Liverpool 4 – 4 Arsenal
0 – 1 Arshavin(36)
1 – 1 Torres (49)
2 – 1 Benayoun (56)
2 – 2 Arshavin (67)
2 – 3 Arshavin (70)
3 – 3 Torres (72)
3 – 4 Arshavin (90)
4 – 4 Benayoun (90)
Arsene said after the match that he was ‘half happy’. Little doubt that the other half of him was relieved, for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is that a ‘1’ could quite easily have been inserted before the ‘4’ in the Liverpool score were it not for an outstanding display under the circumstances by Lukasz Fabianski. Strange as it seems, the Pole had a blinding first half where he wiped away any doubts he had about his abilities with a string of excellent saves that allowed Arsenal to enter the interval with a goal advantage. Arshavin is garnering the headlines but it would a close call for Man of the Match.
Four goals away from home is no mean feat yet it is tinged with disappointment. To have held the lead three times – the last with barely two minutes remaining on the clock – and to walk away with one point is something that Wenger and the squad will regret. That Arsenal were battered for an hour and deserved to be trailing will temper that somewhat.
Liverpool started brightly and were able to dominate possession. Fabianski was called into action early on with a ‘routine’ save from Torres. Shortly afterwards, he had rolled back the years, diving at Benayoun’s feet in a manner that Bob Wilson would have been proud of. It was to set the mark for the game. Where Fabianski scores highly is his ability to ‘forget’ mistakes quickly. Make a hash of a cross? No problem – the next one is connected with.
When Fabianski was beaten, Nasri and Gibbs both popped up with timely interventions. I felt sorry for Gibbs all evening. He was exposed on the left, Liverpool regularly doubling up on him to get around the back and deliver a threat from the wings. To his credit, he did not let it ‘get’ to him and continued to fight until the last minute. Fortunately for Arshavin, he scored four goals for his all round contribution to the game was lacking. The flipside of that coin though is that the Russian did exactly what he was purchased for; scoring.
Unfortunately for him, his part in the fiasco that led to Liverpool’s second was punished. Silvestre, under pressure, played a poor backpass to Fabianski. He then was pressurised and played a poor pass to Gibbs, the stands a better option, surely? Gibbs then was pressurised and Kuyt repeated his cross for the equaliser when he capitalised on a poor Sagna clearance. Both goals avoidable from that perspective.
Liverpool will no doubt feel the same about the Arsenal goals. The first was a good team goal. Fabregas and Nasri both tackled Mascherano hard to dispossess him before working a neat passing move to free the Spaniard on the right for an excellent cross for Arshavin to score. He followed that by capitalising on a mistake by Arbeloa to drill home a fierce drive across Reina.
By this time the match became increasingly manic. Liverpool once more dominated possession and created some dangerous situations although tending to rely upon set pieces. Yet it was Arsenal who took the lead, Arshavin punishing sloppy defensive work in the hosts penalty area.
It was not the end of matters though. Walcott broke from a Liverpool corner and found the ideal pass to Arshavin who proved that he has technique his English counterparts can only dream of, by leathering the ball home with his left foot.
At that point, the game should have been closed out, even with a makeshift defence. Yet, as in last season’s Champions League, we failed to do so. On that occasion, the defence was considerably stronger in make-up than last night so the usual criticisms are being fielded. There is an element of truth in that. The current squad lack that crucial aspect of the game on occasion and that is the key. There are momentary lapses but to lay the blame entirely at the door of Silvestre is not correct. Collectively, there were mistakes but this quartet has probably not taken the field together before; that takes time together to adjust to.
One man who set an example to them all was Toure. Whatever ailed him on his return from last year’s African Cup of Nations has worked through his system and his performance last night was reminiscent of those that made him one of the best defenders in the world. He was everywhere, blocking, tackling at times like a whirling dervish.
A good point, tempered by the knowledge it could have been more. Even so, a confidence building result given the exit from the FA Cup at the weekend. More importantly, players are returning to fitness at the right time ahead of the Champions League clashes with United. Anyone worried by them should not. There is enough quality in this squad for progression to the final.
For those interested in a Liverpool perspective on last night, cross over to Have You Ever Been To Liverpool. ’til Tomorrow.