Great heart shown despite a missed opportunity for Arsenal

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.

Have your say on Arsenal’s draw with Liverpool by leaving a comment.

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29 Responses to “Great heart shown despite a missed opportunity for Arsenal”

  1. butterfingers
    December 22, 2008 at 8:59 pm #

    Now we know why they are called luckypool. The main point is the ref was shocking as leiva fouled every chance he got and webb in the 1st half gave him his final warning but in the 2nd he fouled another 3 times before he got booked. Also gerrard ran a good 30 yards or so into our box slowed down so gallas cuts in front and then dives like some one in the ground was a sas marksman and still no card and I thought the refs were going to stamp out all this diving bullshit but again it’s all talk and untill we have video refs it will keep happening. maybe we could have 2 refs on the pitch as well as webbs positioning was woefull. But on the plus side rvp has got his touch back and lets hope he bangs in a few on boxing day.

  2. gaya
    December 22, 2008 at 9:04 pm #

    My disappointment with this game is the performance the team put up after we went ten men. I wondered why we dont offer such from start to finish, why do we have to wait until our back our to the wall before we come out fighting?

  3. voley_gun
    December 22, 2008 at 10:00 pm #

    I felt more likely won than drawn.Our 10 men squad showed the grit and quality to be genuine title contenders.I hope this should
    give our boys the needed confidence for our fight to the title.Let this game a turning point to the team and lays the foundation to climb the ladder.

  4. Ianinja
    December 22, 2008 at 11:19 pm #

    Yes they showed grit but I still don’t think they are title contenders. They have to make sure they hold on to 4th place then work their way up. String a succesion of wining runs then maybe …just maybe we have a shot at the top three places.

  5. KenyanGooner
    December 22, 2008 at 11:32 pm #

    At last SF you have posted. I was to buy you a PC, too bad you bought it. Good post SF.

  6. Thomas
    December 22, 2008 at 11:37 pm #

    I don’t quite agree on people’s outlook on the adebayor decision. It was a tough call for me. I’m not saying he definitely deserved a second yellow, but you can’t deny the fact that he put himself in a risky position by raising his foot (with studs showing) possibly 1cm away from his shins. Had he come a coupe of centimetres closer to Arbeloa, the end result could have been shocking in my opinion. It’s a fine line between these decisions, because on one hand you have these tackles that did no damage in the end but were close to being bad, and then you have the tackles that do unfortunaely connect and there are broken bones. The bottom line is that they’re trying to cut down on any tackle that is remotely dangerous to prevent injuries.

  7. Jess
    December 23, 2008 at 12:47 am #

    I thought it was interesting that the commentators I was watching were actually on Ade’s side. They both said they felt the bookings were harsh and were surprised. It was nice to hear the media actually acknowledge that something was unfair against Arsenal! On a positive note the lads played very well and it’s gret to hear RVP compared to Bergkamp again.

  8. Jacobs Femi
    December 23, 2008 at 12:48 am #

    It was a nice play by our boys. The Red card was not supposed to be, considering that the tackle was not harmful and seeing the importance of the march.

    I am only concerned about Diaby. He is a nice player, but anytime he receive ball or before he gets the ball, its seems all in his brain is to dribble. He should reduce dribbling particularly at crucial times like that behind. Please.

    Nasri was my man of the march. Young, yet recourceful.

