Monday, 18 April 2011

It was bedlam. And then Eboue struck. Liverpool match report.

Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1

Even the guy in the row behind me who wouldn't shut up had stopped. After Van Persie's free-kick had been claimed by Reina, it looked like the game was up, like the title was gone.

The fourth official had signalled eight minutes of injury time, and though we had only played five minutes, we hadn't created a chance of note.

I was convinced that the passing patterns weren't going to work, and that we needed to pump it long to Nicky Bendtner.

But that isn't the Arsenal way, instead they knocked it around, worked the ball, and it came to Cesc Fabregas. A quick 1-2 with Samir Nasri brought him into the box, and Jay Spearing clipped his heels. Van Persie stepped up...

And bedlam. Absolutely mental. It was truly hug a stranger time, one of the great moments in the new stadium, and it looked very much like the League title was still alive.

It was wonderful.

Until that point it had felt much like the other recent home games. Lots of possession, lots of passing, but few clear-cut chances. Pepe Reina fumbled a Walcott shot at his near-post, Koscielny headed against the bar, but we weren't exactly laying siege to the Liverpool goal.

And yet, it wasn't enough. It was, once again, the best of times, the worst of times.

The equaliser hurt bitterly. You can blame a lot of people: I think the point about time being up, is less about the amount of time played, and more that the players clearly thought it was done. If not, why did Dirk Kuyt shoot from the kick-off?

But having said that, we had the ball. And I would blame Szczesny quite a lot. Pepe Reina was time-wasting for the whole second half. But Wojciech kept the ball for but a few seconds, and then kicked it long. He's a good goalkeeper, but his kicking is woeful. And surrendering cheap possession when Liverpool were throwing their whole team forward is just daft.

You can blame the ref for giving a dodgy penalty, and you can blame Eboue for getting into a position when he could do that. But whoever you blame, it was one of our lowest moments in a long time.

And yet the one man you can't blame is Arsene Wenger. Suppose for a second, that the penalty should have been given: is he suddenly guilty for picking a player like Eboue who's a bit of an idiot? No, not really. Clichy has also mindlessly given penalties away in the minute of matches before. In reality, his third change was incredibly brave - bringing on a holding midfield player when we were chasing the game, but it was also the right change, as we were beginning to get over-run after Wilshere's withdrawal. For me, Wenger had a good day.

As an aside, quite why Liverpool celebrated as they did was a little beyond me, they'd drawn one game, not won the League but I guess that's somewhat irrelevant.

Ultimately, it's amazing. Go back to April 2008, and we also conceded a goal immediately after scoring a goal which looked decisive against Liverpool. And the inevitable question which follows from that is how much has changed? Truth told, have we improved?

Possibly. I think that for all this United side isn't all that great, we should have been so far ahead of them after the first half of the season that the current bad luck wouldn't matter. I think the League got away with results like the last minute 1-1 against Sunderland, the defeat to Spurs from 2-0 up, losing to two newly promoted teams at home, an inability to beat 10-man Wigan - even if we'd only taken six points more from those games, the table would look very different.

And yet it isn't over. If we were six points clear of United with six games to play, we'd still be worried. To give up now, would be inexcusable. Yes, we're in terrible form, and yes, we're not playing particularly well, but the more pressure we can put on United, the more chance of them slipping up. Their next two games are away to Newcastle and home to Everton - for differing reasons, there's no reason to think they couldn't drop points there.

I began the season by saying it could be a long and difficult one, and that's been pretty accurate. I don't think we've choked, but I think we are unfortunate - Liverpool played Man United and attacked; against us, they parked the bus. It's a similar tale for so many clubs who play us, and it does make things harder.

The players can't afford to be down now - next up is a trip to White Hart Lane; neglecting the fact that we need to win to keep the pressure on United, we also need to shut the scum up.

Keep the faith.

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