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Saturday, 3 March 2012

Arsenal leave it late, but it remains Great!

In a week where I was too forgetful to put up a post about our fantastic win against Tottenham last Sunday, Arsenal travelled to Anfield to try and continue their near faultless LEAGUE form from the previous month, a run which saw manager Arsene Wenger crowned Manager of the Month by Barclays Premier League judges.
Liverpool themselves had an enjoyable Sunday, winning the League Cup after penalties at Wembley, a stadium some commentators dared call “Anfield South” despite opponents Cardiff making more appearances at the 'New Wembley' themselves. Despite all of Cardiff's might, Liverpool ended their six year trophy drought before Arsenal ended their now seven year drought last Sunday, it would be a test of nerve in a clash where fourth place was still firmly (to steal a phrase from a specific clash at Anfield in 1989) “Up For Grabs”.
Liverpool by far had a better first half, their midfield completely bossed Arsenal's and despite Wenger naming an unchanged team from last week's 5-2 thriller against Tottenham it didn't seem to have much effect on many players ahead of the back five.
Despite my theory that Liverpool would not choose to attack Arsenal and would rather sit-back and score late on as they have done in the last few meetings, they did in fact press Arsenal high up the pitch and if it wasn't for the goalkeeper, the post and their own poor finishing could have been leading by several goals by Half-Time.
The most controversial moment of the game was yet again dominated by Uruguayan Luis Suarez. Not one to shy away from controversy this season, Suarez flung himself to the floor just outside the six yard box to win Liverpool a first half penalty. No punishment was given to Woijciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal and justice seemed to be done when he pulled off a miraculous double-save to deny Dirk Kuyt twice, first the penalty and then the rebound.
Despite his wondrous efforts and some good defending from surely our first choice back four, it could not stop Laurent Koscielny blasting the ball into his own net and scoring Liverpool's first goal for them. It was a bit of good fortune for Liverpool whose midfield had indefinitely outclassed Arsenal's in the first half but some misfortune for Arsenal's defenders who had performed well up to that point.
Arsenal still equalised before half-time much like in the game last weekend, a great cross from right-back landed square on the head of Robin Van Persie who shrugged off Jamie Carragher to get Arsenal on terms. It was arguably the only shining light in a first half which could have ended worse for Arsenal if it wasn't for Szczesny and the goalpost.
The second half was a lot more brighter for Arsenal, Abou Diaby made his long-awaited return for Mikel Arteta who inadvertently clattered into Jordan Henderson and was badly concussed. Diaby himself limped off with an alleged hamstring injury before the end of the game. Diaby changed Arsenal's midfield fortune and Liverpool weren't quite as dominating in the second forty-five of the game although they still dominated the overall attempts by the conclusion of the game, especially corners in which Arsenal lost a staggering 14-0.
However, corners do not win a game as Arsenal proved. The Arteta stoppage allowed a record eight minutes of injury time and whilst some sceptics remembered last season's debacle at the Emirates where Arsenal scored a penalty in the last minute only to be denied a win in the last embers by Lucas' claim after being tripped by now departed full-back Emmanuel Eboue. Alex Song and Robin Van Persie came up with the goods scoring two minutes into the eight minute injury time.
Liverpool failed to take any advantage of the lengthy stoppage giving them chance to equalise and despite bringing on Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll late on didn't threaten the Arsenal goal again whilst Arsenal kept the ball mainly in Liverpool's half.
It was no doubt a plucky victory for Arsenal, a very defensive display, a display if anything I'd have expected Liverpool to give. Although not a great attacking display, it was a very successful defensive one in which Liverpool relied on Arsenal to score for them.
The game was marred by the end by Sky's 'punditry' in which instead of discussing the game they went onto discuss Robin Van Persie's contract. I'm all for a bit of talk about Van Persie's contract situation, but can we save it for the forums and papers? Especially after we've won a game. It would be very cliché and controversial to suggest Sky bypassed discussing the game to keep Jamie Redknapp from crying his eyes out as the team he spent eleven seasons at completely capitulated within the stoppage time. I'll just leave that for the Twitter gossip. 

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