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It's A Tall Order But We're Taller

It's A Tall Order But We're Taller

A colossal trilogy between old adversaries is enough to have anybody with a pulse salivating with anticipation. But enough about the Robocop films, it was Champions League night at the Grove in an all Premiership encounter. Pre match I had dismissed Liverpool`s European prowess as irrelevant as this essentially was not a European match, but a two legged tie between very evenly matched opponents very familiar with one another. Liverpool`s expertise against continental sides is not to be dismissed, but we are no continental side and I always felt we would have something akin to two Premiership games with the variable of away goals thrown in for good measure. As the match kicked off to a booming chorus of "Rocky Rocastle", it was noticeable that there were many empty seats in the away enclosure. Word had circulated in the pub before the game that another Liverpool forgery scam had seen many Liverpool fans with genuine tickets in danger of not being able to see the game, as had happened in Athens at last year`s Final. Around midway through the first half the empty block of seats filled, so I assume order was restored. But I look forward to seeing who the Scousers will blame for this one; Kofi Anan has been keeping a low profile of late. Why not blame him?

The match began quite cagily as one would expect, with Arsenal gradually manoeuvring onto the front foot after fifteen minutes. Flamini lifted a ball over the top of the Liverpool defence and van Persie got too heavy a connection on it and spooned a difficult chance over the bar. Arsenal were warming up and van Persie received Hleb`s pass on the edge of the box and fired it low with his left foot, only for Reina to tip around the post. Arsenal were putting three men on Reina for corners, identifying his tendency to flap under pressure as hubris. It paid off after 23 minutes, van Persie swung in a left footed corner, Adebayor drifted away from the crowded goal line and hung superbly in the air to power a header past Reina and give Arsenal a precious lead and, in turn, give Adebayor a precious fillip of confidence.

Having absorbed the euphoria of the goal, myself, Jon and Trev all made the same signal, time to calm it down and keep it tight. This was not a Premiership encounter and our priority should have been not to concede before we think about building on our lead. Sadly, the players did not adopt that forte, and were instantly punished. Flamini tried to nick the ball away from Alonso and the ball ricocheted to the lurking Gerrard. He easily swanned past Eboue and Toure, the latter afraid to make a challenge in the box lest the turf happy Gerrard go down, and Stevie Me put in a low cross which Kuyt bundled home. It may not have made much difference, but why oh why Clichy attempted to clear from the goal line on his left foot from that angle I have no idea. Had he beaten Kuyt to the ball, he could only have spooned it into the net on his left, the only chance he had of clearing the ball was with his right foot. If you`re so one footed that you would rather score an own goal than use your other foot, you need to work on it on the training ground. A lot of these errors are beginning to creep into Clichy`s play and I`d put that down to mental fatigue. That said, the defending for the goal was poor all round, when we should have been at our most resolute, we were at our most vulnerable. The first half petered out for us thereafter, heads notably dropped.

So it was left to Wenger to lift his troops with another rousing team talk. Walcott replaced van Persie at half time who apparently had another muscle injury. I worry about RvP, I really do. Much like Rosicky, he is a top player, but if we cannot muster more than five games from him on the spin, we have to question his value to us in the long term. Let`s hope it`s just bad luck and nothing terminal. Liverpool forced an early opportunity to build a virtually unassailable advantage, when Skrtel knocked down Gerrard`s corner at the back post towards Kuyt and his close range shot was gathered impressively by Almunia amidst a sea of bodies. The away side ceased to be an attacking force thereafter, a hungry looking Walcott was the catalyst for a second half spent camped in Liverpool`s half, with the Gunners still looking laboured, Walcott cut in from the left and unleashed an exorset which flew inches past Reina`s left hand post. Crowd and players alike were mutually spurred on and the Gunners laid siege, with Liverpool comfortable with looking neat and compact. Alex Hleb, as he so often does, found space in the channel and cut the ball across goal, but Eboue`s composure deserted him and his weak effort was cleared off the line by Skrtel. Seriously, is there a player who panics more in front of goal than Eboue?

Arsenal could smell Scouse blood and went for the jugular, Eboue was replaced by Bendtner. Hleb picked his way through a series of challenges before being dragged back by Kuyt in the area. The referee amazingly did not give one of the clearer penalties you are likely to see in Europe this year. It seems to have gone like that for us recently, but it`s no use complaining about it, we`ll undoubtedly get a few dodgy ones to even things out. Probably during our pre season tour of Austria when we`re 7-0 up against Muffburger. Fate was to lift its skirt invitingly towards us once more only to withdraw the goods. Hleb, by now a constant threat on the left, wriggled to the by line, his cross was palmed away by Reina, only as far as Fabregas, who prodded goalwards, but Bendtner just could not get out of the way quickly enough and ended up unwittingly blocking the ball on its glorious path to goal. The resulting offside flag rubbed salt into the stigmata. Arsenal looked bereft of inspiration after that; exasperated and quiescent to the fact that it wasn`t our night. Liverpool got a smash and grab away goal and defended it resolutely. They were a compact unit and executed the archetypal away European performance. But I am not too down hearted about the result; I back us to score at Anfield as I would back us to score anywhere. The "special atmosphere" of Anfield is nothing but an over hyped media fed myth and the players have played there often enough to know that. Ostensibly, what we have is a one off game, which we have to go and win. We can be calm and play our game just as we would in the Premiership. It won`t be easy and will likely be another very tight affair; my own prediction is that this could go all the way to penalties. If we score first next week, the tie completely tips in our favour. It`s important to be defensively resolute and I think we have to drop Toure in truth; the guy just could not get up and down the pitch, which after four years of continuous football is understandable. We need strong heads and strong legs, because if the tie is still in the balance going into the last twenty minutes, you always fancy us to score. A good win on Saturday would set us up very nicely.LD.

