Three matches over 7 days proved that £40m and a couple of referees were the differences between these two teams.
In the first match the difference was all down to the referee. His bottled penalty call ensured that the two, evenly matched, teams stayed exquisitely evenly matched. If there was a difference maker on the pitch it was Kuyt, who’s hard work should be a model for the whole Arsenal team.
In the second match, again the teams were closely matched. Both teams rotated heavily and neither squad could find a real breakthrough and again the teams finished 1-1.
And then there’s yesterday, which I am referring to as “from the mountain high to the valley low.”
The match started so well, with Arsenal retaining possession and moving the ball brilliantly. On the 12th minute there was a shot and Liverpool made a hash of it. The ball fell to Hleb who slotted to Diaby, who blew the doors off Reina. 1-0 to the Arsenal. The dream start and Arsenal fans must surely have been on their way to the mountain top.
But as I predicted yesterday an early goal would lead to a high scoring game because both of these teams are struggling in defense. And then it happened. Hyypia, who has the pace of a glacier, lost Senderos on a corner and powered a header past Cesc. 1-1 and back down into the valley.
Then Arsenal lost Flamini to what looked like an intentional stamp by Gerrard. At that point, they were forced to bring in Gilberto and the team looked visibly shaken. Arsenal withstood the onslaught of Liverpool possession and the half closed at 1-1.
At the start of the second half, Arsenal looked to have regained a bit of composure and were playing decently even though the Eboue/Toure right side looked completely lost in the attack. I do want to give plaudits to Eboue, he and Toure gave Gerrard a nightmare of a game on that left side and so it could be that Wenger likes Eboue more for his defensive ability up front. It certainly can’t be because he’s a great offensive player (no goals and a paltry 2 assists all season).
But as we have all seen so many times this season, a small lapse in concentration sees the ball fall to Torres and Liverpool get their £26m worth out of him as he plays home an unstoppable ball. That strike was worth every penny they paid for him. And it’s not his first of the season, he’s been doing that kind of stuff now for months. In fact, without the quality of Torres Liverpool might be a middle of the table team.
Wenger reacts by bringing on Theo and van Persie for Diaby and Eboue. Dividends were paid almost immediately, Theo picks the ball up from a hapless Gerrard and breaks from one end of the pitch to the other, crosses it perfectly for Adebayor and the score line is 2-2. That run was exactly what I was calling for yesterday when I thought Arsenal could relive 1989. An amazing run where Theo shrugs off four defenders and passes the ball perfectly to Adebayor. The kind of move that everyone has been expecting from the lad but that he has not quite been able to produce. Done at the best time, on the highest stage. THEO THEO THEO THEO!
Less than 10 minutes left to defend! Arsenal are moving forward! We’re on the mountain top!
Jesus Lapdancing Christ…
What was it? The first kick from the restart? And THAT? THAT? A penalty?
Back down to the valley.
I’ll admit. That was as much a penalty as the one Arsenal were denied at Emirates just 6 days earlier. Maybe a little less, but in the heat of the action I could see a referee calling that penalty. If it had happened on the other end of the pitch, we’d have all called for a penalty. I know that’s hard to swallow. I know it was a big moment of a big game. And I know that Toure shouldn’t have been draped all over Babel. If he hadn’t, then Babel going down would have looked foolish instead of as if a penalty.
I also know that it was the quality of Babel (£12m), the fact that Rafa was shrewd to bring him on late (what with his pace against the tired legs of Arsenal), and the fact that Arsenal just dropped the ball. This Liverpool team scored against Arsenal in each of the two legs right after resuming play from an Arsenal goal. Even the boss recognized that it was both a lack of concentration and the referee which gave Liverpool the match:
It’s down to a dodgy decision by the referee I believe but also to a lack of concentration straight away when it was 2-2. We found Babel in the box straight from the kick-off and that’s where the concentration dropped a little bit. I believe over the two games it’s very difficult to swallow because it’s a double disappointment.
I honestly thought my prediction for the match to end 3-3 was going to come true, until Babel stormed past Cesc and slotted home the winner.
We can blame the ref, but that won’t get back the Hyypia goal.
We can blame the ref, but that won’t get back the fantastic goal by Torres.
We can blame the ref, but we’d have all felt aggrieved if van Persie had gone down and we had not got that same call.
We can blame the ref, but Rafa’s depth of squad, Arsenal’s lack of concentration, and the quality of Torres and Babel were the real difference over these two legs.
Liverpool outspent Arsenal by about £40m this season and the quality they received in return has paid them dividends. I say it’s time to get out the checkbook Mr. Wenger lest you succumb to pride that befell Caesar:
I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament