Match report: Liverpool 4 Arshavin 4, Defensive Coach wanted...

Arsenal came to Anfield on the twentieth anniversary of that famous game in 1989 determined to leave their mark. Perhaps the script writers have a sense of humour, because I didn’t see this one coming! Liverpool had the better of the early exchanges as both sides set out their stall. Liverpool looked the more composed; with pace to burn through Torres and their passing game was accurate and fluent. Arsenal looked sluggish by comparison. The early shots on target came from Torres whose pace and eye for goal managed to repeatedly unsettle the Arsenal defence. Fabianski was Arsenal’s best player in the first half as he fought bravely to withstand the Red hordes. The pace and energy of Liverpool reminded me of the current style of Barcelona, and we looked powerless in midfield to prevent incisive angled runs from the Liverpool players. Torres turned Toure inside out, and lashed a shot at Fabianski who parried it just in front of him to be luckily cleared by Silvestre. Fabianski had to dive bravely outstretched at the feet of first Torres then Benayoun at the edge of his box to deprive the Scousers.
In the 19’ minute  Fabianski’s left hand deflected a wonderful half volley from Torres which was destined for the top left hand corner. Howard Webb the referee was also having a good game as he waved away repeated dives by Torres. Arsenal countered by long balls and tried to turn the momentum which was building in Liverpool’s favour. Nasri cleared Agger’s backwards deflected header  off the line from a corner.  Surely it was only a matter of time before Liverpool would take the lead as their 12 attempts on goal outweighed Arsenal’s three. Against the run of play and supposedly safe in the far corner of Liverpool’s defensive third saw Fabregas dispossess Mascherano and Nasri collected the rebounding ball and slipped a deft pass towards the goal line into the path of Fabregas’s well timed short run. Our Spanish wizard looked up and found Arshavin six yards out who struck the ball off the bar into the net.
Liverpool 0 Arsenal 1 (Arshavin 35’)
Arsenal managed to hold out until half time. Despite the pressure from the Liverpool.
In the second half Liverpool again came out of the traps quickly and forced Arsenal’s defence into error after error. The failure of Sagna to clear the ball authoratively saw Kuyt cross the ball to Torres who powerfully headed the ball down into the bottom corner past Fabianski.
Liverpool 1 (Torres 49’) Arsenal 1.
Liverpool now really pinned the Arsenal defence back and looked as if they could score at will. Shortly afterwards Liverpool took the lead through after some more mickey mouse defending by the Gunners. Yoshi Benayoun bravely put his head between two defenders and managed to get the ball over the line when he had no right to!
Liverpool 2 (Benayoun 56’) Arsenal 1.
The Kop surged as Liverpool now looked to be confident of securing three points. The ball was now being stroked about with over confidence. Liverpool players seemed to relax with their quest secured. Arsenal had seldom looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Yet one thing that Arsene Wenger is right about is that this young Gunners side have character. Even when they are not playing well. Arsenal started to pass the ball more effectively and found some form of rhythm. Sagna’s nightmare game was almost complete as he collected a yellow for a dive by Benayoun. Theo Walcott came on after 65 minutes for Denilson to play on the right wing. A foul by Benayoun on Fabianski in the six yard box after a floated free kick on the flanks resulted in our keeper launching the ball forwards. A fortunate header in midfield from Arshavin saw the ball rebound back to Arbeloa who stole the ball off the Spaniard and within three strides the Russian who had hardly figured in the game, unleashed a spectacular thunderous right foot shot past Pepe Reina.
Liverpool 2 Arsenal 2 (Arshavin 67’)
Now Arsenal began at last to play with some belief. Liverpool were clearly worried about the prospect of Walcott’s pace. The stats from Sky sports read 16 Liverpool attempt’s to Arsenal’s 4 with 11 and 2 on target respectively. Liverpool looked less confident and were still caught in two minds as Nasri ran across the right side of the field and laid the ball into Arshavin. The Russian was faced by a phalanx of four Liverpool defenders, but still managed to slide the ball out to Nasri who had continued his run out to the left flank. Nasri’s cross was a little over struck and found the Liverpool left back who inexplicably parried the ball back towards the penalty area, where the waiting Arshavin unmarked, collected the ball and struck it cleanly pass the despairing attempt at a block by Carragher.
Liverpool 2 Arsenal 3 (Arshavin 70’)
The Russian’s hatrick was greeted with waves of ecstasy from the away support as he made high fives with his colleagues. Arsenal were again ahead and the question on everyone’s lips was could they retain the lead? Two minutes later Torres showed why he is the best striker in the world at the moment. Riera lashed in a cross into Torres on the edge of the 18 yard box. Torres’s first touch was sublime and having bought the ball to a stop he easily pushed the ball wide of the oncoming Silvestre and his right foot shot was almost saved by Fabianski’s dive to his left but the power of the ball found the net.
Liverpool 3 (Torres 70’) Arsenal 3.
