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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jan 9, 2007

Wenger shocked to play Rafa's reserves

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted he was surprised by the line-up opposite number Rafael Benitez fielded in last night's amazing Carling Cup clash that saw the Gunners reach the semi-finals with an emphatic 6-3 victory.

Benitez opted to leave out senior men Peter Crouch, Xabi Alonso, Jose Reina, Luis Garcia, Dirk Kuyt and Steve Finnan from his starting line-up in a game Liverpool had to win to keep alive their last realistic chance a trophy this term.

And Wenger claimed that Liverpool would have fielded a full-strength side when this tie was postponed before Christmas due to fog.

Wenger said: 'At the start I was surprised by Liverpool's team. When we were here for the game that was fogged off, Liverpool named their normal side.

'But maybe because of the postponement and the heavy schedule after Christmas, they decided to rest some players.

'But they used senior men like Luis Garcia and (Mark) Gonzalez and they were both injured, so it is a real gamble.'

Benitez defended his actions and also refused to blame second-choice goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, who has now conceded nine goals in two games over four days against the Gunners.

He said: 'We did use a lot of players from the first-team squad, but they also changed many players. The problem was conceding goals like we did.

'I do not put any blame on Jerzy Dudek, we win together and we lose together.

'We used senior players and young players, I do not point the finger at anyone. We tried to do our best, but we conceded goals and you cannot change the result now. All I can say is `sorry' to our supporters.'

Wenger hailed his young brigade after their stunning six-goal bonanza, in which Julio Baptista scored four to set up a semi-final showdown with Tottenham.

Wenger said: 'I did not expect to score six goals but I am very pleased with the way we tackled the game, with the fluency of our game and the way we kept calm when Liverpool came back to 1-1.

'We just continued to go forward and play attacking football. These lads have worked very hard to integrate and to do what we want them to do.

'Sometimes the most important thing is not only to be talented but to transfer that into competitive games and they did that with the way we want to play football.

'But they have shown great mental strength. I am highly tempted to play many of them in the semi-final against Spurs. They have won in this competition at Everton and now at Liverpool, and they also won at West Brom.'

He added: 'They have earned the right maybe to play in the next round. It is a very satisfying night. I feel there is a continuity inside the club, and we feel we have worked very, very hard.

'The future of the club is very promising. We aim to keep these players together and keep the spirit right. Then we have a great chance for the future.'

Liverpool's problems were compounded by injuries to Mark Gonzalez, Luis Garcia and Stephen Warnock.

Garcia will need a scan this morning on a damaged knee that Benitez fears could keep him out for a few weeks. Gonzalez has a cut shin while Warnock has damaged ribs.

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