  9. gunner32
    December 23, 2008 at 1:10 am #

    The message cannot be clearer – with the injury to Cesc now, and the clear signs that Liverpool are still be protected by referees in a way that other teams are not, Wenger will know exactly where we stand for the second half of the season. The message cannot be clearer – with the injury to Cesc now, and the clear signs that Liverpool are still be protected by referees in a way that other teams are not, the Wenger will know exactly where we stand for the second half of the season. If he is unsure as to whether the baby team will be able to step up and do their stuff, the Lord Wenger can go and buy anyone he wants. Real Mad have already spent their dosh paying several hundred billion for Lasagne Diarra – which is ok because it gets us more money, and it gets money for Portsmouth (and it is hard not to feel something for Portsmouth given who now runs the show, and who is in and around the team). I haven¿t a clue whether we should buy anyone or not – time and again I have been amazed at what he has conjured up from the realms of the outer darkness. I¿m the one who wondered what the hell he was doing with Henry who didn¿t seem to know where the goal was for the first two months. (I also thought Dennis was over the hill when we bought him. Shows what I know.) With that in mind, I was heartened by Sunday, and as each game goes along I think that Denilson is not just a great midfielder, but is getting that inside knowledge that Gilberto had – that ¿invisible wall¿ stuff that made him so valuable. I do recall how, when Gilberto got his year-long injury, there was a general feeling that he would not be missed because he really did nothing. When he came back he got an overwhelming reception – everyone knew by then why he was in the side, and what we had missed without him. So, now its Villa.

  10. jay-jay
    December 23, 2008 at 1:30 am #

    Really bad call from the Ref – never a second yellow for Ade. My main RVP has been getting a bit of stick recently so it was good to see him smack a truly magnificent goal. If Djourou and Gallas cannot catch Keano, how on earth are they to defend aganist Agbonlahor and Young???? Fabregas out for a while which is a MASSIVE BLOW, denilson should hopefully place in CM because as every one has said he is a good replacement for Cesc not a good partner. Nasri and Eboue should be on the LW and RW respectively and Diaby to partner Deni. Sagna and Eboue should keep Young guiet but Agbonlahor is a whole different kettle of fish. But i still believe!

  11. TayGoon
    December 23, 2008 at 2:27 am #

    I was impressed by the whole team. Song did very well and better than I was expecting. Did anyone notice Adebayor went an entire half without an offside?. Good stuff.

    I am not worried by Villa. This is a perfect chance for Denilson to cast a doubt or two into fan’s minds. Song will do a decent job.

    The goal we conceded is exactly why I preffer a Djourou/Toure partnership. Djourou was a bit further up so Gallas should have covered for him. Just a little bit of pace and Toure could have snuffed out that attack.

    It goes withought saying that it was a disastrous week for my fantasy league showing.

  12. Demetrio
    December 23, 2008 at 3:45 am #

    The most ridiculous thing about the sending off or the two yellows in general is the fact the it toook the ref 70 or 80 mins to book Lucas who had been talked to at least 3 times before that. Why Ade didn’t get that same treatment i dunno because Lucas made worse tackles and got warnings. Ade shielded the ball and got 2 yellows. That ref is ridiculous.

    We will miss Cesc for the Villa game if his injury is serious. Villa is really gonna come after our boys to put some distance between us and them, and if they beat us, i think we will have a hard time getting 4th place.

  13. Gibbs
    December 23, 2008 at 7:58 am #

    3 games against Liverpool, 3 very bad decisions against us, and they were decisions that cost us the games. What the hell is going here? I smell a rat

  14. Spanish Fry
    December 23, 2008 at 8:00 am #

    Chelsea waste a chance to go top. John Terry sent off. How are we still in this league?

  15. Michael
    December 23, 2008 at 8:06 am #

    “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.”

    Did you see their defending for Liverpool’s goal? It was the only time they were really called upon and they did not display anything like solidity in my opinion…..

    Title race? You’re having a laugh, mate. The race for fourth is what we’re in.

  16. Demetrio
    December 23, 2008 at 8:06 am #

    Are the refs TRYING to help Liverppol win the leauge.. wtf.

  17. butterfingers
    December 23, 2008 at 8:07 am #

    It’s all up to manure now as they could win there games in hand and we all know how good they are when they are on a roll. With cesc injured I think we will have a hard battle against villa but still think the young players at villa will bottle it some time or other.

  18. Demetrio
    December 23, 2008 at 8:08 am #

    I agree with Michael.. we are not in the title race, although mathematically it may be close.. realistically we don’t have the depth or the necessary players to win the league and wont until Wenger ditches his busted ass youth policy and starts bringing us players that will help us now, not 5-6-7 years down the road.

