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Arsenal, Chelsea reach League Cup quarterfinals

ARSENAL and Chelsea overcame English Premier League opponents to reach the League Cup quarterfinals yesterday, with the Gunners beating Liverpool 2-1 and the Blues routing Bolton 4-0.

Fran Merida and Nicklas Bendtner scored for a mostly second-string Arsenal against similarly weakened opponents as rival managers Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez continued to rate England's second cup competition low among their priorities.

But Premier League leader Chelsea fielded a strong side to easily beat visiting Bolton, while Manchester City also drew upon its experienced players to outclass Scunthorpe 5-1.

Six of the Premier League's top seven teams have reached the quarterfinals.

Liverpool was coming off a surprise 2-0 win over Manchester United and Arsenal a disappointing 2-2 draw at lowly West Ham, but the starting lineups on Wednesday showed a total of 20 changes from those matches to make predicting a result at Emirates Stadium especially tricky.

Merida, a 19-year-old Spanish midfielder who has never started a Premier League match, capitalized on a mistake by Andriy Voronin to put Arsenal ahead in the 19th with his first club goal.

Voronin gave away possession on Liverpool's left wing about 20 meters (yards) from his own goal line and the ball rolled to Merida, who hit it from the corner of the area past goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri and in off the post.

But Liverpool leveled seven minutes later when Ryan Babel controlled a long pass and laid it for Emiliano Insua, who surprised Lukasz Fabianski by hitting the ball immediately to send it arcing over the stranded 'keeper's head and under the crossbar.

Still, Arsenal continued to create a string of chances and a five-man move five minutes into the second half ended with Bendtner cutting inside defender Martin Skrtel in the area to hit a rising shot past Cavalieri into the top of the net.

"I believe overall it was a game of top quality with two teams who really went for it," Wenger said. "You can say tonight we gave people what they paid for: Top quality. The experienced players played well and the young players played well.

"Liverpool came back but we still won the game. That shows we have the mental quality."

Liverpool forced a few opportunities but none as good as that missed by right-back Philipp Degen early on, when he shot wide following a back-heeled pass by Voronin.

Arsenal went close through Samir Nasri, who was playing his first game of the season after recovering from the broken leg he sustained in the preseason, Bendtner and Eduardo da Silva.

Italy midfielder Alberto Aquilani went on for the last 15 minutes to make his Liverpool debut but was unable to influence the result.

"The worst thing was the result but there were a lot of positives," Benitez said. "Aquilani was one of these. He showed he can pass the ball in the final third. He is closer every day and he has to train harder. He has to play more games to get his match fitness."

Premier League leader Chelsea was on course for victory over Bolton when it went ahead in the 15th. Salomon Kalou, again standing in for fellow Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, headed in from Paulo Ferreira's right-wing cross for his third goal in two matches.

It was 2-0 11 minutes later when Malouda side-footed the ball into the net from the edge of the box and Deco made it 3-0 by finishing from near the penalty spot after a pass by Joe Cole.

Cole set up the final goal a minute before the end with a cross for substitute Drogba to head in from close range.

Stephen Ireland put Manchester City ahead in the third minute with a right-footed shot from about 20 meters (yards) but Scunthorpe equalized midway through the first half through Jonathan Forte.

Still, Roque Santa Cruz restored the home side's lead before halftime and Joleon Lescott, Carlos Tevez and Michael Johnson added second-half goals.

Arsenal, Chelsea and City join defending champion Manchester United, 2008 winner Tottenham, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Blackburn in the lineup for the quarterfinals.

The draw will be made on Saturday with the matches scheduled for the week starting Nov. 30. The final is at Wembley on Feb. 28.


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