It may not have been the result we were looking for before the game but under the circumstances a 1-1 draw with league leaders Liverpool was a decent outcome.
Two goals of supreme quality and a horrendous sending-off decision were the key moments in a rough-and-tumble encounter at the Emirates. Robin van Persie and Robbie Keane traded blows in the first half before Emmanuel Adebayor was given his marching orders midway through the second after collecting two yellows. To say the sending-off was harsh is an understatement but I’ll go into that a little bit later.
The Arsenal starting side was a rather predictable one. There was only one change from the team that drew with Middlesbrough a week ago as Samir Nasri returned on the left at the expense of Abou Diaby. The side had a really strong feel to it with William Gallas and Johan Djourou continuing their tight partership at the back and Adebayor and van Persie looking a dangerous combination up front.
As is usual in most ‘big four’ clashes the game got off to a rather tentative start. Neither side settled better despite Manuel Almunia and Pepe Reina being forced into saves from Steven Gerrard and Adebayor in the opening quarter of an hour. However, the game exploded into life when van Persie rattled home a classy opener.
Nasri opened up the Liverpol defence with an excellent long ball as van Persie took two sublime touches to control and move away from Jamie Carragher before crashing the ball home with his ‘chocolate leg’. It was football of the highest quality and given the extreme importance of the game can be considered one of the best goals of the season and another example of van Persie’s ability to make the difference when we need it most.
After going up we seemed to settle quite well. Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song got on top in the middle and Nasri and particularly Adebayor kept the Liverpool defence busy with their busy movement. Liverpool’s main players Gerrard and Robbie Keane were relatively quiet and our defence was looking quite solid.
But just before half-timewe conceded. Daniel Agger’s long punt forward caught out Djourou and Keane capitalised with a smashing half-volley. It was harsh on Djourou and Gallas, who had performed quite well, but the pair switched off for just a fraction of a second and were punished for it. Hopefully a lesson learnt, although the second goal conceded against Aston Villa suggests it’s likely to happen again.
Shortly after equalising Liverpool should have gone ahead. Dirk Kuijt robbed Gael Clichy on the edge of the area and fed the previously quiet Gerrard but fired wide with the goal gaping. Then Almunia saved well from a decent shot from Kuijt before Fabregas went down injured after a hard but fair challenge by Xabi Alonso. It was the last action of the half and, crucially, forced our captain off.
Fabregas was replaced by Diaby at the half which caused a bit of a reshuffle in the midfield. Denilson joined Song in the middle with Nasri moving to the right and Diaby playing on the left. It was always going to be a challenge keeping Liverpool at bay without our captain and for the first 15 or so minutes of the second half they played their best football. However, they only forced Almunia into one good save before the pivotal moment of the match occurred.
Adebayor, who had looked lively despite being harshly in the first half, was given a second yellow card after a clash with Alvaro Arbeloa. The word from Adebayor after the match was that he was booked for his high foot but anyone who saw the footage will know how ridiculous this decision was. Adebayor showed no intent and made absolutely no contact and the fact that he was sent off was a farce.
With only ten men we played our best football, which was both encouraging and infuriating. Encouraging because it still felt like we could win the game and infuriating because we were displaying the sort of pass-and-move game that the boys should have been executing with Adebayor on the pitch.
Despite a wonderful final half-hour by Song and van Persie and some really stoic defending our threat started to fizzle out. Nasri and van Persie had a couple of half-chances but the real surprise in the final third of the game was just how poor Liverpool was. We were there for the taking, devoid of our captain and down a man and they just didn’t seem to know what to do.
People keep saying that Liverpool are genuine title contenders but I think their fans will look at their performance in the final half-hour against us and realise that title contenders don’t usually play with the sort of tentativeness they displayed. I’m sure Chelsea and Manchester United will be licking their lips.
Liverpool did have a couple of late chances but it ended 1-1, a fair result in my opinion. This was more of a point gained than two points lost given the circumstances but I’m sure there are a lot of Arsenal supporters out there who are like me, disappointed that we were robbed of a really good chance to beat Liverpool by a frankly shocking refereeing decision.
In terms of performances I thought Song and Denilson did well over the 90 minutes, as did Bacary Sagna and van Persie. Nasri showed his quality with a lovely pass for van Persie’s goal while Djourou and Gallas continued to show the sort of solidity at the back that will be required to stay in the title race as the season goes on.
My final thoughts on this game is that it was a missed opportunity. We remain 8 points off the top but this a game that we really could have won had Adebayor stayed on. Regardless, it is another step forward for the team and good result under the circumstances. Next up is Aston Villa on Boxing Day and the boys should feel reasonably good going into the clash despite the losses of Fabregas and (most likely) Adebayor.
An interesting week awaits.
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