Arshavin’s Anfield Adventure

I’m still trying to come to grips with the madness that enveloped Anfield last night.

In a see-saw, dramatic match yesterday, only two real things came clear. The first is that we have essentially ended Liverpool’s title hopes. I don’t say that with any sort of ill will, but twenty years after Michael Thomas flopped like a fish to celebrate an incredible title clinching goal, Andrey did the same, taking four shots and scoring foul goals. The last time somebody scored four goals at Anfield during a League match was 63 years ago. The second is that Andrey Arshavin is on his way to becoming a proper Arsenal legend.

Do not mistake what Arshavin said today as modesty. He couldn’t be any more honest about his own performance. Stating that he was “invisible” in the first half, apart from his goal, he vowed to be even better next year after a full pre-season under his belt. The staggering thing about this statement is that it’s absolutely true. A player of his ilk is floating by on talent alone at this point, and once he becomes accustomed to his teammates, watch out.

I cannot say enough about the quality of his finishing, but perhaps it would be better to go through the match in order to place them within a finer context.

Entering this match, in my mind, the most vital thing was giving a performance that proved that we had character. After a morale draining FA semi, most assumed that we were ripe for the taking, with Liverpool coming off a full week of rest. For Fabianski, it would prove an occasion for him to show some spine or shrivel up and vanish forever. Although Gerrard wasn’t fit for selection, make no mistake, it was almost the first team XI for Liverpool.

At the start, we weathered a storm. Liverpool’s energy levels were so high, and they had much more at stake than us honestly. To wrest the title from United’s grasp, they would need to win every single game from here on out. And with their hardest remaining fixture coming against us at home, it looked feasible.

Remember last year when we went to Anfield? That was such a dominant performance by us, that a draw was an extremely flattering result for Liverpool in that match. We passed them off the pitch at Anfield, and I couldn’t help but notice the gulf in class that day.

The first half was the reverse of that game, with key differences of course. We had 60% of our defense missing, as well as Adebayor and van Persie. It was really only the heroics of Fabianski that kept us in it. Torres looked lively, Kuyt looked energetic, and we weren’t stroking it around.

And of course, we scored first. Cesc and Nasri worked to nick Mascherano near their penalty box. With clever movement, Cesc stayed onside to square for Arshavin; he buried the opportunity and the trademark celebration was unleashed.

We had scored against the run of play, but the movement and finishing was top class. The half quickly came, but I knew this game had more goals in it.

The second half, as mentioned before, was pure madness. It was a spectacle to rival any match in world football this year in terms of drama.

After Bacary (who looked completely off-color) failed to clear the ball properly, Kuyt’s second cross was met by Torres’ head with great force. It was an extremely professional finish that highlighted that Torres is for real; he is a quality striker. Soon thereafter, Silvestre asked way too much of Fabianski. His back pass was too weak, and Fabianski was pressured into making a weak clearance. The ball reached Gibbs, but Gibbs’ clearance was poor also. A cross into the box saw Yossi Benayoun head in over the line. On this goal, our defense was a comedy of errors from four different players; Silvestre, Fabianski, Gibbs, and Toure in that order.

But there had to be more.

Arbeloa was nicked by Arshavin, and he unleashed a wicked right footed shot that was virtually unstoppable. Minutes later, a poor clearance from Aurelio gave Arshavin the opportunity to score another goal. His Anfield hat trick was complete.

A Riera long ball found Torres, and he turned Silvestre inside out before lashing a shot in the lower left right corner. When I saw this, I immediately flashed back to when Torres killed Senderos to put Liverpool up 2-1 in the Champions League Quarter Final last year. It was 3-3, and I remarked to a person standing beside me, “there is still 17 more minutes to go.”

From a corner, nearly identical in a sense to the Champions League tie again, Theo ran off like a rocket. I didn’t think there would be an outlet, but there came Arshavin, running like a speed duck. Theo squared the ball, and Arshavin smoothly took it in stride. Reina came out to make himself big, but no matter, Arshavin dispatched a howitzer with his left foot.

It was four. Four goals at Anfield in a pivotal tie. No offense to The Beast, but this was a more impressive double brace. Surely, the game was over.

We had been overrun by Liverpool. They needed the three points here, and we were on the verge of nicking all three.

I didn’t rest easy though. Not with Benayoun on the pitch. I’ve seen my fair share of Benayoun winners, and there was one more twist to this tale. Abou Diaby, put on as a sub for Nicklas Bendtner, failed to win the ball from Xabi Alonso. In came the ball, and of course Benayoun poached it to tie the game.

4-4. Incredibly there were two more incidents, a goal disallowed because Cesc was offside and a Liverpool appeal for handball.

The truth is, a draw was a fair result.

There were defensive errors aplenty, but in terms of pure drama, there is no way this match will be topped this year. Unlike the Tottenham 4-4 draw, the finishing in this game was near majestic. There’s a saying that the difference between the Championship and the Premier League is the ruthless finishing, and this match showed that in abundance.

What is the fallout from all of this?

Cesc was disappointed in the defending. We all should be, that is true. But it was a patchwork defense doing their best, against a Liverpool team that desperately needed the three points. I think Silvestre is trying his best, but he neither has the pace to keep up with his brain, nor the ability to keep up with his experience. He is a stop-gap, and he frequently asks too much of Fabianski. Fabianski is a quality prospect, a very talented one, but his footwork needs improving and needs to read the game a little bit better. We are deprived of William Gallas, and it does show.

That being said, when the final whistle blew, it was Liverpool who revealed that they had lost hope. Reina, Torres, Carragher, they all might as well have collapsed on the pitch. This fixture has drained them completely. It is the sort of game that sucks the life out of you, where superiority sometimes doesn’t mean very much, where modern day gladiators roam and destroy teams with clinical precision.

It is not often where you get to witness the birth of a legend. One day ago, I claimed that Arshavin was a better player than Benayoun. I was right. If you want to put it in mathematical terms, it would be:

Arshavin > Benayoun

On this night, it was:

Arshavin = Torres and Benayoun

Let’s take it even further:

Arsenal on three days rest, with 60% of our backline and two top strikers missing = Liverpool without Gerrard but at home with a full week’s rest.

Next year, we will be serious title contenders. With some help in the defense, we have more than enough to make a serious run at it.

And to those that questioned Arsene’s decision to bench Arshavin, well, he showed you why. Don’t mistake this performance as evidence for Wenger’s “mistake” in not fielding Arshavin at the start on Saturday. Instead, understand what was needed to conjure up this performance at Anfield.

About a year ago, Liverpool crushed my heart when Ryan Babel dived to win a penalty against us. Now, Arshavin has left their title hopes in ruins. Of course, we could have used the three points (seeing as Chelsea drew today against Everton), but the memory of witnessing this game will last for a lifetime.

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