  19. Spanish Fry
    December 23, 2008 at 8:32 am #

    @ Demetrio / Michael – 8 points off the top of the league is still in the title race. Whether people think we can stay in the hunt is another matter entirely but the facts are that we’re well in it at this stage.

    Incidentally, so are Aston Villa.

  20. darragh
    December 23, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Hi SF, I agree with most of what you said apart from the part about the tight partnership between Gallas and Djourou. It might be as tight as arsenal can do given the choice of players, but their susceptibility to the long ball is painfully obvious!

    Saying that both goals were of top notch quality.

  21. Demetrio
    December 23, 2008 at 9:31 am #

    Spanish.. yes we are mathematically still in the title race techniqually. But we aren’t going to win the league, so we should concentrate on securing 4th spot from an in form Aston Villa who have been playing very good football and who (if we drop too many more games) could deff knock us out the top 4. I dont see us losing the top 4 spot, but if ever there was a year we risk it, this is the year.

  22. butterfingers
    December 23, 2008 at 10:11 am #

    How nice would it be to have villa knock chelscum out of the top 4 that’s what I want santa.

  23. Spanish Fry
    December 23, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    @ Demetrio – Fair enough. You have to think that with Cesc injured and Rosicky out for longer than expected the impetus is on Arsene Wenger to make a Nasri-like signing in January. Especially considering he doesn’t want to play Diaby in that position.

    I think we’re in a decent position given the weaknesses in our squad and if some signings are made then we’re in with a little shot at the title.

  24. MoMONEY
    December 23, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    Word is that Cesc is out for 3 months… If this is the case there will absolutely be signings in January. This season is jinxed and I will be satisfied with finishing 4th. That needs to be the main goal.

    That being said the match against Villa is absolutely IMMENSE. Taking some points off of them and going into the break ahead of them is absolutely essential. The reinforcements are coming- we jest need 3 points against Villa. Im nervous but it can be done…

  25. MoMONEY
    December 23, 2008 at 12:47 pm #

    Also forgot that Ade will probably be suspended… If the FA doesnt overturn that decision it could indeed doom our season.

    As for transfer- the obvious DMF is needed and a CB would be nice but Im not too sure many will be available in January… But with Cesc, Rosicky, and Walcott still out We probably need another AMF. Sure we can throw in some young guys but if we are serious about competing e will have to make an addition. I know its a long shot but someone like Ribery could hop into the squad and make an immediate impact then shift into another spot when Cesc gets back… Im quite worried all of a sudden

  26. Spanish Fry
    December 23, 2008 at 1:27 pm #

    @ MoMONEY – Apparently clubs can’t appeal double-yellow cards, only red cards. That means Ade is certain to miss out.

    Regardless, I think we can beat Villa.

  27. Over to you Arsene!
    December 23, 2008 at 2:55 pm #

    Some people just don’t get it do they?

    1. Almunia fails to come for a simple corner cross, leaving Fulham with a clear heading opportunity on goal. 1 point dropped.

    2. Almunia incomprehensibly fails to save a shot that comes off the underside of his crossbar, 30 yards out from a player who had never scored a professional goal in his life – Grant Leadbitter. Goalkeeping experts and Arsenal experts like Bob Wilson admit that no top keeper should be making such basic errors.
    2 points dropped.

    3. Manuel Almunia literally jumps out of the way of a Stoke throw-in to avoid clashing with Sidebe. In a show of utter cowardice, this leads to Stoke scoring a second. 3 points dropped, playing against a team that has not scored from open play in over 800 minutes.

    4. Against Chelski. Manuel Almunia throws out a blind pass to Clichy, who is caught unaware and this leads to Bosingwa stealing the ball and a consequent Chelski goal (scored by Djourou). Lucky we won that game.

