Thursday, 3 April 2008

Liverpool - Arsenal clash promises to go down to the wire

Next Tuesday promises a tense quarter final in the Champions League after Liverpool and Arsenal’s first leg tie at the Emirates last night ended in stalemate. Rafa Benitez will be the happier manager as his team gained a draw and scored an away goal in a match which saw Arsenal enjoy more possession. However he will be mindful that in the previous round Arsene Wenger’s side travelled to Milan after a drawn first leg and dominated AC before running out comfortable two goal winners.

Anfield is a venue to inspire awe and trepidation amongst opposition players on big European nights and it is in this competition that Benitez’s success rate is at its most formidable. Liverpool will need to be more enterprising at home than they were at times last night. For large periods of the game they were happy to cede possession. And whilst this tactic paid dividends ultimately, there were moments when Arsenal broke through Liverpool’s resolute defence and might have given themselves the advantage in the tie.

Both goals were shabby affairs defensively. In particular Arsenal’s Adebayor was permitted to head home a corner completely unchallenged. Four Arsenal players were likewise unmarked should the striker have missed his opportunity. Liverpool’s goal was more attributable to Steven Gerrard’s powerful run past Toure, but the Arsenal defence will have felt they could do more to prevent Dirk Kuyt bundling Gerrard’s cross into the net.

The goal heralded Liverpool’s most comfortable spell of the match. Until half time it appeared that the team in third choice black were more likely to take the lead. Wenger’s decision to bring Walcott and Bendtner on changed the game in the second period. Walcott’s runs troubled Jamie Carragher who was operating out of position on the right. Arsenal were to dominate possession and create a number of chances after the interval.

Credit must go to Dutch referee, Vink, who had a good night and was not impressed as Hleb threw himself to the ground after brushing against Dirk Kuyt’s arm. A lesser referee may have changed the course of the tie. Equally pivotal was Bendtner’s unwitting clearance of an effort from Fabregas. Liverpool dug in manfully and withstood the pressure applied to them. Mescherano in particular produced an outstanding performance intercepting, tackling and blocking to the chagrin of the Arsenal support.

This was certainly not Liverpool’s finest performance this season however. Jamie Carragher produced heroics in the second half in particular, but he was simply not as effective on the right hand side of defence. Ryan Babel produced a listless display and was rather profligate in possession of the ball. On one occasion he flighted a pass across the entire breadth of the pitch just outside his own 18 yard line. The incident must have given Rafa Benitez palpitations. When the Israeli orphan child Benayoun replaced Babel his performance was equally poor.

The majority of Liverpool’s players emerged from the match with credit however. Skrtel is growing in confidence weekly in central defence and in general the entire back-line was magnificent. Although Alonso was anonymous in midfield and eventually Benitez replace him with Lucas, the rest of the central unit was extremely solid. I have criticised Dirk Kuyt relentlessly this season, but I must say, his work-rate was integral to achieving a creditable result last night. He even came closest to scoring a second goal, drawing a sharp low stop from Almunia. Dirk celebrated his goal by manically running toward Steven Gerrard shouting “fucking hell”. These sentiments exactly reflected my surprise at the quality of his performance. Torres too produced a typically high energy display.

Before this tie is concluded next Tuesday night the two sides encounter each other in Saturday’s league clash. This will provide an interesting dilemma as regards team selection. Both managers will most likely be wary, recognising that Tuesday’s match is more crucial in terms of realistic opportunities to acquire silverware.

1 comment:

Dinamo said...

George Gillette reserved sixteen seats including one for his son Foster whereas (perhaps surprisingly given Gillette's imminent sale of his shares to Dubai) Tom Hicks only booked two. With the holy grail of fourth place seemingly secured, GG will have had a bud or two on next years dividend check.
Meanwhile I was buying petrol today and queuing to pay for it when I was delighted to see a lady collide with a display of premiership tat and fracture a liverpool replica mug (RRP £8.99).