Post Match View – Liverpool F.C.

Before the match, I reminded a fellow Gooner that it would be an opportunity for those whom Arsene has believed in to repay the faith. I singled out Theo Walcott. Let’s be clear however, almost the entire team need to show their worth now more than ever.

United and Chelsea dropped points in dramatic fashion yesterday. The trip to Anfield became crucial in how we see ourselves and in determining what role we will play in the title race. We just could not afford to do any less than take all three points. Being an also-ran this season is simply not an option.

The match was billed as the return of Andrey Arshavin. It would prove to be an appropriate description. Steven Gerrard stated in the build up that Arsenal were as afraid of Liverpool as Liverpool were of Arsenal. We certainly started the game like a team that looked afraid but regardless, I’m sure even the bravest Liverpool supporter was mindful of Andrey Arshavin’s presence and what it could mean.

The home team started as the more effective side. They were quicker and fought harder than we did. It seemed like they wanted it more. Why were we not winning the 50-50s? Why were we being second best in the battle for midfield? Did our players realize what was at stake?

Almunia was up to his usual act as early as the 10th minute when he kicked a safely delivered back pass from Traore straight into touch. There was no pressure on him. He just kicked the ball into touch, gifting possession back to Liverpool. Later in the broadcast, one of the match announcers mentioned that he doesn’t take pressure off his back four. How true!

It was an excellent point. He reacts well to shots, but he doesn’t do the things that help the men in front of him. Invariably, it leads to more pressure back on him.

In the 12th minute, Torres was put through by Gerrard. It was the kind of chance that Fernando Torres usually buries. We escaped.

A minute later, an attack that looked like offsides in its construction (as Vermaelen and Gallas would question after the play) led to Gerrard breaking into the Arsenal penalty area. He was chopped down by Gallas but only after a hard first touch. Howard Webb did not point to the spot. He could easily have done. We escaped again.

The Kop were in fine voice.
Liverpool were the better side.
Arsenal were playing with fire.

We would respond however, even if not in the most convincing manner. On 14, Cesc’s free kick was headed high by Vermaelen. On 19, Sagna’s excellent low cross won us a corner.

On 25, Gerrard’s free kick was punched by Almunia. Heart in throat every time the ball is sent into our box. What a shame! A club of our stature needs a much better keeper.

On 28, our First Half effort was encapsulated in a moment that made me cringe. Cesc and Nasri tracked back to help Traore. Fine! Johnson won a throw-in deep in our half. Still no harm done, but when the ball found its way to an unmarked Dirk Kuyt, and then to Steven Gerrard who was free to shoot from the top of the box, I wondered how Cesc, Nasri, and Traore could allow it to get through. Losing a one v three situation signals very poor defending. That is unacceptable in a game that you cannot afford to lose. Our performance overall was unacceptable.

Nonetheless we managed to escape, again. How many more chances would we get? ‘Firm the @#$% up,’ I thought. ‘Get in the game and fight for your lives,’ I pleaded silently.

Within minutes, I saw some semblance of urgency even if it was nothing to shout about. Nasri and Denilson shot but did not trouble the gigantic Pepe Reina. He’s not even be 6′ tall but he’s better at crosses than our No. 1. Sad!

On 39, Gerrard gave Neves an embarrassing sombrero reminiscent of PV4. He fouled Gerrard by sticking out his rear as the Liverpool captain went by. It was a stupid foul. Even if he’d allowed Gerrard to play on there were five blue shirts in position to help defend any threat. The resulting free kick reached Almunia at face level. Face level! It wasn’t fiercely struck. It didn’t swerve. It was kicked directly at him.

He chose to palm it away when he could have caught it. The ball landed directly in Dirk Kuyt’s stomach. He brought it down and shot past Gallas who had no chance to make a heroic goal-line clearance. And did I mention that the sequence was precipitated by Almunia’s horrible clearance from another well delivered back pass?

1-0 Liverpool!

‘WTF is going on?,’ I thought. A friend who is usually very supportive of the one-time candidate for England’s nN. 1 jersey sent me a text at that point, questioning his ability to help us achieve the big things we’re trying to achieve. I didn’t want to say I told you so. It would have been gratuitous if not just plain cruel but you’ve read my feelings on Almunia here before.

Half-Time came and we had not made a convincing show of intent. Our season, if not the careers of some of those Arsene Wenger has trusted in the face of harsh, sometimes vile criticism, was in the balance and THAT is all they could come up with?!?!

In April 2004, we’d just lost to Chelsea in the Champions League, to Man Utd in the FA Cup before that, and had fallen 2-1 behind Liverpool at Highbury. The Arsenal haters were rubbing their hands as a week that started with a chance at a treble now looked like a week from hell. Our EPL title chance was in jeopardy as we went into the locker room at Half-Time.

Robert Pires would later reveal that Arsene said nothing during the break. He just let the players contemplate what seemed to be on the verge of happening. The Second Half was an entirely different story. We’d eventually win 4-2 with Thierry Henry contributing a hat-trick which included what was voted the 10th best goal in Arsenal history.

Fast forward to Anfield, December, 2009. It was revealed after the match that the manager laid into the players with some serious venom. “The boss screamed,” said Cesc. “I’ve never seen him like that before. He was really disappointed in the First Half and said we didn’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt. And I think he was right.”

The Second Half was started with more urgency from Arsenal. We looked more lively. We made space where we couldn’t find any in the First Half. We looked much better but how could we not? On 50, a good Arsenal build up would lead to the over-rated Glen Johnson knocking the ball into his own net.

1-1 and GAME ON!

On 53, I noticed Sagna being a bit lazy. Let me correct myself – he was very lazy. I wanted to yank him through the screen by his blonde mane but I refuse to buy another television right now. I’m saving for a trip into space.

Torres took advantage and rounded the once nearly faultless Arsenal right back into the box after turning him like a top. He shot from a tight angle. Thankfully, Almunia saved when Kuyt was arriving in a frighteningly dangerous position. How Sagna can call that defending is beyond me.

On 57, Almunia took a booming goal-kick that was half cleared by that Liverpool defence. The ball landed to Benayoun who botched it up even further by sending it straight to Alex Song who was standing inside the center circle. Two passes later, Sagna squared to Cesc. Our captain lofted the ball across the Liverpool 18. Walcott jumped but did not make contact. Johnson had lost sight of Arshavin. The Liverpool full back stuck out his right foot and the ball seemed to bounce straight to our little genius. He unleashed one of his trademark short back-lift rockets off the post and into Reina’s net.

1-2 AFC! COME ON!

Liverpool never really threatened our goal after we took the lead. You could see them trying to raise the tempo as time ticked away but it just wasn’t in the cards. They simply are not the force they’ve been the past few seasons. There were substitutions and fouls and more substitutes and more fouls and eventually Howard Webb blew his whistle.

Three must points gained in the manner of a potential champion, a few weeks after losing to Sunderland in the manner of a team that threatened to win nothing. That is not the consistency we need. The manager has talked about the eventual champion being the team that shows the most consistency. We need to make sure that this victory places us on that path. It was a step in the right direction nonetheless on a good weekend for Arsenal Football Club.

I hope Almunia is dropped and Theo finds form soon. Neither is doing the manager any favors.

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