If only I were promised a pound for every time the words “luck” or “lucky” will be used in discussions about this game. However, to view it purely in those terms is a disservice to us. Amongst all the ballyhoo about penalties, home side pressure and domination one should not forget that this result is largely down to the way our team acquitted itself. Grit, strength of character, taking the few chances you get and, above all, a stubborn unwillingness not to buckle, not to mention coolness, under pressure. “Luck is what you have left over after you give 100 percent.”
Liverpool made two changes Aurelio and Mascherano replaced Riise and Lucas.
The first fifteen minutes were nervy with no shots on goal. The only hairy moment involved Reina who charged out and messed up a one on one with Adebayor. Fortunately he recovered enough to make the block. Not heartening given his keeping at Old Trafford a few weeks ago.
Slowly things began to open up in favour of the opposition. Van Persie had a couple of good chances, the first miss being particularly poor. However he was to atone for this with a cross, from a short corner, which an unchallenged Adebayor headed firmly home. It was a poor goal to concede demonstrating yet again our vulnerability from set pieces. Skrtel and Hyypia went in opposite directions opening up space for Adebayor however, there were also two other Arsenal players in the box who were unmarked. One wonders if the same mistake would have been made had Carragher been centre half however, that’s being harsh on Srktel and Hyypia who, aside from this error, acquitted themselves well.
Thankfully we didn’t have time to pick over the goal. Any poor defending Liverpool can do Arsenal can do better? Gerrard slalomed past three defenders who were probably worried about bringing him down inside the box nor were they were able to block his cross. Kuyt, not exactly the quickest player in the world, was allowed to slide in and poke it home with another two Arsenal players dithering in his wake.
The goal seemed to galvanise us just as much as it shocked Arsenal and we enjoyed the better of the half. Babel went close and then Gerrard sent in two free kicks that caused the Arsenal defence problems. The second should have seen us take the lead but Kuyt’s shot, after a good knock back by Hyypia, was fumbled and then eventually gathered by Almunia.
Into half time feeling fairly confident. If we could continue to take the game to Arsenal there would be more goals especially if their defence repeated their it’s first half performance? However the period after the goal proved to be the last of what we would see in the way of decent chances.
Shortly into the second half Arsenal bought on Walcott and the effect was instant. Besides shooting just past the post he instigated a number of raids on our goal which were only stopped by out stretched Liverpool toes. This seemed to inspire the home team and what can only be described as a siege in our half developed. Benitez bought off Babel for Benayoun to make us more compact but the pressure continued.
As for the penalty claim I’m not about to take the Dirk Kuyt line (“I was never a penalty, but it was close”) nor can I bring myself to say that the referee was right, I’m just glad he was wrong! It’s pity he wasn’t interviewed after the game. “Mr Vink, as a Dutchman what prompted you not to give a penalty against the Dutch International and neighbour Dirk Kuyt?”
Before the claim Eboue had one cleared off the line after more good work from Walcott and after that Bendtner forgot who he was playing for and appeared to clear Fabregas’ goal bound shot off the line!
The stats say Arsenal dominated. They had more possession and more shots and the fact that we made twice as many tackles is an indication of the pressure, particularly in the second half, they put us under however we did invite them on to us more than perhaps we should have done. Perhaps Arsenal should have mixed it up a bit more? Their passing is very good but whilst they were weaving pretty patterns we were given time to regroup, get behind the ball and make more stops.
No one from Liverpool should worry about the pressure we were put under. It is the nature of European football, they were the home side so we knew they would dominate for long periods but we held out and, with a bit of luck thrown in, contained them. Every one of our team, particularly the defenders, worked desperately hard and came through. It was an admirable and thoroughly professional job and, amongst all the angst and debate that will surround the penalty over the next day or so, that fact should not be forgotten.
Advantage us for the second leg? Our away goal is certainly precious but I cannot see the Anfield game ending 0-0. I don’t think Arsenal will be too deterred. One goal from them, which they are more than capable of getting, and it’s a different game. This tie is far from over. A fraught, tense night in L4 beckons.
Arsenal: Almunia, Toure, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy, Eboue (Bendtner 67), Flamini, Fabregas, Hleb, Van Persie (Walcott 46), Adebayor.
Subs Not Used: Lehmann, Diaby, Song Billong, Silva, Justin Hoyte.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso (Lucas 76), Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (Benayoun 57), Torres (Voronin 85). Subs Not Used: Itandje, Riise, Crouch, Arbeloa.