The Liverpool Game: 24 Hours Later

It probably wasn’t the best time to write an objective and balanced article straight after watching a football match, but yesterday I told it how I saw it.

And with Arsenal having over 64% of the possession at Anfield then it’s hard to disagree with it.

But putting things into perspective, you can’t really blame Liverpool for trying to shut Arsenal out. We had just come from a 7-0 win in the Champions League, showing everyone the range of attacking play which can destroy teams. If Liverpool played an open game they would have lost, quite convincingly. So yesterday was a game they couldn’t afford to lose, especially with their current form.

And for large parts of the game they frustrated Arsenal, and frustrated me.

They did play very deep and obviously looked to hold on to their lead. I pointed out that a so-called top 4 team would push on for the security of a second goal but when you’ve got something to hold on to it’s easier said than done – especially when you’re against a freescoring Arsenal side.

So Liverpool resorted to playing deep and catching Arsenal on the break.

And it could have worked for them.

In a strange way I’m glad Liverpool played like they did. If Liverpool pushed out, looked for the second goal then if Arsenal had equalised then people and ‘pundits’ would be saying that’s what we expect from Arsenal, and that Liverpool shouldn’t have given us time and space in key areas.

But by playing with 5 in midfield at home, it gave Arsenal a real test to overcome.

Piling 10 men behind the ball at Anfield is a daunting prospect especially when you are behind and I’m sure many teams have failed to break through a resilient and defensive Liverpool side. That gameplan from Rafa Benitez was designed to suffocate Arsenal and to come through it with an equalising goal is more important to the character and growth of our young side than an open, and in many respects routine, game for us.

So in the end, although Arsenal probably should have taken all 3 points, we ended up taking away so much more in terms of resilience, character and confidence to compete at the top.

The performance of Arsenal wasn’t lost on BBC pundit Alan Hansen, who finally had to admit Arsenal are possible title-challengers.

Ultra Negative Liverpool Still Can’t Stop Arsenal

That was a fantastic football match – tension, excellent passing and passion all over the pitch. Unfortunately the so called ‘home side’ contributed nothing to the game.

Liverpool at Anfield were so negative I’m still shocked and p*ssed off. Arsenal dominated the game from the first minute and a set-piece from Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool something to hold on to for the rest of the game.

That’s right – something to hold on to!

This from a team which apparently is challenging for the title.

I wonder what Alan Hansen and all the other BBC ‘pundits’ make of that display, because quite frankly there was only one team who wanted to win that game.

Liverpool had 10 men behind the ball for the entire 90 minutes, which I find shocking from a home team who is supposedly in the top 4.

Arsenal had the majority of possession, played some stunning football and completely deserved their equaliser when Fabregas slotted in on 80 minutes. Fabregas also had a golden chance to score when he missed an open goal and also hit the post with only 5 minutes to go.

After the game, Fabregas was disappointed with only a point which is fair because Arsenal deserved all 3. They dominated the first half, were more aggressive and wanted to make things happen.

Whereas Liverpool just defended.

Benitez was clever in his selection because by playing Torres, Voronin and Kuyt he hid the fact Liverpool played with 5 in midfield and had 10 men behind the ball for the majority of the match.

And all the so called ‘pundits’ will say Liverpool went for it because they had 3 strikers on the pitch.

Yeah right.

But enough about Liverpool.

Arsenal proved today that they are serious about challenging for the Premier League title. Steven Gerrard scored an early goal in the 8th minute and from then on the ‘home’ side defended and were clearly happy to settle with a 1-0 win. But the players performed like they have all season, passing well but unfortunately lacked the killer final ball.

Too many times Adebayor couldn’t find his touch and being the target man disappointed with a very poor final touch. He really should have played in Toure in the first half when he should have played in a simple square ball and had numerous chances to create clear chances for his teammates, but just didn’t deliver.

If Adebayor was on his game Arsenal would have won by 4 or 5 goals, and that is no exaggeration.

In the first half Hleb, Rosicky, Eboue and Fabregas in particular contributed to some sensational build up play, but with the final ball lacking Arsenal couldn’t really force Reina into any real saves.

Liverpool were content in catching Arsenal on the break, and Almunia was called to make a few excellent saves which would have cemented his place as Arsenal’s number one.

All of Liverpool’s dangerous moments were coming from Steven Gerrard. Are Liverpool a one-man team? Let’s just say if Gerrard gets injured Liverpool will struggle.

Hleb was outstanding, and as I’ve always said his ball retention is one of the best I have ever seen. His ability to hold onto the ball for that second longer and wait for the space to open up is excellent and he more often than not will find that final pass to make a chance.

And it was no different for Fab’s goal.

