Beauty and the Beast came out to play for Arsène Wenger last night and neither spared Liverpool from the chastening realisation that their domestic cup season has been annihilated by Arsenal.
Four days after their senior side prospered here in the FA Cup, the second-string Gunners revelled in a ruthless display that saw them become the first visiting team since Sunderland in April 1930 to score six times at Anfield. Julio Baptista finally lived up to his carnivorous nickname with four predatory goals and Jeremie Aliadière belatedly showed his outstanding potential as they secured a Carling Cup semi-final place against Tottenham.
For Rafael Benitez, this was simply the worst Anfield night of his Liverpool reign. While Arsenal's next generation came of age in emphatic style, his makeshift side slipped into the dark ages to leave the Spaniard wishing for a return of the fog that postponed this tie in December. When "the Beast", Baptista, tapped in Arsenal's sixth in the 84th minute, he became the first visiting striker since Wolves' Dennis Westcott in 1946 to score four at Anfield.
A fleeting return of the spirit of Istanbul brought consolations for Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia, who otherwise endured a night to forget against the rampaging Aliadière, but it was a humiliating night for Liverpool which means Benitez will have to overcome European Cup holders Barcelona in the Champions' League to maintain his record of ending every season at Anfield with a trophy.
Though Arsenal poured salt into every mistake made by the Liverpool defence - Baptista even had the luxury of having a penalty kick saved - Benitez contributed to the defeat with a selection gamble that defied this competition's sudden importance in his season.
The Liverpool manager made nine changes to the side that lost in the FA Cup, as did Wenger in the knowledge the pressure was off, even though he has repeatedly insisted he lacks the strength in depth of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. He chose a bizarre way to demonstrate his point.
Liverpool had begun with revenge in mind, making it their intent to be first to every ball, yet with Arsenal's youthful outfit matching Saturday's XI for resilience and purpose on the break, they were able to quell the home rising and soon Anfield was subjected to a second course of the woeful defending that had contributed to their brittle FA Cup defence. Rarely has a Liverpool team looked as dishevelled, directionless and dispirited as Benitez's side did at half-time last night, or departed to a crescendo of jeers at the interval with such justification.
Their catalogue of calamities began in the 27th minute when Arsenal captain Kolo Touré launched a hopeful punt forward and Aliadière sprinted behind a static backline to score at the second attempt against Jerzy Dudek. Five minutes later, Robbie Fowler, so often the scourge of the Gunners, brought Liverpool level with an exquisite flick of the instep from a Luis Garcia cross, but it was a short-lived reprieve.
Benitez's surprise decision to play Dudek in the FA Cup backfired spectacularly on Saturday and he had further cause to rue his faith in the Polish international when Baptista restored the visitors' lead in the 40th minute. Fouled by panic-stricken Argentine centre-half Gabriel Paletta, the Brazilian picked himself to whip the subsequent free-kick towards Dudek's goal, the goalkeeper's decision to remain rooted to the spot drawing furious condemnation from the fans behind.
Their ire had only just been stirred. In the first of six minutes of stoppage time, Paletta and Dudek both missed a Cesc Fabregas corner, the ball rebounded off Hyypia and bounced over the goal-line courtesy of the unsuspecting Alexandre Song.
Before the half was over, it was four, as Baptista and Aliadière combined for the on-loan striker from Real Madrid to score from close range. It should have been even worse in the 58th minute when Arsenal were awarded a penalty after Hyypia felled Aliadière but Baptista's attempt was superbly saved by Dudek.
The Brazilian had only to wait a further two minutes for his hat-trick, however, when he found the bottom corner with a measured drive, and though Gerrard found the top corner with a fine volley and Hyypia headed home to promote Liverpool hopes of another rousing fightback, the mirage was exposed when Aliadière fed the Beast at close range with six minutes left.
With Luis Garcia and Mark Gonzalez both carried off, the Chilean international suffering a six-inch gash in his shin, Liverpool even had injury to pile upon their insult.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Peltier, Paletta, Hyypia, Warnock (Alonso, 58); Guthrie, Gerrard, Aurelio, Gonzalez (Garcia, 10; Carragher, 74); Fowler, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Reina (gk), Crouch.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Hoyte, Touré, Djourou, Traoré (Connolly, 88); Walcott (Diaby, 73), Fabregas, Song, Denilson; Baptista, Aliadière. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Lansbury, Randall.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Red and buried: Liverpool's worst defeats
The 6-3 thrashing was only the fourth time in Liverpool's history that they have conceded six goals at Anfield:
Liverpool 0 Sunderland 6 (First Division - 19 April 1930)
Liverpool 1 Manchester City 6 (First Division - 26 October 1929)
Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 6 (First Division - 28 November 1914)
Liverpool 3 Arsenal 6 (Carling Cup - 9 January 2007)Reuse content