Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 1 2007
I am afraid there is little encouragement to take from yesterday, unless it provokes a reaction that sees us grip third place. But third place did not look like an attractive carrot for a lot of our players and unless they shake that pathetic self pitying attitude, it will be fifth place and the ignomnity of UEFA Cup football that will await them. I was looking for a reaction from Arsenal after the eleven days from hell, I wanted them to show themselves and everybody else that it was a giant misfortune and that next season starts here, that we would be a force to be reckoned with next year. That reaction has not arrived as the team have enveloped themselves in self pity. These tumours are difficult to remove, once they set in they become malignant and we have our work cut out salvaging fourth place. Regardless of how luminous the prize is at the end of the season, when these players pull on an Arsenal shirt they have an obligation to care, particularly when 3,000 people make their fourth visit to Anfield this season to see them.
The Gunners lined up with Diaby on the left, presumably because Wenger felt that Gerrard would line up on the right hand side. However, Benitez rotated with one eye on PSV, Riise, Finnan, Bellamy, Sissoko and Kuyt were left out, while Gerrard lined up as a centre forward. Looking at Pool's line up, I felt we had a real chance. However, hope evaporated on four minutes. Clichy endured a terrible start to the match, when you're being ripped to ribbons by a player as average as Jermiane Pennant you suspect it's not your greatest day. Pennant back heeled Arbeola in superbly on the right and Crouch beat Toure to his low cross to toe end Liverpool into the lead. After an initial period of shock, Arsenal started to play thelselves back into the game. Denilson, seeing that Fabregas simply could not be bothered, got a grip on the game and the ball. Eboue began to probe down the right and Adebayor grappled manfully as the Gunners constructed a number of promising moves. Hleb also looked to involve himself, but ruefully just had one of those days where his decision making was sloppy. Arsenal almost worked themselves an opportunity when Baptista latched onto Toure's high ball, but just could not manouver himself around Daniel Agger.
For all of our promising forward play, bereft of Gilberto there was no protection for the back four. Fortunately, Gerrard did not really take advantage of being given the freedom of Merseyside to flaunt his 'talent.' Another no mark performance against a big club for Stevie Me (even when we played as awfully as we did yesterday). His sole contribution was a pathetic piece of histrionics, under a Diaby challenge which yielded no contact, he cavorted with the turf in mock agaony. A miracle cure arrived in the shape of a yellow card, at which point the fruadster got to his feet. The chant 'Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he kisses the badge on his chest, then hands in a transfer request' reverberated around the Anfield Road End. A second arrived for Peter Crouch, Eboue did not close down Aurelio's awesome left wing cross and Crouch rose like a salmon to head home his pinpoint delivery. Ironically, Adebayor was presented with an identical chance moments earlier, but headed over. Chins rested firmly on chests at that point. The likes of Toure, Fabregas, Eboue (in fairness he lacked fitness), Clichy and Baptista were conspicuous by their absence and the aforementioned owe us an apology. Though Baptista did shoot wide from an Adebayor cross, it was a harder chance than it looked with the ball whipped across his body at pace. I don't know how Wenger deals with this, whether he tears a strip off them or gently reminds them that fourth is nowhere near in the bag, but I want to see big peformances from those players next week. Frankly, I think a period on the bench might be just as apt, but whether that will solve the problem I am not sure. Cesc was quoted as saying he was 'counting the days' until the summer this week, presumably he was counting backwards from three because I have seen more industry in economy class.
Gallas became something of a one man show at the back, rescuing a burnt out/apathetic Toure on innumerable occasions. Eboue and Clichy continued to watch Pennant and Aurelio float crosses in rather than prevent them. To me, it was painfully obvious that the marauding Diaby needed to be moved into the centre, as little pressure was being applied to the excellent Mascherano (though how was he not booked? Fabregas and Diaby committed one foul each and were both booked, Javier committed dozens). Gerrard tamely shot at Lehmann and Arsenal provided their first meaningful effort. Adebayor, presumably fed up with nobody else (Gallas and Diaby apart) coming close to matching his commitment, sought about doing something as his brilliant snapshot cannonned off the post. The game was well and truly over when a Pennant free kick (a debatable decision) was glanced in by Daniel Agger. The absence of Gilberto was painfully obvious as Liverpool exploited a back four lacking in height/fitness/understanding. Scouse minds drifted towards Tuesday and a brief geyser of hope emerged. Baptista's pinpoint cross was met with a firm header by Adebayor, but Reina tipped it brilliantly onto the post.
Arsenal did give the impressive away support something to cheer. Denilson's corner was flicked on by Toure, Reina brushed it to one side, only for Gallas to thigh it home from 'Lineker range.' Maybe this is our fox in the box, eh? Only Adebayor would have been a more deserving goalscorer. 'We're gonna win 6-3' rang out from the away end, and 'let's go ******* mental', we had to amuse ourselves somehow! Arsenal's play had more purpose, Ljungberg added some industry as they looked to capitalise on Liverpool's fleeting minds. Another goal would have made it very interesting. Another one duly arrived, but more poor defending saw it arrive at the other end. Pennant's side footed cross was narrowly missed by Gallas, and left Crouch to deftly turn Toure so expertly, that Toure's shirt ended up inside out, the elastic limbed Crouch fired the ball past Lehmann and the remainder of the game played out at an embarassing pace. The entrapy was concisely summed up by Fabregas, who quite deliberatley fired a thirty yard free kick high into the away end. As the final whistle sounded, Gallas and Denilson came over, the rest trudged off. Two players (two who actually tried as well) acknowledged the relentlessly enthusaistic support. Leaving home at 4am and shelling out £34 for a ticket all seemed to pay for itself. Cheers guys.LD.
Date:Sunday April 1 2007
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