He is so comfortable on the ball and defenders just do not know which direction he will turn. His poked through for the goal was simply sublime and Fabregas yet again kept a cool head and slid the ball passed Reina at his near post.

Arsene must be proud of his team because playing at Anfield is always difficult, and for such a young team to face a team which was so defensive and come back was amazing. There was hardly any space or time on the ball in the Liverpool half but Arsenal still managed to play some breathtaking football.

If we’re talking about breaking teams down and playing against a team that can really defend then Arsenal will not face a tougher test this season. Arsenal will not play another game this season which is anywhere near as tough as Liverpool to get through. Their gameplan was to defend in numbers and they did that well.

The fact that Arsenal dominated Liverpool at Anfield and are disappointed about not winning shows the attitude and character of this current group of special players.

And the bottom line was that Arsenal are still top of the league, still unbeaten and can be proud of their performance.

7th Heaven, 7 Up, 7/11, Double Oh Seven, Seven Oaks, The Magnificent Seven… (w/ Player Ratings)

Seriously, what can you say about that?

Slavia Prague had beat Steaua Bucharest 2-1 on Matchday One, and althought they lost in their next game they still managed to score twice away at Sevilla which is no mean feat.

But none of that helped them yesterday.

Arsenal had a changed side from the weekend, the most notable being Theo Walcott being named in the starting eleven. When the line-ups were being announced, you assumed Hleb would play behind Adebayor and that Theo would play on the left.

But Arsene started with the young gun up top.

And now we know why.

It was only the second game Walcott had actually started up front for Arsenal, the last being the Carling Cup Final last season – in which he scored the opening goal.

But right from the start Arsenal were dominant.

And after only 5 minutes, who else but Cesc Fabregas opened the scoring with a wonderful curling shot after smart work from Hleb in the corner. Fabregas cut inside his man, received the ball and flashed his shot inside the post.

Arsenal were crusing and knocked the ball around well, and while Slavia popped the ball around nicely as well they were restricted to long range efforts from distance and hardly trouble Almunia.

Then on 25 Arsenal’s second goal came. A corner from Fabregas was missed at the near post by Walcott and the ball found its way to Hleb who’s shot deflected in off a Prague defender. You could say that Hleb’s shot was on target when it left his foot although some would say it’s an own goal. But what wasn’t in doubt was that Arsenal were 2-0 up.

Just before half time, Walcott scored his second goal in an Arsenal shirt when the Slavia Prague goalkeeper badly mis-controlled a pass from his left-back. Theo calmly rounded the keeper and steered his shot into the net. Arsenal were 3-0 up at the break.

Arsenal were in cruise control.

If people thought Arsenal would drop down to 1st gear after the interval they were badly mistaken. In the first 15 minutes of the second half Arsenal were ruthless, hungry and seemed to have something to prove. Hleb’s ability to hold onto the ball and make space in tight situations paid off as he managed to smash a shot low into the bottom corner.

Theo Walcott added a 5th goal 3 minutes later when he latched onto Hleb’s incisive through-ball. Theo’s frightening pace and control saw him beyond a couple of defenders and he coolly slot his shot into the bottom corner with the outside of right boot.

And when you thought Arsenal were finished we were on the attack yet again when Theo’s beautifully weighted pass let in Fabregas, who was never going to miss. 6 nil to Arsenal and doubles for Theo, Cesc and Hleb (possibly).

Absolutely stunning football.

At that point, Arsene clearly pleased with an hours work, ushered Gilberto, Bendtner and Rosicky into the action. With the big games coming up against Liverpool and Manchester United I though Cesc would be replaced but in the end Gilberto came on for Mathieu Flamini. Bendtner and Rosicky then replaced Adebayor and Hleb.

As expected, the 3 changes disturbed the flow slighty although Theo had a couple of decent chances to complete his hattrick. Arsenal did manage another goal with 2 minutes remaining when Bendtner used his strength to barge through the Slavia defence.

The BBC called the performance “magical”, UEFA thought it was a “masterful display of slick, passing football” and Sky Sports even compared the current crop of Arsenal youngsters with the 1970 Brazilian luminaries!

See the player ratings below:

Manuel Almunia: 7/10
Only had a couple of saves to make in the entire game and did well to parry them away to safety. Also dealt well with a few crosses that came into the box. Never look troubled.

Bacary Sagna: 7/10
Not as effective going forward as usual but mainly down to the running of Eboue on the right. Defended well and kept a good line with the rest of the defence.

William Gallas: 7/10
Never troubled and defended well alongside Kolo.

Kolo Toure: 7/10
Like the rest of the defence had a pretty routine evening, and always looked comfortable.

Gael Clichy: 8/10
Another solid performance from Clichy. Worked well with Hleb on the left and as ever always making those supporting runs on the outside. Delivered some excellent crosses into the box.

