Liverpool (4) – (2) Arsenal
Diaby (13′), Adebayor (83′)
So close, yet so far – which sums up our season really.
Arsenal started the game brightly, and dominated the first 30 minutes of the match. With their sharp passing and attacking possession Liverpool were chasing the game. It was a surprise that Benitez started with both Crouch and Torres up front, but it meant Arsenal’s midfield could get at the Liverpool defence and on 13 minutes we got what we deserved.
After some good attacking play, Hleb fed the ball into Diaby who ran from deep and smashed a shot in at the near post.
But after that we seemed to take our foot off the pedal and Liverpool were spraying long balls over the top which were causing us problems and from a corner Liverpool equalised.
And it was a gift.
Steven Gerrard always plays in a good ball and to give Sami Hyypia the time and space in the box was criminal. The header bounced in off the post and Fabregas was just too short to get it away.
Unfortunately it was our defensive frailties which would cost us dear later on in the game.
The second half ended 1-1 and it was up for grabs. The second period started at a decent pace but for about 20 minutes both teams seemed to drop the tempo ready for a grandstand finish.
Another defensive error resulted in another Liverpool goal. A long ball wasn’t dealt with and Torres was given time to get the ball onto his right foot. He didn’t need a second invitation and he smashed the ball into the top corner.
The game was finely poised and Arsene went for broke. Walcott and Van Persie came on for Eboue and Diaby, in the pursuit of that vital goal that would put Arsenal into the next round.
And on 83 minutes it came. Liverpool had a corner which bounced to Theo, who waltzed past 5 players in a simply sensational run. He managed to get himself wide on the right where 4 Arsenal players were waiting in the middle for a cut back. Walcott didn’t disappoint and his pass was converted by Emmanuel Adebayor.
The question now was could Arsenal hold on for the remaining 7 minutes?
Unfortunately bad refereeing decisions have cost Arsenal against Liverpool, and the home side were gifted a penalty. Replays showed that there was minimal contact on Babel but it was enough for the referee to blow the whistle.
It’s hard to not feel aggrieved at the decision, especially after Hleb was robbed of a perfectly good penalty at the Emirates. You wonder where Liverpool get this luck from? They get the decisions at the right time. It’s unbelievable and when the penalty was awarded I was stunned.
There was no reason for Kolo to tug down Babel because there were about 6 players back in the Arsenal penalty area and Babel had a hell of a lot to do from the position he was in.
Dutchman and penalties eh?
Once the kick was given all prayers were with Almunia and whether he could pull off a miraculous save to keep Arsenal in the Champions League. He dived the right way but in front of the Kop Gerrard was never going to miss. And with Arsenal playing desperate football in the remaining minutes the very man who won the penalty Ryan Babel scored on the break.
What a rollercoaster.
So why did Arsenal lose over the two games?
Fatigue & Tiredness
Liverpool just looked like the fresher team. Arsenal played well and tried to pass the ball and performed excellently for the first half an hour, but as the game wore on Arsenal looked jaded. Adebayor and Hleb in particular couldn’t get into the game, whether it was down to form or fatigue. The team was over-reliant on Fabregas to make things happen and this kid is burnt out. To his credit, Diaby put in a good performance but Eboue and Hleb’s influence was sporadic at best.
And Adebayor missed a sitter before we finally got the equaliser.
Fans wanted Theo to start tonight and he probably should have looking at his fantastic run to create Arsenal’s equaliser. You really have to feel for Theo Walcott. He puts in a brilliant display against Birmingham and scores 2 goals but that is overshadowed by the horrendous injury to Eduardo. Then he destroyed the Liverpool team with a quite phenomenal run but ends up on the losing side.
Instead of getting the plaudits his magic moments will be forgotten.
And the absence of Bacary Sagna is such a massive loss. Apart from his solid defensive performances he adds something to our attacking game. Maybe it was Sagna not playing which was the reason why Walcott didn’t start the games over Eboue.
Arsenal probably deserved to progress in Champions League over the two legs if you looked at their attacking play, but you could say that about many games this season. The fact is that for all our possession and incisive passing we lost 4-2 tonight. Yes, the penalty call was so difficult to take, especially after working so hard to equalise, but you can’t expect to win football matches if you concede 4 goals.
The fact is you can put all of Liverpool’s goals down to poor defending.
I still can’t get over the first goal. The defending was a complete shambles and if you’re going to give a top side a free header only 6 yards out then you’re going to be punished.
The second goal was no better, after we failed to deal with a long ball. The situation was still retrievable but we stood off Torres and let him shot with his right foot which was criminal. He is a top quality striker and to do that was asking for trouble.
Then the penalty and goal from the break are self-explanatory really.
Just Plain Bad Luck
It really does seem everything has been going against Arsenal since the injury to Eduardo, and the Liverpool ties followed the same vain.
People will say that you can’t change what’s happened and that we should get over it but there’s no about that element of luck has vanished over the two games. There was the Hleb penalty fiasco in the first leg and Ryan Babel was fortunate to get his in the second. It probably would have been fairer if we had a penalty each over the two legs but it didn’t pan out like that.
Well it was a fantastic game of football tonight and give credit to Liverpool, they played more expansively that I thought they would. We all know how dangerous Liverpool are in Europe and now they have beaten us they will feel like they can win it. It’s a shame how the draw panned out really as well. Chelsea and United got favourable draws and we got the team no-one else wanted.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still hurting over the 2 major penalty incidents in each of the ties because I think it would have made a difference to the outcome of the games. Such games are won and lost on the little things and even the most dedicated Liverpool supporter couldn’t say that certain things didn’t go in their favour.
But Liverpool have qualified and all you can say is congratulations to them and good luck in the next round.
The game in a way summed up our season. We were strong early on but in the end we were hanging on.
I suppose now our focus will be on how we can add that extra strength we need for next season. The game on Sunday will be even tougher now after tonight so let’s see what the boys are made of.