Benitez left to rue inferiority complex against Arsenal

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The Independent Football

The Carling Cup now represents the last realistic hope of domestic silverware for Liverpool this season but when Arsenal make a rapid return to Anfield in the quarter-final tonight, it is an inferiority complex that Rafael Benitez's side should be aiming to lift.

A brittle defence of the FA Cup on Saturday exposed, once again, a reality the Premiership table at present disguises; namely, that while the weak and the mediocre of England pose fewer problems to Liverpool, they remain the poor relation of the elite top four; a description that is more applicable to their football than their finances.

Benitez bemoaned a lack of resources for his side's weekend performance, an argument that would have brooked no complaints had the comparison been with Chelsea or, to a lesser degree, Manchester United, even though he spent more last summer than Sir Alex Ferguson and will soon be reimbursed with the riches of Dubai International Capital. To suggest Arsenal are operating on a different financial plain, however, when their match-winner Tomas Rosicky cost the manager, Arsène Wenger, as much as Liverpool paid for Jermaine Pennant, or when Alexander Hleb and Robin Van Persie combined cost a similar sum to Xabi Alonso, was at best misleading and diverts attention away from the paucity of Liverpool's performances against their established rivals this season.

The Liverpool manager is yet to glean a point from Chelsea, United or Arsenal this season and while those defeats have all arrived away from Anfield, the display in the FA Cup third round, when the home side reverted to the long-ball game that so infuriates Benitez if Bolton play it, showed their fragile composure against quality opposition.

"We haven't managed to beat Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal in the major competitions this season and that does worry us," Alonso said yesterday. "In the Premiership, they all still have to come to Anfield and we have to show we can get results against them."

Tonight's rearranged fifth-round tie offers Liverpool an instant opportunity to soothe Saturday's wound but even success may not heal their problems against the leading lights given that, as the victor in the FA Cup, Arsenal will return with the pressure off and with a few expensive feet up. Thierry Henry may be excused a starting role despite the tour of Anfield that delivered Arsenal's third goal on Saturday - "we will come back with a different team but we want to win the game," said Wenger, who has Cesc Fabregas available after suspension - but for Benitez, who will retain Jerzy Dudek in goal even though his surprise inclusion backfired in the first meeting, the prospect of resting a host of key players has disappeared.

"It's important to stay in the competition and to keep the key players fit because we are thinking of the Champions' League and Premier League as well," Benitez said. "You could say we will rest Steven Gerrard or Xabi Alonso but maybe we don't have the possibilities."

Anfield officials are lobbying Fifa in their attempt to sign Javier Mascherano from West Ham on loan with a view to a permanent summer transfer. Liverpool are hoping that the ruling that prevents a player signing for three clubs in one season can be waived.

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