Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Benayoun Mascherano Alonso Riera
Arshavin 36’ 67’ 70’ 90’
Torres 49’ 73’
Benayoun 56’ 93’
Amazing. Pity that for the second game in a row, it’s not enough.
Three mistakes for three Arshavin goals – and a fourth added in the 90th on the counter – and that’s two points thrown away in a game where Liverpool dominated. And it’s only two points thanks to the brilliance of Torres and the perseverance of Benayoun. Oh yeah, and it’s probably the end of the title race (although that’s at least the fourth time I’ve written that). Awesome. It wasn’t Michael Thomas, but it sure wasn’t fun either.
Sadly, the last two games have been a perfect metaphor for the season. Liverpool repeatedly hauls themselves back into it, only to fall short both times. Today, Arsenal’s opener looked to be a dagger after Liverpool dominated for 35 minutes, but two goals in eleven minutes after the break looked to set Liverpool on their way. So much for that.
The home side controlled possession in the first half, had three or four very good chances (with Torres looking like a live wire), but couldn’t open the scoring as both Toure and Fabianski were impressive. And Arsenal struck with their first real chance, on Arshavin’s second or third touch of the ball, in the 36th after a Mascherano dawdled on the ball in his own box and Nasri nipped in to steal.
But the superb start to the second half should have made all the difference. And it was a key change made by Benitez – not a substitution, but shifting Benayoun into the middle and moving Kuyt out right – that made it possible. It was Kuyt’s cross in the 49th that Torres buried, and in the 56th that Benayoun fearlessly headed over the line (receiving a kick in the face from Sagna for his trouble).
And at 2-1 up, with all the momentum, Liverpool should had the three points. But two stupid mistakes in three minutes appeared to sound yet another death knell. First, Arbeloa was the one to dawdle, allowing Arshavin to nip in and rifle an unstoppable rocket past Reina. Then, in the 70th, Aurelio somehow cleared it right to the Russian, who was basically standing unmarked on the penalty spot. You can imagine the result.
But, once again, that man Torres responded three minutes later, deliciously turning Silvestre before stop-starting into space and firing past Fabianski. And at 3-3 with around 20 minutes left, you had to fancy Liverpool’s chances. But they only truly tested Arsenal in the 82nd, when Gibbs incredibly cleared Torres’ header off the line. Increasingly desperate, Liverpool sent men forward in droves, and were punished in the 90th when Walcott had the entire pitch to himself after a Liverpool corner was cleared, eventually finding Arshavin for his fourth. His fourth. I mean, fuck.
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool found a way to give me another heart attack in the third minute of injury time when Benayoun slotted home after Mascherano’s header in caused a scramble. But even with six minutes added on, Liverpool couldn’t find the winner – although an almost handball on Diaby in the last seconds sure got me out of my seat. And even though mathematically Liverpool’s not out of it, United would have to lose two of their final seven games. Not bloody likely. This was always going to be the toughest test of the run-in. For all that was good, Liverpool still failed.
Obviously, I’m pissed now, but when cooler heads prevail, I’ll be proud of the fight in this team. Unless something astonishing happens, bad draws, bad luck, and bad mistakes will end up costing them title, but no one in this squad ever gave up. In all honesty, they’ve overachieved – yes, even though we’re all disappointed in how the season’s ending.
But even though I’ll write ‘the title race is over’ on the Internet, there’s no way the team believes that. Benitez won’t let them. Gerrard (who would have made so much difference today) and Carragher surely won’t let them. All Liverpool can do is be perfect for five games, and hope United gives them an opening.