06 January 2007

Liverpool 1-3 Arsenal

I wish I could be angrier, but honestly, Arsenal were the better team. They came out looking to soak up Liverpool’s pressure and grab their goals on the counter-attack, and they did it to full success. They defended exceedingly well, rarely let Liverpool take a shot despite the advantage in possession, and when Liverpool made two defensive mistakes, Arsenal made them pay.

Much like at the Emirates in November, Liverpool was the better team for the majority of the first half until Arsenal got a goal against the run of play. There’s little to complain about here, in contrast to the later goals, in that nothing could be done about Rosicky’s wonder strike. Perhaps Dudek could have gotten a hand to it with quicker reactions or Gerrard should have been closer to close the shot down, but it was a top class finish.

The second goal, however, was utterly disappointing. Rosicky was allowed to dance through defenders to release a low shot that skittered past Dudek’s outstretched arm. He should have been closed down far sooner, and should have never gotten the shot off, let alone should the shot have crept into the corner.

Going into the half 2-0 made Liverpool’s task extremely difficult, but they again came out looking the better side after halftime, and after 25 minutes of increased pressure, they finally got off the mark. Kuyt was quick to react to flick-on a Crouch’s header from a corner, played onside by Justin Hoyte sitting on the near post. It was a deserved goal, but soon after, Henry took advantage of Liverpool pressing forward, beat Carragher to the ball, and was through on Dudek, sending a shot under his sprawling body. It was the summation of what was certainly a frustrating day.

Arsenal deserved the victory simply due to the fact they were brilliant in defense. Liverpool didn’t play badly; they could have done more with the final ball and should have gotten more efforts on goal, but Arsenal was quick to close men down and even better at shutting off passing lanes. Liverpool was forced to send so many men forward that it was only a matter of time before they were caught out on the counter. It’s disappointing to see the defensive errors in the build-up to the goals, but the goals were coming. That’s how ruthless Arsenal can be when they’re on, and they were on today.

It’s the same old story in defeat; not good enough in the final third, even if some of the build-up play was excellent and Arsenal were better than usual defensively. The gap between a great team and a good team was demonstrated today. Granted, Liverpool’s far more consistent, especially at home, than Arsenal, but you saw the gulf in class when they’re at their best.

A couple of other points:

Arsenal was certainly sticking in their tackles, which teams have to do when they come to Anfield. The game got chippy, elbows were flying left and right, and Bennett was ineffectual in calming the game down, handing out yellow cards with little rhyme or reason.

To continue with the ref bashing, Alonso never deserved the yellow he got for diving. It may not have been a penalty, but there certainly was contact, and the yellow prevented him from tackling as intensely as usual. Kuyt, on the other hand, should have earned a penalty at 3-1 when barged over in the box.

In addition, Kuyt and Alonso were the best players today; Alonso saw a lot of the ball in the middle and was good with his passing, both long and short. Kuyt gave his usual performance, capped off by a poacher’s goal. Aurelio also deserves a special mention; his entry for Riise after about an hour made Liverpool more dangerous, and he put some good balls into the box.

Time for payback in a few days. Roll on Carling Cup.

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