    5. Aston Villa at home. This was a Carbon Copy of today’s Liverpool goal. Almunia had all day to make a decision. Agbonlahor is the fastest player in the Premiership along with Cisse and Walcott. Knowing that Gallas was alone and up against him, Almunia’s job was to sweep up and clear the ball. Incredibly, he remains rooted to his line – and to compound matters, he is then beaten by a simple shot that goes through his glove. Unreal.

    6. Spuds at home. David Bentley shoots from 45 yards out. No keeper of international quality is permitted to be beaten from that far out. Let us see if any other top Premiership keeper is beaten from that far out this season.

    7. The same match. Tom Hundredstone unleashes a daisy-cutter that an under-10s keeper should be saving. It is a simple back-pass. Almunia is incapable of holding on and the Bent one rushes in to tap into an empty net. 2 points dropped.

    8. Today against the Bin Dippers.
    Now. The defence I shall come to in an instant. But after Almunia’s cock-up against Villa for Agbonlahor’s second killer goal, I would have expected Almunia to know ho to command his area. I, and the people I attended with, were flabbergasted to witness that Almunia literally was incapable of reading the situation, coming off his line and sweeping up for his defence. Almunia made the same mistake against Boro last Saturday and was fortunate not to be punished by Downing.
    I find it incredible that a goalkeeper of over 30 years old continues to be so utterly incompetent. Yes the defence don’t help him out but there is no excuse for this aberration of a ‘first choice’ continuing to make the same grammar-school catalog of errors. Unbelievable.

    I said two seasons ago that the foundation of any successful team is the goalkeeper. A top goalkeeper spreads confidence to the defence and this spreads to the whole team. Jose Mourinho said it about Petr Cech: ‘You build a house from the bottom up. Not from the top down’.

    It is no coincidence that Arsenal last won something when Jens Lehmann was our first-choice. Arsenal will win nothing at all so long as Almunia continues to impersonate an Arsenal keeper. He isn’t good enough, he never has been. He is not ‘solid’ or ‘decent enough’.

    If he was, he would have played something resembling international football and Celta Vigo would have made him first-choice. For a club that aspires to apparently dominate European football, how does on explain coming up against teams with keepers of the calibre of Buffon and Casillas?

    As for today? Well Coward Webb is a c*nt. Every Arsenal fan that watched the Carling cup final knows that he has a personal vendetta pending with Adebayor. But to claim that Webb is the reason for our draw today would be optimistic at best, and disingenuous at worst.

    It is not Coward Webb’s fault that Johan Djourou ball-watched and demonstrated a basic inability to attack a ball that floated in the air for an eternity. It is not Coward Webb’s fault that yet again; after his error last week against Boro leading to their equalizer, after his sloppy error leading to the Spuds pulling a goal back against us, after his error at St Andrews last season costing us the league: Gael Clichy continues to take pathetic and unnecessary risks near his own penalty area.

    He did it again today and it almost cost us a second goal. God knows how Gerrard missed that one. So instead of pointing fingers at an incompetent referee (the league is full of them) isn’t it about time we pointed fingers at our team and manager?

    Why is Clichy still making such outrageous mistakes game after game? Robin Van Persie was superb today and along with Cesc, is one of two genuine world-class players. Sagnae potentially the other. How come Van Persie was given absolutely no service from our midfield? He got nothing. Not one through-ball played to him all day. People would also do well to as why it was, that for his 50-odd minutes on the pitch, Adebayor infuriated so many supporters with his inability to win a single attacking header against Carragher.

    Plenry of people mugged Hleb off when he left the club but as I said back then, he shall have the last laugh. Once Fabregas left the scene, Arsenal were totally incapable of keeping possession. It is not on that a club as big as ours relies on just one 21 year-old kid to keep the football. Diaby and Song haven’t the brains or the ability to retain possession. (Though Song was ok today). Denilson is incredibly docile and brittle, so easily brushed aside.

    If I were Van Persie, with Barcelona lurking in the shadows, I would indeed be posing myself some serious questions. Do you think Van Persie or Fabregas are enjoying their football at the moment? It was painful watching a Wenger Arsenal team so devoid of ideas and creativity tonight. Utterly dispiriting.