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Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday April 3 2008
Time: 11:32AM


A good report LD. I didn't see anything of the game as I was travelling at the time but I get more from your reports than most of the media stuff which is always slanted based on the result rather than the game. Shame to hear about RvP he is one of the few players that carries a genuine goal threat for us. Frustratingly he is impossible to replace from the transfer market so we'll just have to hope that sooner rather than later he will have a decent injury free run. A short time back we held Chelsea 1-1 at their place in a CL affair but lost the home leg 2-1 at Highbury. I have the feeling that we could do the same to 'pool. But for now Saturday is all that matters.
03/04/2008 11:58:00
Mugged again!!!!! What is it that Arsenal have done that is so terrible to football? Why is every important game mugged away from us due to a ***** poor refs decision where he might as well blatantly say... I hate you so you wont win? OK, moaning done with... i doubt liverpool wil be able to last 90mins plus extra time without us scoring a goal at anfield. 11 men plus a ref behind the ball or not. I sincerely believe that we WILL see our way through to the semi's
03/04/2008 11:59:00
Very fair analysis of the game - not so sure that the atmosphere can be written off though. Sadly Anfield's not what it used to be for all but the biggest domestic occasions but on European nights it's still something to behold. As much for the motivation of our own players as the unsettling of the opposition. My natural pessimism suggests that you will score first and a further night of unbearable strain on the old ticker - the champions league will be the death of me.
03/04/2008 12:09:00
Good report LD. Agree with you on the defensive performance and Toure. Frustrating to see so many soft goals conceded recently, and Toure looks horribly out of form and/or is exhausted. Its better for the team and himself, if he's rested for a while, starting this weekend. I share your optimism about the return leg, but we still need to fix our defence. We cannot afford to concede such goals at Anfield. From a creative standpoint, I thought the team had a good game. The passing was back, we opened up their defence on a few occassions but didnt take those chances. Cesc, Hleb & Flamini had their usual excellent games. So, there were positives from the game as well.
03/04/2008 12:35:00
LD, fairly balanced and fair article there! I am chuffed with 1-1 and we were lucky that the peno was not given and lucky Bedtner got in the way! But other than that I dont think we were under much danger, I normally squirm whilst watching us away in Europe, but last night was different and I firmly believe that if Torres was in the positions Voronin was in we could have done more with the late breaks we had. They only thing I dont agree with you on is " The "special atmosphere" of Anfield is nothing but an over hyped media fed myth and the players have played there often enough to know that". Mate, European nights are different to PL, CC and FA Cup games and im sure Cheslea fans will tell you that! When you conceded the goal from Kuyt, your fans were quiet til the second half, if that was Anfield, they would be louder. You have never witnessed a European night in Anfield and it pains me to say it, but it is 20 times louder than your PL match etc, even against the toffees and mancs in the PL. All I am saying is, underestimate it at your peril, your players will not know what hit them ala, Cheslea in 05 & 07, Juventus 05, Inter 08 etc! Good luck saturday and next tuesday YNWA
03/04/2008 12:55:00
You were better than them and I think that it was a clear penalty in your favour. I think that if you play like you did yesterday and have a bit of luck you'll manage to throw them out of the cup.
03/04/2008 13:07:00
why do liverpool fans think anfield is such a fortress...your record there is awful, a couple of defeats and god knwos how many draws. i agree. arsenal will definately socrte, and so liverpools away goal is meaningless. tbh, i though liverpool needed to win or score more than one yesterday to have a chance of progessing, but a 1-1 draw i belbvie suits arsenal better. they will go all out attack at liverpool, and with carracgher, skrtl and reina you are bound to score at least one. im just hoping liverpool dont rest players on saturday.....but knowing rafa they will.
03/04/2008 13:21:00
I can't put my finger on it but we lack something as a side. I think we look a small and relatively inexperienced side and the balance ain't right. Lehmann coming back into the side and two more experienced outfield players are neeed. Ade did alright but he seems to be trying to be Henry in his style of play at the moment. Eboue should have been played at right back and Theo should have started. That said, we can definitely go to Anfield and win. Their only real threat is Gerrard and Torres.
03/04/2008 13:28:00
That's a good point the Mank has touched upon there, Saturday's teams... we're still going for an outside chance of pushing them all the way.. whereas the mickeys, as ever, have got fk all to play for in the league. That could be the death of us.
03/04/2008 13:43:00
Excellent report, LD. I agree that this could go to penalties, which I seriously do not want because Reina is a superb penalty stopper, one of the world's best, he's a better penalty stopper than Buffon and Cech. Gooner_Vin, you said exactly what I've been thinking lately, this team lacks balance--which is surprising because AW constantly talks about the need for a balanced team to be champions. Late last night I re-watched the game and I've revised my first opinion of Pool--LD is right, they came with a plan, stuck to it, were very compact and steady, professional, and it worked. Also, thanks to the Pool fans who've posted here, you've been civil, relevant and sensible. Like so many other gooners, if we have to lose to one of the top PL teams, I'd rather it be to you guys. Gooners, we're not out of this, let's keep the faith.
03/04/2008 13:48:00
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