Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal (CL, 2nd leg)

So, after two recent draws (1, 2), it's Liverpool who establish an aggregate victory and progress to the Champions League semi-finals - and pretty much ending a season that had initially promised so much for the Gunners.

I have to say, this was the most nervous game of football I've endured in a long time, probably more than either of the recent CL finals I've experienced. It was always going to be close, but the way Arsenal began looked ominous - they were all over us, opening the scoring after just twelve minutes. I always though one away goal wouldn't be enough! Thankfully, at Anfield, almost anything is possible and - having been very much under the cosh for almost half an hour - we equalised when Hyypia lost Senderos at a corner to head home. I'm not so sure whether it was our belief growing or Arsenal (who'd been on the back of a poor run, until beating Bolton) faltered, but certainly the goal swung things in our favour.

If Arsenal had had the best of the first half hour, then we probably edged the next third of the match - either side of half-time - coming out after the break all guns blazing in the search for a winner (at 1-1, the prospect of extra-time and penalties loomed). No surprises who delivered, in front of the Kop - Torres scoring a goal worthy of winning any match. The 2-1 lead (on the night) was always precarious, however, because another away goal for Arsenal would take them through.

At this stage, both teams were looking tired and nervy, but while Liverpool may have been caught between whether to stick or twist, there was only one option for Arsenal - to attack. The commentators had been warning all game about the impact Theo Walcott could make, coming on from the bench to run at tired defenders, and their words proved prophetic as - after a fluffed corner at the other end - he was allowed to run most of the length of the pitch and cross for Adebayor (with two other Arsenal players) to tap in from close range. It was a great run, passed several players, although to be honest I was disappointed with the defending. Had it been Hyypia, instead of Aurelio, on the half-way line I guarantee he'd have - as the commentators put it - 'taken a yellow [card] for the team' (i.e. cynically brought Walcott down, although - unlike Rob's favourite Solksjaer moment - with cover behind him).

I'd been literally shaking with nerves during parts of this match and now, with one late (85th minute) goal looking likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat, I was utterly deflated. When the commentators had earlier been building up Walcott's potential impact, however, I'd been reassuring myself that our own Babel is also quite an impact player, and so he proved. Just minutes after the goal, he charged into the Arsenal area before going down under contact from Toure. The penalty gave us a chance to restore our lead (3-2), but it took nerves of steal from Gerrard to score - seemingly completing a real rollercoaster of a match. In fact, there was time for Babel to prevent any further see-sawing, as a long ball gave him the opportunity to race through Arsenal's half (the tired Fabregas was never going to catch him, despite his despairing attempt to grab Babel's shirt) and slot in the decisive fourth.

It's hard to sum up such a match; it's a real shame either team had to lose (of course, I'd far prefer Arsenal to Man Utd or Chelsea). At the end of the day, whether through inexperience, lack of squad depth or (related) tiredness Arsenal lost. Of course, Wenger's first response was to blame the ref. While I think Toure's challenge on Babel probably did merit a penalty, I have to admit that it was probably no worse that Kuyt's on Hleb in the first leg, so in that respect Arsenal can count themselves unlucky to have one given against them but not get one themselves. Neither, however, were cast iron penalties, so perhaps to the extent that one makes a 50/50 challenge in the box one opens oneself up to moral luck...


  1. What lost Arsenal that game is the fact that Senderos is not a good enough central defender: he lost Hyppia for the first goal, and should have been tighter to Torres for the second. If Sagna hadn't got injured, Toure, who is clearly better, would have been playing there instead. Flamini going off probably didn't help either. Not a big enough squad.

  2. I'm surprised that, after Sagna's injury, they didn't shift Eboue back to right back (where I seem to recall he used to be quite good, if more so offensively).

    That or they could have played Toure in the centre of defence and Song-Billong (or even Senderos) as right back.

    In any case, I'd like to point out we've been missing Daniel Agger almost all season (since Sept). They were unlucky to lose Flamini during the match though.

  3. The problem with shifting Eboue to right-back is that their first choice right winger, Rosicky, is injured as well. Unless you think Walcott's going to last a whole game - which, rightly or wrongly, Wenger clearly doesn't - that means Eboue. Also, Eboue not good enough either: can't defend well enough to be a right-back, can't cross well enough to be a winger. Not a big enough squad.

  4. If their only options for the right side are Rosicky (rw), Sagna (rb) and Eboue (rb/rw), then you're right - not a big enough squad.

    I thought they always had lots of youngsters and utility players though, and it's not so unusual to see midfielders played as right backs.