Liverpool 1 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Rosicky (37)
0 – 2 Rosicky (45)
1 – 2 Kuyt (71)
1 – 3 Henry (84)
For the first time since Chelsea went out to Manchester United just a decade ago, the holders of the FA Cup have been dumped out of the competition in the Third Round. Arsenal’s solid and impressive defensive performance got its just reward with an excellent win at Anfield yesterday, a better result than any of us would have hoped for. For all of their possession, Liverpool breached the defence just once – another soft goal conceded from a set play – and only came close to scoring on three other occasions. Forget what the pundits tell you about how unlucky Liverpool were, Arsenal looked comfortable in carrying out their task. The centre of midfield, Gilberto and Flamini, shackled Alonso and Gerrard well, whilst the centre of defence, Toure and Senderos, were superb in their marshalling of Kuyt and Crouch.
The performance exceeded that produced at Old Trafford in its display of counter-attacking football and rivalled that produced at Stamford Bridge in terms of fight; the difference was the wall created in midfield and defence was rarely breached. Arsene produced a surprise with the omission of Jens Lehmann but the rest of the team was pretty much as expected. It was obviously not the day to play your first choice ‘keepers as Benitez tinkered some more and dropped Reina. The absence of Fabregas put the onus on Tomas Rosicky to provide the “flair” for the team and he lived up to the expectation; two excellent goals sealing probably his best performance in an Arsenal shirt.
The game opened with Liverpool on the attack, lots of possession for not a lot of end product. Their home form is the reason that they are in third place and they played with the confidence that their run has imbued. The incident of note brought a booking for Xabi Alonso. Gilberto miscontrolled the ball on the edge of area, Alonso leapt to avoid the Brazilian’s lunge and left his trailing foot to con the referee. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, Bennett was stood a matter of feet behind him and quite rightly produced a yellow card. The incident was the catalyst for the game to pick up pace.
RvP broke and held off challenges before finding Hleb, whose shot was blocked. Alonso then hit an excellent volley just wide but this was the precursor to Rosicky stepping into the limelight.
A marvellous interchange of passes with Hleb down the right hand side of the pitch found the ball coming to Rosicky at pace on the edge of the area. Without hesitation, he curled an instant shot over Dudek, reminiscent of Mathieu Flamini’s strike in the Kremlin. To have gone into the break one down would have disappointed Liverpool but that turned worse as Henry, RvP and Rosicky combined with a strong passing move that found Rosicky on the edge of the area. The Czech waltzed past two challenge and planted a low shot beyond Dudek into the corner of the net; 2 – 0 and the second half set for a Liverpool onslaught. Whilst that proved the case in terms of possession, the home team found it difficult to create clear chances on goal.
RvP had two chances to put the tie beyond doubt but was unable to do so thanks to Dudek and a poor piece of control. Liverpool finally pulled on back with twenty minutes to go when the previously ineffective Crouch headed into the six yard area and found Kuyt unmarked to head home. A disappointing goal to concede having defended so well, Almunia should have at least given the Dutchman a good clattering for his efforts. Liverpool then produced ten to fifteen minutes of solid pressure when for the only time in the game, Arsenal were second best. Aurelio’s shot across the face of goal though was their best effort. With five minutes to go, Henry settled the match. Picking up the ball in the centre circle he turned and played the ball ahead; the extent of his recovery was shown when he caught Carragher and the defender made a hash of the clearance, falling to the ground. Henry sprinted into the area, cut inside Agger and shot low under Dudek’s body, 3 – 1 game over. Two months ago, Henry would not have taken that opportunity, in all probability a petulant kick out at Carragher would have occurred. A month’s rest has done him the world of good.
Progress in the competition was made thanks to a good team performance. Everyone harried and chased, tackling to the best of their abilities. Flamini and Gilberto were excellent in the centre and Senderos has rediscovered the form that he showed in the second half of last season.
And so to the Sunday’s; The News Of The World reports that Freddie has been told he can leave, even going to United, Chelsea or Liverpool. The probable destination is thought to be Portsmouth, Newcastle, Everton, Watford or West Ham. Having said earlier this week that I thought he would be the big name to leave in 2007, I am not surprised by this report but not sure as to its veracity. Certainly, I cannot see Chelsea or Liverpool coming in for him and would be surprised if United did, their prime target appears to be Owen Hargreaves whose price rises every day, currently at £22m (€30m). That’s 10% more than Friday, Bayern seemingly annoyed at United’s insistence on dealing with the media to get their man and also a perceived derisory offer of £12m (€18m). Another Arsenal target, Gareth Bale is also on Darth Fergie’s shopping list although Southampton seem reluctant to sell. Which means the lad will probably leave tomorrow.
The same newspaper alledges that United have tapped up Adebayour, contacting his Agent to see if he would like to sign for them. I am sure it is a wild coincidence but apparently the same Agent is meeting with Arsenal to get his client a pay rise from his current £20k per week. Personally, the two stories about Freddie and Huggy neatly dovetail to make some sense (as all good speculation should) with Arsenal needing to offload one high earner to pay for another in order for this year’s books to balance. Good sense too for Freddie has not done anything of note in the past couple of seasons, 54 games with 3 goals is not the standard he had set for himself. It is probably the right time for him to move on, ensuring that his memory in our minds is not diminshed too much.
Finally, again from the same paper (OK you’ve twigged, its the only one I’ve had chance to read this morning…) is the news that Arsenal and Liverpool are “on the trail of £10.5 million Celta Vigo sensation, Borja Oubina“. The story comes from the fact the midfielder wants to play in England (ker-ching!) but unfortunately for him, the two clubs in question have diddly-squat in the Piggy Bank (D’oh!).