs to keep working."
There was grimmer news for Benitez on the condition of Steven Gerrard, who is set to miss Saturday’s visit to Fulham, although Fernando Torres is expected to play.