Merida subject of Wenger praise
Arsene Wenger hailed Fran Merida's impact after the Spanish teenager helped fire his young Arsenal side into the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup with a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Emirates Stadium.
The 19-year-old former Barcelona trainee returned from the Under-20 World Cup with Spain to drill in a fine first-half strike as Wenger's faith in youth was once again justified.
Nicklas Bendtner, himself only 21 but now a regular in the side, produced a powerful finish after 50 minutes to put Arsenal into the last eight after Emiliano Insua had equalised.
"Fran is a quality player," said Wenger, who decided against allowing the youngster to go out to Levante on loan.
"He comes from a very good school.
"I kept him because I felt he had the quality to break through, but when you look at all the players who did not play, of course the competition for players is very difficult."
Wenger added: "Fran came to us at a very young age, but our school is in line with the way he was educated.
"He suits perfectly the way we want to play football."
The Arsenal boss believes the performances of the likes of Merida shows just why he continues to believe in the young Gunners.
"It is always difficult to convince people we do not need players, but when you see them tonight, you understand why," said Wenger.
"We see them every day in training and have so much quality with our young players that we are not specially out on the market.
"Fran is 19, [Aaron] Ramsey and [Craig] Eastmond still only 18. To play in a game at that level, they deserve a lot of credit."
Full-back Kieran Gibbs turned in a decent display in front of England manager Fabio Capello and Wenger believes the 20-year-old can force his way into the World Cup squad.
"Gibbs will get games and he has already this season," said the Arsenal manager.
"Personally, if Capello asks me my opinion, I will give him a very positive one. I believe he is ready to step up."
The Arsenal manager was more than happy with the way all of his team performed.
Wenger said: "Overall it was a game of top quality with two teams who really went for it, played at a high pace.
"We gave people what they paid for - top quality.
"The experienced players played well, so did the young players, some of whom were making their debut.
"Liverpool came back to 1-1, and we still managed to win, that shows we have also mental resources."
Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski made his first-team return having recovered from knee surgery.
With Vito Mannone and Manuel Almunia both also available, Wenger has something of a selection poser ahead of Saturday's north London derby with Tottenham.
"Fabianski is available and he has done very well," the Arsenal manager said.
"Almunia is back to his normal level, and I would have no worries about playing him - but at the moment, I do not know what I will do on Saturday."
Despite the defeat, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez felt his team could take many positives from their performance.
Only Dirk Kuyt, the Reds captain tonight, remained from the Liverpool side which had defeated Manchester United - although there was a welcome substitute appearance for £20million summer signing Alberto Aquilani, who played for the final 14 minutes.
Indeed, the Italian, coming back from a broken ankle, could feel somewhat hard done by not to have won a penalty in stoppage time when his overhead kick appeared to hit defender Philippe Senderos on the arms.
"There were a lot of players showing passion, character and quality on the pitch, and Aquilani was one of these player," said Benitez.
"He has the quality, but he needs to improve his match-fitness.
"You can see he can pass the ball in the final third, he can make a big difference.
"He gets closer every day, but still has to improve his match-fitness. It's a question of time.
"I think that he will be an important player for us.
"We want to push him, but we cannot push too hard as we know that will be a risk.
"So we will keep going, keep working and add more minutes every game."
Liverpool, who like Arsenal made several changes for tonight's match, hope to have striker Fernando Torres fit for the trip to Fulham, although captain Steven Gerrard may struggle.
"Both have to keep going. Gerrard is still working with the physio so we will see," Benitez said.
"Hopefully Torres will be okay, but for Gerrard maybe it is more difficult."