Arsenal 1 – 1 Liverpool
0 – 1 Crouch (42)
1 – 1 Bendtner (53)
If this was a must-win match, there was nothing to indicate that the eleven Arsenal players on the pitch thought that was the case in the opening forty-five minutes, by which time as is customary these days, they were a goal down. Arsene would not admit afterwards that the gig was up for the Premier League title but you could see from his body language that he knew it would take a fall of Devon Loch proportions from both Chelsea and United for the pot to return to North London.
Changes were made with Traore, Hoyte, Gilberto, Walcott and Bendtner all starting, everyone they replaced with the exception of van Persie sat on the bench. In the opening twenty minutes, the team played like a bunch of strangers who were meeting for the first time. They lacked the spark, the intensity, as if they accepted the title had gone with the number of changes that Arsene had made. Perhaps they believed that his higher priority was Tuesday’s return leg at Anfield?
Whatever it was, Liverpool were sharper to create chances and perhaps should have taken the lead in this spell. They did not and Arsenal got to grips with them, Fabregas shooting just wide, unable to convert a chance reminiscent of Kuyt’s goal in midweek and Bendtner criminally missing from the edge of the area. It was a clear chance and one that would have changed the outcome. Rather like the Arsenal season, his finishing was flat. Much of that has to do with the lack of cohesion; he and Walcott were isolated too easily by the Liverpool defence and midfield. Something had to change and it did when Crouch drilled home from the edge of the area. That the Liverpool striker won the ball in the air initially was not a surprise but allowing Benayoun to return a pass unchallenged from that was a lack of concentration.
Half time intervals are proving to be Arsene’s Piece de resistance at the moment. Whatever is going in the cuppa is working wonders. Toure gave Liverpool a warning of what was to come, heading wide early in the second half. The visitors defence did not learn and when Bendtner was given a free header, he atoned for his earlier miss by scoring from close range. Level and game on.
From that point, it was a typical Arsenal performance in recent months. Lots of possession but few clear opportunities to grab the points. Lots of half-chances that could have been goals had a Liverpool head or body not got in the way; Flamini forced a save from Reina but perhaps the afternoon was best summed up with the final chance falling to Hleb; a confident striker of the ball would have got a shot away earlier – indeed had this been in September, I think Hleb would have done – but his first touch took him away from goal and the chance went begging.
Some talk of a penalty being denied but to be honest, whilst it was foul play when Lukas pulled at Fabregas, in the English game spot kicks are rarely given for that sort of thing. And it seems in the Champions League too…Arsene said afterwards,
Of course it’s a massive game, who would say that the Quarter-Final of the Champions League is not?…We will play our game on Tuesday night and try to win the game, and give absolutely everything, and after, anyway, our season has not been disastrous, you know? People expected us to be between ten and twelve [in the league] at the beginning of the season so we are beyond expectation
Tuesday is indeed the make or break part of the season. ’til Tomorrow.