While we may have been denied a thrilling victory at Anfield by Yossi Benayoun’s late equaliser, it’s hard to be too disappointed with last night’s 4-4 draw with Liverpool (view all the goals and highlights here).
In a game that was littered with defensive errors Andrey Arshavin was the star of show, scoring all four of our goals in a performance to remember. In contrast, our back five had a night to forget as Mikael Silvestre and Kolo Toure were given a torrid time by Fernando Torres, Bacary Sagna played well below his best and Lukasz Fabianski, despite making a number of good saves was at least partially at fault for both Liverpool’s second and third goals.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby were all left out from the side that lost to Chelsea and Nicklas Bendtner, Samir Nasri, Arshavin and Alex Song took their respective places. However, the first half was all Liverpool as our much-changed line-up struggled to get a foothold on the game. Torres and Benayoun forced good saves out of Fabianski while Samir Nasri cleared a Daniel Agger header of the line.
We were lucky to still be level with Liverpool after the opening half-hour and somehow took the lead with our only decent attack of the half soon after. Cesc Fabregas and Nasri caught Javier Mascherano napping on the edge of the Liverpool area before the captain teed up Arshavin to fire home off the underside of the bar. A well-taken, if slightly undeserved goal.
Unfortunately the lead didn’t last too long. Liverpool regrouped after the break to score two quick-fire goals and take a 2-1 lead. First Torres punished a poor clearance by Sagna before Benayoun forced home a header that Fabianski could really had saved had he been standing on the right side of the goal-line. From the TV coverage it sounded like The Kop was absolutely rocking and our boys were back under pressure again.
We needed a response and got it through the brilliance of Arshavin. Nipping in to steal the ball from Alvaro Arbeloa, the Russian steamed through on goal and smashed a 25-yard effort beyond the out-stretched fingers of Pepe Reina. It was a superb goal and just as we were celebrating pulling level, Arshavin scored again. This time Fabio Aurelia was at fault as his clearance fell straight to the Russian and he fired low into the goal.
It was an amazing turnaround, but more was still to come as Torres scored his second of the night after wriggling free of Silvestre and just about beating Fabianski. The Polish goalkeeper got a good glove on it and on another day may have turned it away, but he is clearly not firing on all cylinders. I thought his reaction to the goal – giving the post a good thump – summed up perfectly the difficult time he is having at the moment.
After drawing level I really felt that Liverpool would go on to win it, but after 20 minutes of being run ragged we took the lead again. With Liverpool giving their all to find a winner Theo Walcott – who had been brought on for the woeful Denilson – broke forward at pace to give Arshavin the opportunity to score his and Arsenal’s fourth goal of the game. He duly obliged, finishing clinically to secure his place in Arsenal history and sending this blogger absolutely crazy in his own living room.
I thought at that point it was surely over, but once again Liverpool showed their incredible fighting spirit to have the final say. With just a minute or two of added time remaining a frantic goal-mouth scramble allowed Benayoun to score his second and deny Arshavin match-winner status. 4-4 it ended, and utterly mental and absorbing contest that put a severe dent in Liverpool’s title dream and denied us a morale boost in the lead-up to the Champions League semi-final against Manchester United.
It’s always difficult to analyse contests of this nature but I thought we learnt a few things today.
Firstly, it’s become clear to me that the defensive side of our game is nowhere near as secure without Manuel Almunia, William Gallas, Gael Clichy and Johan Djourou. I realise this might be an obvious statement, but whereby our under-strength defence was able to get by as a unit against Villarreal at the Emirates, as individuals they have been found wanting against both Chelsea and Liverpool.
As a fourth-choice centre-back Silvestre should not be criticised too much, but Torres and Didier Drogba have just been too quick for him to handle in the past two games. Meanwhile Fabianski is struggling to keep his head above water and Toure looks far less of a player without Gallas next to him.
Secondly, I strongly believe we now know our best attacking six to play out the rest of the season. Denilson’s horrible recent performances – he was again completely anonymous tonight – mean that Song and Fabregas should be the middle pairing with Arshavin and Nasri or Walcott on the wings and Adebayor and van Persie as strikers. Walcott should come in for Arshavin in the Champions League while Diaby and Bendtner should remain where they belong at the moment, firmly on the bench.
Thirdly, Alex Song. Wow. He is just impressing me so much at the moment. With every good performance he puts in Denilson and Diaby must surely be getting further and further from the starting side. And rightly so, too. He has become indespensible to this side and should we lose him to injury I don’t think we can win the Champions League.
Fourthly, and perhaps most excitingly, it is crystal clear that we have unearthed an absolute gem in Andrey Arshavin. To score four goals at Anfield from the left side of midfield is a truly preposterous feat for any player, let alone one who has played as little as seven games in England and was making his debut against another big four club. His willingness to be direct and finish emphatically is so refreshing at a club that generally looks for the long way to goal and I am beginning to get extremely excited about the contribution he could make to Arsenal next season.
The only disappointing aspect of Arshavin’s four-goal haul was that it came just three days after missing out on the starting team for the game against Chelsea. I think it’s fair to say that had the Russian been playing at Wembley there’s a very good chance we would be facing Everton in the Cup final at the end of May.
To summarise a completely insane game, I’m not too unhappy with the result because I truly believe Liverpool were the better side. They played with more urgency and precision and had it not been for our amazing Russian we would have been nowhere near getting a point. Having said that, it was certainly disappointing to be so close to winning at Anfield only to have it whisked away by another late, late goal.
Phew, I need a lie-down. More tomorrow.
Have your say on Arsenal’s utterly amazing 4-4 draw with Liverpool by leaving a comment.