Rafa Benitez put on Ryan Babel and now the game became a cup tie and the play  became more open. Bendtner was denied a goal two minutes later as a narrow offside claim went in Liverpool’s favour. The play went from defence to defence, yet despite the poor defending of Sagna, we rode our luck. Arsenal knew that with Walcott on the field there was always going to be a chance.  With only eight minutes to go Torres rose to a corner amidst a crowd of Arsenal defenders and his goal bound header was cleared off the line by Keiran Gibbs. Liverpool pushed forward through Babel and struck the side  netting. Arsenal countered with Nasri striking the ball from 30 yards out past the far post of Reina. Benitez took off the irrepressible Kuyt for Nabil El Zhar and again pressed forward high up the pitch leaving them susceptible to the counter.
Theo Walcott tried a long range shot from the right wing which sailed high over the angle and now it was Arsenal who looked the more confident. Finally was the tide about to turn in the Gunner’s favour? The clock ticked down, and finger nails were being bitten by both sets of fans. The fitness of the players was excellent as the play was exchanged  from box to box. With thirty seconds of normal time remaining and stoppage time to come, Liverpool received their eleventh corner to Arsenal’s none. The ball was floated over and punched clear and Walcott collected the ball just inside the Arsenal box and lit the afterburners and disappeared into the distance towards the Liverpool goal. He seemed to be alone until he realised that Andrey Arshavin had sprinted faster than a Russian surface to air missile. Theo still had to make the pass inside at pace, which he did to find Arshavin who sized up his target and fired in his fourth goal with a w onderful left foot strike.
Liverpool 3 Arsenal 4 (Arshavin 90)
Arsenal had taken the lead for the third time. If they could shut the game down for the remaining four minutes then three points would be theirs. Diaby came on for the hardworking Bendtner who had impressed with his passion. But one always knew that Arsenal’s defensive weakness would let them down. Had we learned nothing from the Tottenham game at the Emirates? Liverpool never gave up hope and even Pepe Reina came forward for a corner. The lack of defensive organisation saw Arsenal fail to clear a bouncing ball after Alonso’s cross had been headed back into the danger area from Mascherano. There were enough Arsenal players in the box, but somehow none of them managed to block the unmarked Benayoun as he collected his second goal by stabbing the ball through the melee of players to end Arsenal’s hopes of three points.
Liverpool 4 (Benayoun 93’) Arsenal 4.
Two minutes later this amazing comedy of errors on the part of both teams ended in a fair draw. Given that for over 75 minutes Arsenal had been battered by Liverpool, we showed character in keeping our belief and scoring valuable goals. What a pity Arshavin is cup tied for the Champions League. What Arshavin’s contribution suggested at Anfield is how much more this Arsenal squad would have achieved had we invested in our defence. Silvestre played to the best of his £750,000 ability. Success begins at the back, and as happy I am that we salvaged a point, considering I had predicted a defeat in my eight match predictions, how frustrating must it be for the players to see such soft goals conceded.
Liverpool v Arsenal
Liverpool have done us a great favour, in attacking in much the same way that Barcelona will, should we ever get past Man United and reach the Champions League final. It will have given the team a good lesson in how NOT to defend. Several players will have learned very sound lessons. On the basis of this performance, this team can still finish third and hopefully hand the title to Liverpool by beating Man United at Old Trafford. If we can beat Man United three times then some form of pride will be restored. Arshavin is a wonderful player in the hole behind the striker, and one wonders if Arsene Wenger will be brave enough to put him there, as his excellent vision, touch and striking ability is in my opinion far superior to Robin van Persie. What the diminutive Russian lacks is any defensive abilities and Robin van Persie is more inclined to do the dirty work in midfield.
I can see Arshavin making the difference between fourth place and third. Theo Walcott will be able to push back midfielders and give Fabregas more room. But I cannot see how our defence can stop leaking goals with the current injuries. Toure is playing his best, but the absence of Gallas has hurt us. Johan Djourou now is perhaps the one player who could just prevent our defensive weaknesses from letting us all down. What Arsene Wenger has demonstrated tonight is that Arsenal are still a force to be reckoned with, and that we shall fear no-one in the remaining games of the Premier League season. I will take this ugly draw providing we can learn from it. We must try to end the signals to our opponents that we cannot shut out a game having secured the lead with only three minutes to go. Is a Defensive Coach needed in the absence of a world class centre back pairing perhaps Mr Wenger?
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Alonso, Mascherano, Benayoun, Kuyt (El Zhar 86), Riera (Babel 74), Torres.
Subs : Cavalieri, Dossena, Lucas, Ngog, Skrtel.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Arshavin, Song, Fabregas, Denilson (Walcott 65), Nasri, Bendtner (Diaby 90).
Subs : Mannone, Eduardo, Vela, Ramsey, Eboue.
Attendance: 44,424
Ref: Howard Webb
My MOTM: Andrey Arshavin
 

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