Sunday, 4 March 2012

Arsenal Beat Liverpool 2-1 To Strengthen Their Hold On Fourth Place

Arsenal went into yesterday's game with Liverpool knowing they needed a win to put pressure on the other teams fighting for fourth place in the Premier League. A win would have put them three points ahead of Chelsea before their trip to West Brom later in the day, and six points ahead of Newcastle before they play Sunderland later today. It would also have seen Liverpool fall a full 10 points behind Arsenal with a game in hand on them.

Arsene Wenger picked the same team that so impressively came from 2-0 down to beat Spurs 5-2 last week. Another bonus from a win for Arsenal would have seen them closing the gap to third placed Spurs to only four points. With Spurs playing Manchester United later today an Arsenal win would have piled the pressure on their local rivals.

From the start Arsenal struggled to get a hold in midfield, and Liverpool opened the Arsenal defence up far too easily. Despite Liverpool's early dominance it was Arsenal who had the first real attempt on goal when Theo Walcott drew a very good save from Jose Reina after an excellent first time shot from a ball over the top. Arsenal rarely threatened again during that first half, as Liverpool took over in terms of possession and chances created too.

Wojciech Szczesny was overworked in the Arsenal goal, but he was more than up to the task. He even managed to save a penalty from Dirk Kuyt, and to save the rebound from the same man too. The penalty was struck very well, but Kuyt should never have allowed Szczesny to get to the rebound.

The penalty was awarded when Szczesny was adjudged to have taken Luis Suarez down, but replays have shown Suarez made a real meal of it. There might have been some minimal contact, but Suarez was already on the way down at that stage. The most annoying thing from an Arsenal perspective was that the referee was clearly unsighted, but he still gave the penalty.

He didn't give Szczesny a card of any colour for the challenge which would surely suggest he was unsure of his decision. That's two weeks in a row now that referees have got penalty calls wrong against Arsenal, and divers have profited from them. I can only imagine the outcry if Arsenal were the team winning penalties from their players diving.

I thought the rules of the game were that a referee can only give a decision if he is sure of it, but clearly the referees on both occasions had a lot of doubt. Otherwise they would have issued some other sort of punishment besides the penalties in my opinion. Where are the referees assessors when decisions like these are being made.

When Liverpool eventually managed to take the lead it was Arsenal who actually managed to score the goal. Both Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen were caught very far forward when Liverpool broke, and Jordan Henderson found himself in possession in acres of space with the ball on Arsenal's left. With the two left sided defenders AWOL it was left to Laurent Koscielny to come over and attempt to clear Henderson's ball into the box.

Unfortunately for Koscielny his attempted clearance came off his shin, and skewed into the Arsenal net leaving Szczesny helpless. It was no more than Liverpool deserved, as they dominated Arsenal in midfield and they tried to build on that lead. The best chance fell to Suarez when he hit the post when the ball came to him after yet another great save from Szczesny.

Just after the half hour mark Arsenal got back into the game when the Premier League's top scorer got his 24th league goal of the season. Bacary Sagna got the ball in space on the right hand side, and he delivered a great cross into the penalty area. RVP managed to get goal side of Jamie Carragher, and he headed the ball home from a few yards out.

Arsenal hardly deserved to be level, and Liverpool tried to ensure that they retook the lead before half time. Szczesny made another great save after Suarez somehow managed to squirm his way past three or four players, and Kuyt hit the post just before half time. When the whistle blew for the interval it was difficult to believe that Liverpool weren't ahead.

Arsenal needed to change things around in the second half, but Wenger chose to send the same players out. With only a few minutes gone in that second half Arsenal were forced into a change when Mikael Arteta was stretchered off after a very nasty looking accidental collision with Henderson. He needed an oxygen mask, and he was brought straight to hospital with a severe concussion.

He was replaced by Abu Diaby who was making yet another comeback from injury, and his introduction seemed to give Arsenal some control in midfield. They played the ball around nicely without ever really threatening to score, but at least they had halted the Liverpool tide. Gradually Liverpool began to assert more authority, but nowhere near as much as they had in their first half.

With 20 minutes left they missed their best chance to take all three points when Martin Kelly failed to put the ball into an open goal from a few yards out. He completely missed his kick, and Arsenal were lucky it was a defender who found himself in that position. The game looked like it might just end with the spoils shared, and it was a result Arsenal would have been happier with than Liverpool.

Walcott almost snatched a win for Arsenal when he got on the end of a Gibbs cutback after Alex Song split the Liverpool defence open with a great pass. Reina made a very good save with his feet after Walcott's shot was deflected, and it looked like it might be Arsenal's last chance of the game. Gervinho had come on for the ineffectual Yossi Benayoun, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replace Diaby who suffered yet another injury.

The officials showed eight added minutes because of the injury to Arteta, and I hoped Arsenal could see those eight minutes out to get a point. However, when RVP is in their team they can score at any time in a game. Song played a brilliant ball over the top of the Liverpool defence, and RVP was on hand to finish past Reina at his near post.

He struck the ball sweetly with his instep and guided it past Reina who seemed to think he would hit it towards the far corner. It's easy to be critical of Reina, but it was a magnificent finish from a sublime pass. Arsenal showed the difference between themselves and Liverpool, as they managed to score the goals Liverpool just could not.

Arsenal saw out the rest of the added time with relative ease, and it was Chamberlain who cam e closest to scoring with a very good long range effort. It meant Arsenal had won their fourth Premier League game in a row, and they awaited the results of the other teams contending with them for fourth place. Chelsea did their part to help Arsenal when they lost 1-0 away to West Brom, and Newcastle and Spurs play their games later today.

After the game RVP was given the man of the match award, but I though Szczesny deserved it for a fantastic performance which kept Arsenal in the game. Liverpool probably deserved to win the game, but Arsenal showed the value of RVP to their team. He simply cannot be allowed to leave this summer, and Arsenal have to bring in the players that will make him want to stay.

I won't gloat too much about getting my prediction absolutely right, as it's my go to score when I'm not really sure of the outcome of a game. Arsenal are now breathing down the necks of third placed Spurs before they play United later today. Spurs have not beaten United in their last 25 attempts to do so, and they will really be feeling the pressure now.

At 2-0 down to Spurs last week Arsenal look dead and buried, but it's incredible how things have swung in their favour since then. There are bound to be more twists and turns between now and the end of the season, but at least Arsenal have managed to put themselves in a position where they have a real chance of finishing in a Champions League position.

The players have shown the mental strength in those two games that was so obviously missing in the final stages of last season. The chances are Arsenal will be out of this season's Champions League after Tuesday night's game with AC Milan, but at least their chances of playing in it yet again next season are very real. They will have 11 Premier League games left to do all they can to make sure those chances become a reality.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.

See you tomorrow. 


  1. I couldn't believe the BBC commentator on match of the day had the gall to claim that the referee made the right decision on Suarez. Not even Hansen and Shearer tried to suggest that.

    Spurs will most certainly be feeling that pressure now

  2. If it had been an Arsenal player going down I have no doubt the commentator would have called him a cheat.

  3. And there'd be a large scale press campaign against him...

  4. Followed by a ban for unsporting behaviour or such like. I'm still waiting for some action on the Bale dive, but maybe the FA think it's enough that we won the game and justice doesn't need to be served.