Emmanuel Eboue: 8/10
Full of running and looked comfortable on the right wing. Made some incisive passes in the final third and linked up well with Sagna defensively.

Mathieu Flamini: 7/10
Booked early on for a rash challenge but was yet again solid and let Fabregas do his thing. Replaced by Gilberto Silva on the hour.

Cesc Fabregas: 9/10 (Man of the Match)
Exceptional, yet again. Scored the first, made the second, and scored the sixth. Passing was stunning, movement was excellent and he scored two wonderfully crafted goals.

Alexander Hleb: 8/10
Played out of position on the left but again showed brilliant ball retention. Setup Fabregas and Walcott for goals and scored twice himself. Replaced by Tomas after 60 minutes.

Emmanuel Adebayor: 6/10
Never really looked to be in sync with the team. Got frustrated with some close offside calls and missed a decent chance with a header when Walcott sent over a beautiful cross. Replaced by Bendtner on 60.

Theo Walcott: 9/10
Was a big night for the little man and boy did he enjoy it! Was cool in scoring his first and ruthless in scoring his second. Setup up Fab for Arsenal’s 6th and looked dangerous all night. Unlucky not to end the game with his hattrick.

Substitutes (60 minutes)

Gilberto Silva: 8/10
Showed flashes of skill when he came on.

Tomas Rosicky: 7/10
Looked lively.

Nicklas Bendtner: 8/10
Did well and deserved his goal.

Calling All Arsenal Fans: Paul Robinson Brainteaser!

I’d like to just say that I’ve never rated Robinson.

I never thought he was any good at Leeds, and at Tottenham he’s not much better. They just seem to leak goals from all over the place. Already this season, Aston Villa (hardly the most prolific team in the league) scored 4 at White Hart Lane, and they’ve already conceded 3 goals against Arsenal, Fulham and Everton!

And is it just me, but whoever I talk to they rate Robinson!

I sometimes wonder if my friends are actually blind.

And with the recent talk of Paul Robinson and whether he should start for England, a thought came to mind.

Can someone tell me how many goals Paul Robinson has conceded against Arsenal?

From the top of my head against Spurs, I can remember the 5-4 game a few seasons ago, obviously this seasons 3-1 win and countless other games he’s conceded goals. Then there’s the Carling Cup games against our youth team.

And against Leeds, we managed to rack up some impressive 4 goal wins over them both in the league and the cups, with Thierry Henry having a particular liking for scoring past Robinson.

I am certain that Paul Robinson is by a country mile the goalkeeper who has conceded the most goals to Arsenal in our history.

Can you list the games and the number of goals he’s conceded against us?

So come on guys, can anyone tell me how many it actually is?

What Is Arsenal’s Best Starting Eleven?

When the season started, most Arsenal fans thought the starting eleven would have been pretty obvious:

Gilberto was arguably our best player last season, and Jens Lehmann wasn’t losing any sleep over Almunia sitting on the bench. You would also say that Rosicky was our best option on the left but injuries have given Abou Diaby a chance and he is scoring goals and making things happen.

People (including myself) were also excited with the prospect of Eduardo Da Silva, who impressed in the Croatian league and has a fantastic goal-scoring record for his national team.

And people were still unsure about Adebayor.

But over our first ten games, you would have to say with the wins we have been recording this was our best line-up:

Mathieu Flamini has been particularly excellent this season, proving the perfect foil for Fabregas to express himself in front of goal. His attitude has also impressed me – he is so determined and just like a young Roy Keane. One moment which sticks in my mind was when Arsenal (via Adebayor) scored the equalising goal at White Hart Lane. Mathieu was the guy who grabbed the ball and shouted at the Arsenal players to run to the centre circle to quickly restart the game – winning is everything to this guy.

And Almunia has won every single game he has started, which is an impressive statistic.

How can you drop him?

And the fact is when Almunia does make a mistake, it doesn’t cost the team points. Most Arsenal fans would agree that after some shocking mistakes already this season, Lehmann’s time as Arsenal’s number one could well and truly be numbered.

Along with most of the young players, Sagna has been another player who has been sensational this season.

He looks like he’s played for Arsenal for years, settled in well and most importantly is an excellent defender. He has exceptional pace and also knows how to make things happen in the final third. Sagna is an an Eboue who can head and defend!

After a shaky start to the season as well Diaby has looked more effective on the left, although it can be argued who is the better passer out of Rosicky and himself.

Many people also tipped Eduardo to be the target man for Arsenal this season but Adebayor has seemingly lifted his performance level to a higher standard – and is currently the Premier League’s highest scorer.

We know that the Diaby, Almunia and Flamini changes in particular have been down to injuries and tiredness from Rosicky, Lehmann and Gilberto but what should Arsene do when they return?

Will he keep the winning formula?