In his post match interviews Rafa often talks about just “thinking about the next game”. However, since we moved into February is has been difficult not to view the next hurdle that faces us in terms of three games. Last Saturday’s against Everton, this one and the away fixture at Eastlands in two Sundays time.
Even allowing for a our recent form only the most optimistic of Liverpool fans would expect nine points out of nine from this triptych of matches, we are still some way of the form we know we can produce. Because of this it is easy to be philosophical about tonight however, as always, things aren’t that simple.
We began the game trying to stifle Arsenal, it was a fairly easy job as they didn’t play well. Had we continued in this manner and managed to shut them out for ninety minutes there would have been grounds for satisfaction despite the inevitable brickbats such negative play would attract. However, when Arsenal eventually scored and we came out of our shells and one was left thinking at the final whistle what would have happened had we been as expansive from the very start. If, if, if ….. only!
Rafa opted to keep things as they were from Everton only Srktel came and this was a forced change due to Kyrgiakos’ suspension. It was a satisfactory if ultimately guilty first half. My heart says one thing but at half time heads didn’t care if it was boring, lacking in chances and creativity and not one for the football purists. We are not in a position to call these tunes at the moment and after forty five minutes success was measured not by our “scintillating” football but in a frustrated and ultimately quiet home crowd, sometimes it’s necessary to simply take care of business and be ugly, sorry!
Arsenal weren’t exactly full of vim and vigour there only real chance being limited to a shot from Bendtner which he should have done better with. This undoubtedly helped us settle. As the teams went in at half time perhaps, having settled and weathered what wasn’t a particularly threatening storm, we would grow in the confidence and be more expansive?
It was certainly a promising start with Lucas firing over a few minutes after good build up involving Kuyt and Maxi. Later Gerrard released Ngog who went off on a run however as reached the area he discovered that Gallas had the legs to make the tackle. In the same minute Rosicky had the best chance of the game so far but his control let him down badly at the vital moment when all he had to do was fire home from six yards.
The game was opening up now so the forced substitution of Carragher (groin) for Degen was not a timely one. Almost immediately Bendtner succeeded in beating Reina however no less than three of our players were covering. The same player was then booked for diving around the edge of the area. Agger certainly touched him but it was outside the area and the faintest of contacts.
By now we were starting to come under pressure Rosicky blasted over as we were penned into our half. Arshavin, our recent scourge, was hauled off in favour of Walcott however, any relief we might have had was short lived as Rosicky crossed for Diaby who made no mistake with a good header.
Diaby was allowed to head home unchallenged. However, every one of the other Arsenal players was tracked by our defenders. The only defender free and very much in the vicinity of Diaby was Degen. The Swiss then compounded his evening by regularly losing the ball with a serious of misplaced passes and generally poor control, disappointing given our recent stinginess in defence and the fact that there were other options left sitting on the bench?
What to do now? With twenty or so minutes left then I guess there was no option but to go for it. Babel was bought on for Lucas and Gerrard dropped back. Something to give the opposition to think about? As the clock wound down one always thought that a goal was possible as Arsenal were less than convincing, not to mention sensible, in their attempts to close the game down. Babel finally found some space and crashed a fierce shot against the bar via Alumnia’s faint but vital touch. Later Maxi fired a weak shot on the turn, perhaps if he’d realised how much space he’d been granted he might have taken more time?
Last hopes of an equaliser via a Gerrard free kick were dashed as Fabregas clearly handled the ball in the wall. However a further kick, be it another free or a penalty, was not forthcoming. Did referee Webb bottle it, he had a clear view? Perhaps he decided to equal the earlier Arsenal claim involving Bendtner or was it just a very, very poor decision?
Whatever the case for all our hard work Arsenal have forged head for now. We now have to crack on, think about Manchester City, continue improving our football and therefore our chances of fourth place and perhaps, in view of what happened last tonight, be a bit more positive?
Arsenal: Almunia, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Diaby, Fabregas, Nasri (Rosicky 33), Song, Arshavin (Walcott 67), Bendtner, (Sagna 81) Substitutes: Fabianski, Sagna, Traore, Campbell, Rosicky, Walcott, Denilson
Liverpool: Reina, Agger, Insua, Carragher (Degen 54), Skrtel, Gerrard, Maxi, Mascherano, Lucas (Babel 78), Kuyt, Ngog, Substitutes: Cavalieri, Aurelio, Degen, Kelly, Riera, Spearing, Babel