Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday October 29 2007
I'm afraid you'll have to excuse any journalistic inaccuracies in this report. With a friend infuriatingly timing her birthday celebrations for Saturday night, and with the M6 infuriatingly jammed on my journey home from Merseyside, I've managed to clock up an impressive five hours sleep over two nights and my brain feels somewhat like a large slice of swiss Cheese. I arrived at the ground rather confident of at least a draw given the respective form of the two sides. But Anfield is always a difficult place to go and one has to be realistic. After observing the mandatory minute's silence for poor ickle Stevie Me's shock substitution last week, the game was underway with the infamous Anfield roar missing. There was a sense of apprehension from the home support, who sensed that this was not a good time to play us.
Liverpool lined up with three upfront, which didn't overly surprise me. No side has really pressed us back this season and put sustained pressure on our back line. Kuyt and Voronin also did an impressive job in pinning back Clichy and Sagna. However, this also left some space in midfield, where the battle was very engaging indeed. Mascherano, Alonso, Hleb and Fabregas all had fantastic games. It doesn't surprise me that Stevie Me has been universally lauded for what I felt was quite a lukewarm display from him, but being the media whore and one man PR machine that he is, nobody in the media dare point this out. Gerrard did however have the first say in the match. Having not yet seen highlights I can't comment too much on incidences in the build up to the goal, I felt there may have been a case for a foul by Gerrard on Flamini, I also had a very good angle on Fabregas' challenge on Alonso, which was penalised by Coward Webb (sponsored by tippex) and I was convinced it was a dive at the time, but I have subsequently been told by those who have seen replays that it wasn't. Anyway, that's all academic, because a feeble Arsenal wall allowed Gerrard to really wrap his right boot around the resulting free kick and smash Liverpool into an early lead.
Arsenal's response was very impressive indeed. Fabregas and Hleb manouvered with intelligence and took advantage of Liverpool's three man midfield. An glittering display of one touch, attacking football had the home support in contemplative silence, despite their side being in the lead. Conversely, despite their side trailing, the travelling Gooners were in mocking mood, teasing the hosts with regular renditions of 'Liverpool, HOOF the ball', while greeting Carragher and Hyypia's every touch with an expectantly mocking 'woooooooaaaaaahhhhh' before greeting the inevitable lump forward with a mischievous, 'HOOOOOF!' The aftermarth also had me smiling, with the Gooners stretching their vocal chords to the dullset tones of 'Arsenal, pass the ball.' The players made it no less a mocking retort than a manifesto, as the Gunners' glided across the turf with awe, Mascherano and Alonso biting hard at the winged heels of Hleb and Fabregas, whose understanding just seems to grow by the game.
Minutes after falling behind, the away side had a chance for an equaliser, Rosicky's impressive disguised ball put Adebayor through on goal, but Pepe Reina was out quickly to thwart him. More fine football from the Gunners' saw them go close again, this time Adebayor played in Rosicky, his goalbound chip was cleared by Hyypia as far as Eboue, but Hyypia was frustratingly well placed to beat out Eboue's firm volley from the goal line. Ironic, in a week where the Finnish defender has formed a propenisty towards guiding the ball into his own net. Liverpool threatened sporadically, with Torres clearly unfit, and Kuyt and Voronin proving industrious but impotent. A dipping Gerrard volley was excellently tipped over by Almunia. Pre match, Lehmann did not warm up with Almunia, choosing to warm up alone before joining the other outfield substitutes. It was a childish and pathetic gesture and frankly, I don't think he should be on the bench at the moment, he should playing at Underhill on cold Monday nights in front of shrill schoolkids. The Gunners' continued to play excellent football, but Adebayor's decision making in the box was very poot, thus we were a little too ineffective where it mattered. I have read a lot of thoughts this morning lambasting the performance of Eboue, which is totally unfair. I thought he had an excellent game on the right, his workrate was excellent and he linked up excellently with Sagna. Arsenal fans seem hellbent on having a scapegoat, and with Senderos and Song not on display, and Hleb playing too well for even the most blinkered supporter to criticise him, I guess Eboue is the new target.
Half time came and went with the Arsenal fans greeting news of a late winner for Blackburn with a rendition of 'Tottenham's going down, they're going down....', but it was much of the same in the second half, with Arsenal's approach play very impressive, whilst the quintet of Fabregas, Hleb, Mascherano and Alonso matched one another stride for stride. Crouch came on in the second half and would have been effective had he not been so isolated. But he nearly put the game beyond Arsenal when Alonso played him through, but he dragged his shot wide from inside the box. But Arsenal continued to play their football and carved out a gilt edged chance close to the hour mark. Hleb twisted and turned past Liverpool's bewildered midfielders and played in Eboue, his low shot cannoned out off the angle and straight to Cesc Fabregas, but with the ball travelling very swiftly, he guided the ball over with the goal revealing its hymen. Riise's dipping volley brought another agile save from Manuel Almunia. But the Gunners' broguth on Walcott, Gilberto and Bendtner, whilst Liverpool lost their best performers in Alonso and Mascherano to injury.
Walcott gave Liverpool a new problem with his pace, whilst Bendtner looks a little awkward at times (though his control is immense), but he has made a difference and caused problems in every single game I have seen him play in for us. The pressure on Liverpool told on 80 minutes, once again Alex Hleb was at the hub of it all. With Bendtner and Adebayor making defender occupying runs, Hleb clipped an astonishingly well weighted ball into the path of Fabregas, his compadre Reina hesitated and it gave Cesc all the excuse he needed to toe poke home the equaliser. Credit to Cesc, he did not allow his earlier miss to inhibit him and he now has a goal tally that is the envy of most Premiership strikers (ahem, Darren Bent). I rejoined planet earth just in time to see Webb book Fabregas for his celebration. To be honest, I didn't really see much of his celebration, my face buried as it was between a baying sworm of armpits and clnched fists. What is a shame is that celebrating a goal warrants the same punishment as Mascherano's flying lunge, where's the justice in that?
The Gunners' had the chance to take all three points on 86 minutes. Fabregas hit another of his now trademark curlers, which came back off the post. To rebound fell to Niklas Bendtner who agonisingly mimmicked Fabregas' initial effort by blazing the rebound over with Reina stranded. The away end was a sea of heads clasped in hands, it would have been a deserved winner. The final whistle sounded and a point was scant consolation for our performance, we dominated large periods of the game with some sumptuous football. Going a goal down did not deter the team from staying faithful to their game and staying patient, it was a big statement to go to a place like Anfield and play in such an uninhibited fashion, but a victory would have been a huge statement of intent and a great filip for the young players. What is clear is that this young team are proving themselves to be the real deal. Fabregas is scoring goals, Hleb is silencing a few doubters. Gallas and Toure were superb. In particular, a late block from Gallas on Crouch was of apotheosis stature. Both brought the ball out of defence with verve and swagger and Toure intercepted countless passes by charging out of the defence, snapping on the heels of the Liverpool midfielders. Liverpool were fortunate to escape with a point and they know it. It put me in mind of a an old Rolling Stones song, 'you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.'LD.
Date:Monday October 29 2007
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