Liverpool have only themselves to blame for their loss to Arsenal today at Anfield. They were dominant in almost all areas but couldn’t net the ball. The 2-1 defeat means they are most certainly out as a top 4 finisher. This was a season-altering match for both teams. Prior to the start, the Reds were seven points behind Arsenal, so three points were essential today.
To help bolster their confidence, Liverpool took home their first trophy in six seasons last weekend. Armed with the Carling Cup momentum, a win today was Liverpool’s last real chance to be a contender for the fourth place spot in the league table. Arsenal was also coming off what I like to consider their “game of the season”
Last weekend, the Gunners came from behind to soundly thrash their arch rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, in the North London Derby at Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger was named Barclay’s Manager of the Month for February, and that was due in part to last weekend’s line-up changes, which seemed to make a big difference in the squad’s performance.
Today, he chose the same starting 11, but it didn’t have the same impact. After the game began, it became clear that Liverpool wanted the win more than the away side. The first spark of excitement came in the 17th minute. Luis Suarez was doing his usual tricky dribbling around every clunky defender in the box and threatening to score from every angle. Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny took matters into his own hands and came off his line. The Pole slid on his knees to stop the striker’s clear goal-scoring opportunity. No red card was awarded but the penalty was given.
Dutch forward Kirk Kuyt took the kick, which was spectacularly saved by Szczesny’s hand and knocked back into play. The ball bounced and Kuyt again tried to tap it in. Still on the ground from his earlier save, Szczesny punched Kuyt’s second, less committed ball out of play. An amazing effort by the young Arsenal keeper. Even with a save like that, little momentum stirred amongst the Arsenal players and Liverpool kept up their relentless attack.
In one of those attacks, Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny tried to protect the goal from a Jay Spearing cross. Instead, he mistimed his foot on the ball and sent one in, opening up the scoring for the Reds. Given the Liverpool dominance thus far in the match, Arsenal’s equalizer came completely against the run of play. The Gunners made an unexpected but hardly threatening-looking break into the box. Despite the team’s abysmal passing thus far, Bacary Sagna curled a cross directly to his skipper in front of the goal. Robin van Persie, guarded by two Reds, leaned forward and headed it in to tie it up at 1 all.
Luis Suarez continued to look dangerous the entire first half, yet he failed to convert. He had three shots that should have easily been goals. They were either deflected, hit the post or saved by Szczesny. The second half was full of more Liverpool dominance and Arsenal injury time. Former Everton midfielder turned Gunner, Mikel Arteta, was knocked unconscious after a head clash with Jordan Henderson and carried off on a stretcher.
Even with an extra eight minutes of stoppage time, Liverpool could not score the go-ahead goal. Martin Kelly missed an easy opportunity from a Kuyt pass right in front of the net, and then Kuyt was called offside while looming dangerously near the Arsenal goal. The Liverpool players started to show signs of frustration. Taking advantage of their opponents momentary lack of focus, Arsenal midfielder Alex Song made a game-winning decision. The Cameroonian is one of my favorite Gunners, partly because of his consistent and aggressive style of play. But today, I have never seen him play so poorly. Thankfully he redeemed himself in the final minutes of the match.
Two minutes into extra time, Song passed the ball spot on to his captain. Before it touched down on the pitch, a perfectly poised Robin van Persie volleyed it with his magic left foot. The ball went screaming between the near post and a diving Pepe Reina in to the net. But Reina was not to blame; nothing would have stopped that ball. The away fans, just behind the goal, went wild as did the Arsenal players. Captain Vantastic strikes again! And to show his appreciation, RVP knelt down and kissed the assist-making boot of Alex Song.
Robin van Persie now has 31 league goals and has scored 25 in his last 27 matches. He is well on his way to being named Player of the Year this season. Equal kudos must go to Arsenal’s 21 year old goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny. His clutch saves kept the players’ heads up and hope alive.
With the three points, Arsenal are now 10 points clear of Liverpool and look to have a good chance of finishing the season in 3rd or 4th place. The North London side’s inconsistent level of play can also be found in their two biggest rivals for the same positions. Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal all look vulnerable at times, but they are the most likely clubs to watch over the next few months. COYG!
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