    Every Arsenal fan knows what the problem is, and the problem was the manager’s reticence and determination to prove he can win the league on a shoestring over summer. Everyone knows how detrimental Flamini’s departure was to our side – you even have opposition players such as Mascherano commenting on it. The team is utterly devoid of width and the decision to invest any belief in the recovery of Rosicky has always been a foolish one. The manager addressed last summer, the fact that Arsenal had conceded too many goals from simple route one goals.

    Today’s was absurd. Truly absurd.

    An Arsenal throw-in inside Liverpool’s half. Clichy takes the throw. A Liverpool player hoofs the ball clear into safety (Clichy take note) and this miraculously results in a one-on-one situation, whereby the Irish gypsy is left totally isolated against our inept keeper.

    The eyes could scarcely believe what they were seeing but then again, anyone that was at that Spuds game earlier this season was not all that surprised.

    Some people seem to think that when EDS returns he will be the saviour, but I do not share that optimism. For starters no one knows if he will ever be the same player again -and a hamstring pull on his competitive return suggests that reintegration is going to be an arduous and fraught process for the Croatian/Brazilian.
    Even if he does return: where is the service going to come from? The alarming lack of width, allayed to the over-dependence on Cesc Fabregas is constraining this team.

    This is what happens when transfer window after transfer window, the right additions are overlooked. You leave yourself too much to achieve in one fell swoop. Honestly, Arsenal need a new goalkeeper, a winger, a central defensive midfielder and a centre-back as the bare minimum.

    Were I to extend this then, I would assert Clichy needs competition for his place. He has none and this is why he can afford lapse after lapse every week: who will replace him?

    This game against Villa on Boxing day is now massive and we shall go into the game without our creative fulcrum, and without the Bayor. A Villa win and they are 6 points clear. Some Arsenal fans have dismissed the threat that Villa pose, forgetting that we were extremely fortunate to get away with 4th place in 2006. The fact that the Spuds are bottlers saved us.

    Villa are made of sterner stuff I am afraid. They dug in last night and beat West Ham. Their players are physically strong and their manager motivates his players. Be very certain, the threat of Arsenal missing out on the top 4 is very real. A defeat on Boxing day would see to that.

    And considering this season was supposed to be one of improvement, this would be simply unacceptable. A midfield with Song, Denilson, Diaby and Eboue is also unacceptable.

    Wenger has to drop this pet policy he possesses and play Ramsey against Villa. Forget Diaby, he will give the team the same debilitating performances we got in the last Villa game, where Barry and Davies snuffed him out easy.

    This has been repeated a thousand times but this January, Wenger has some serious work to do. It’s his choice of course but I am of the opinion that the future course of this team and structure, will be marked out by the decisions Wenger makes over January.

    One signing will not do it. The minimum requirement is a holding midfielder, a centre-back and a wide midfielder. Yes that is three signings, and yes that is what we have left ourselves in need of doing. Playing Denilson, Eboue and Diaby out wide has gone on long enough.

    Nasri’s mysterious recurring injuries, allayed to Walcott’s dodgy shoulder means that this position has now become imperative.

    Almunia is the biggest problem in this team and I have always maintained that. Wenger will not bomb him out until summer though so,much as I want to see him never wear the shirt again….

    Beyond the January signings, Arsenal need a match-winner. Someone who will win games with a moment of individual brilliance and relieve pressure from the team. We always had at least one in the past: Bergkamp, Henry, Pires.

    Now we have none.

    If Wenger doesn’t get it right this January then he never will.

    Over to you Arsene.

  28. Spanish Fry
    December 23, 2008 at 3:13 pm #

    Please do not put in entire posts from other blogs. It is a breach of copyright.

  29. Jacobs Femi
    December 23, 2008 at 10:29 pm #

    Please, can somebody tell me, how long is Fabrigas injury? Three weeks or three months?

    I am really going to miss him. Please Diaby should please improve and reduce dribling.

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