Under the circumstances, a point is a decent return. Beforehand, it was billed as a “must win” but the dismissal of Adebayor and Cesc’s injury may have far more telling consequences on the season rather than two dropped points.
A nervy start from Arsenal, the verve and fizz on the home match against Manchester United was missing but they grew as the game went on, taking more control. Liverpool for the most part were content to keep it tight. No complaints can be made about that for it is a tactical policy that has served them well away from home this season.
This culminated in van Persie popping up with a crucial goal. Created by a superbly picked Samir Nasri pass, his control, swivel and right footed drive highlighted all that is good about the Dutchman’s game. Criticism of Carragher and Agger diminishes van Persie’s effort. It was as good a goal as will be scored by Arsenal all season.
And it seemed that the interval would come with that lead in tact. Liverpool did not throw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser yet they found one. A route one goal if ever one will be scored this season. And a preventable one at that. Djourou is guilty of ball watching, not seemingly entirely sure where Keane was whilst Gallas was culpable for not being close enough to his defensive partner, evidenced by the fact that he nearly caught Keane as the Liverpool striker lashed the ball home. Could Almunia have reacted and charged out? I doubt it for he would probably have been beaten to the ball and lobbed, before being hung, drawn, quartered and tarred and feathered for good measure.
The goal shook the confidence of the home side and for the spell immediately either side of the interval, they were in the ascendency and had the chance to take the lead but despite controlling possession were surprisingly lacklustre in their application.
The impact of the equaliser was to mute the crowd for a while but once the second yellow for Adebayor arrived, the noise and intensity was as impressive as The Emirates has ever generated. And what of the two yellows? There can be little complaint about the first. Adebayor went over the top of the ball and caught the man. If the roles had been reversed, we would have been up in arms at the tackle.
My initial reaction was that the second was for dangerous play, a similar over the top tackle but seemingly harshly arrived at. To find out that it was for the theatrics of the Liverpool defender simply intensifies the dismay that the English FA’s highest ranked official can get decisions seemingly so wrong. The sense of injustice is heightened when Keane, Gerrard and Carragher all get away with varying degrees of foul play lightly by comparison.
The decision galvanised the team. Song had been quietly doing his job but stepped up into a higher gear as did Denilson. van Persie forraged on his own effectively. Had Cesc been on the pitch I do not doubt for one minute that an Arsenal win would have occurred. Instead, a supreme irony, one of the players earmarked for partnering him challenged (fairly) and Cesc came off worst.
Injuries to El Capitán come at bad times in the best of circumstances. This year though with visits to Hull and Villa do not bode well. His natural replacement would, for me, be Denilson but it leaves a hole on the right. Maybe Eboue will step up to the plate and put his torrid time behind him. More likely though is that Diaby will be brought into the centre with Bendtner partnering van Persie on Friday. The initial reports suggest anywhere up to a month’s absence. Scans will no doubt reveal the true extent of the damage today or tomorrow.
Wenger will still have concerns about the defenceA point means a certain madam’s vocal chords are still tingling but a win on Friday would change the complexion of the Christmas break.