The player in the bowels of the Emirates Stadium radiated conviction. Arsenal would pick themselves up, he predicted, because Arsène Wenger knew. An unfortunate selection crisis had served to offer a skewed impression of the team, which Liverpool had exploited to ignite their own season.

Do not forget, he added, that Arsenal were the only club who threatened to stop Manchester United towards the end of last season's Premier League. "I certainly don't think that Arsenal are a spent force or anything like that," he said. "I certainly wouldn't be writing off Arsenal."

The fighting talk, though, came in Jamie Carragher's unmistakable tones. The Liverpool captain had ignored the large target and chosen not to put the boot in. Call it professionalism, experience or, whisper it, sympathy. It almost felt too easy to kick Arsenal on Saturday.

As Carragher spoke, Arsenal's traumatised players walked by, eyes fixed on the floor or, trance-like, into the middle distance. They had nothing to say, no reassurances for the supporters, but who could blame them? It would have misjudged the mood to play up the positives, such as the excellence of Wojciech Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen or the swaggering promise of Emmanuel Frimpong. And with emotions running high, some of them might even have said the wrong things – like how they truly felt about the direction of the club.

Wenger had, as always, appealed for calm and perspective. He lamented, as always, the knee-jerk world of the Premier League, in which "every defeat is absolutely a disgrace and an earthquake". But it said much that he was forced to field questions about whether he could envisage himself quitting. He cannot. The Frenchman offered a reminder that it was only the start of the season yet the coming week has the capacity to derail it for his club. The Champions League play-off second leg at Udinese on Wednesday is fraught with peril. An away goal would surely send Arsenal through but a big problem for Wenger's team so far has been in the final third, where penetration and cutting edge have, strangely, been absent. Then comes Sunday's visit to Old Trafford, where defeat would leave them with one Premier League point from a possible nine and swimming against the tide for the title.

Arsenal finished Saturday's game with 10 men after the ticking time-bomb that was Frimpong went off. Having gone for short sides at the barber's shop for an eye-catching full Premier League debut look, he always looked like leaving his side short after he was booked in the eighth minute for inexplicably getting in Jordan Henderson's face as the Liverpool midfielder went to take a throw-in.

Frimpong's lunge at Lucas Leiva on 70 minutes was ugly enough for a straight red, rather than a second yellow. He was given a standing ovation by the home crowd, who also got behind Samir Nasri, a surprise starter here despite his desire to leave. These are desperate times.

Kenny Dalglish immediately sent on Luis Suárez and Raul Meireles, below, who would be involved in both goals, while Wenger introduced Henri Lansbury for only his second Premier League appearance, for the dismal Andrey Arshavin. Wenger had given Premier League debuts to Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel, who came on for the injured Laurent Koscielny, while his team that finished included Nicklas Bendtner, another player he is prepared to sell.

The young players gave everything but there was, inevitably, a costly mistake when Miquel's attempted clearance, under pressure from Suárez, who had looked offside in the build-up, ricocheted off Aaron Ramsey for a freakish own-goal. Wenger stood accused of exposing too much inexperience to such a high-pressure game and it was worth considering that Gaël Clichy, Emmanuel Eboué and Denílson, three players he has moved on this summer, would surely have featured if they were still at the club.

"I don't think the decision on the offside depends on our players," Wenger said. "We were a bit young, I agree, and we looked a bit naive in some situations, I agree as well. But we have shown a great spirit and we were really unlucky. We didn't deserve to lose."

Wenger maintains that he will add only players who can improve the quality of his squad yet he appears to have lost confidence in Sébastien Squillaci, who was absent on Saturday because of a mystery calf problem. If top Premier League clubs need four central defenders, then the task to find someone better than Squillaci ought not to be beyond him. Unless he intends to rely on Miquel.

Robin Van Persie missed a glorious chance on 69 minutes but Liverpool should have been in front by then and, after Frimpong's dismissal, they found a way through. "It's always been a complaint about the bench at Liverpool," Carragher said, "but to have the quality we did to come on [Suárez and Meireles] was instrumental in us killing the game. It just shows that substitutes are massive."

Arsenal's need for established reinforcements is glaring.

Man of the match José Enrique (Liverpool)