Well, it was slightly ugly – having said that the winner wasn’t ugly at all – but we battled and battled in the second half and came up trumps, after the worst half I’ve seen us play in recent years. Players like Cesc Fabregas were giving the ball away left right and centre, giving away silly fouls and nearly conceding a penalty, so it was relieving to hear the final whistle blow with the score at 2-1 to the mighty Arsenal.
We were without Robin van Persie – by the way we’re suing the Dutch KNVB for his injury in a pointless friendly – Tomas Rosicky, Nicklas Bendtner and Gael Clichy; plus his back-up Kieran Gibbs, for that matter. Gallas, Traore, Walcott, Arshavin, Diaby and Eduardo were all returning from knocks, and it was the Russian Arshavin, who gave a rather hilarious interview before the game, who started on his own up front, with Nasri and Walcott either side of him, whilst in the midfield were Alex Song, Denilson and Cesc Fabregas. The usual defence bar Armand Traore, who’s been excellent filling in for our two first choice left backs Clichy and Gibbs of late, with the ever-increasingly dodgy Manuel Almunia in between the sticks; well, whenever he wasn’t charging out to push the ball to opposition players – see Kuyt, Dirk.
Liverpool (hoof the ball) were much the brighter side early on. We had just a bit more possession than they did, but it barely paid off, with not even two shots on goal, let alone on target. Gerrard could have easily had a pen, when he knocked the ball past Gallas, who stuck a leg out and tripped the England midfielder, but Howard Webb said no! It should have been a penalty on the basis of the foul, but it could be argued that Gerrard wasn’t getting the ball even if Gallas hadn’t been there.
Fernando Torres reaaaaaally should have put the Scousers in the lead when a well-weighted ball from Gerrard picked the Spaniard out all on his own in the middle, but with his first touch he fired a side-footed effort into the arms of Almunia, who really should have been made to work harder by Torres – you would have thought Torres, of all people, would have stuck that in the back of the net, but it wasn’t to be.
But they went deservedly ahead, despite their goal coming from a rather questionable free kick given away by Denilson on Gerrard, who seems to enjoy the close company of the grass a whole lot more these days. The free kick was whipped in, and the possibly-offside Lucas got the slightest of touches, which somehow led Almunia to gently push the ball to Kuyt, despite not being under any real pressure, and Kuyt poked home. If Almunia’s gonna come that far out his goal, you want him to catch it, if not, stay in your goal. I reckon not one PL goalie is worse than our number one, which speaks volumes – get Fabianski in I say.
Then after half time, we witnessed something we haven’t seen in a long time – Arsenal coming back into the lead, being ahead by one goal – and closing out the opposition’s threat. But never mind that, first to our first goal of the night, and it was scored by a certain Glen Johnson, apparently £18 million’s worth of talent. That talent wasn’t apparent (hehe, rhyme) when a deflection on Sami Nasri’s low cross took the ball into Johnson’s path, and he poked the ball home with his first touch, a deadly finish which the wrong-footed Pepe Reina could do nothing about. 50 minutes gone, 1-1.
We still needed a goal from somewhere though, and it came in the most spectacular of fashions. Fabregas crossed the ball into the area, where Walcott went up against Carragher for it, probably the only good thing Theo did all game that was. The ball dropped to Andrey Arshavin, who controlled under pressure, swivelled and absolutely pummelled (the most powerful of words I can think of to describe such a powerful finish) the ball into the top left hand corner, via the upright. Deadly. Pure, as Andy Gray described it, and it was. Pure.
Another £20 million man was soon on the pitch for Liverpool in the form of Alberto Aquilani. The idea at the beginning of the season was that he was supposed to be out for 2 months, but the seemingly over-cautious Benitez has still only given him one start midway through December. He didn’t really do anything of note though, neither did Gerrard or Torres – well, Gerrard dived a few more times but Webb saw through his pathetic cheating as many referees have failed to do in the past, so fair play to him. Didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt in the penalty incident, and he didn’t get it.
I had my hands clasped together from around the 70 minute mark, just praying we could hold onto our lead. Diaby came on for the fairly useless Walcott who had nothing better to do than run into defenders it seemed, before Ramsey replaced Arshavin, who looked to have jarred his knee after landing awkwardly having had a goalbound shot deflected wide for a corner – although he seemed alright a few minutes after asking for a substitute to take his place. But we held on right until the end, and not even the famous Kop could suck the ball past our resilient defence – thank god, because Almunia would have been our last line of defence if they’d breached the Verminator and co. Finally beaten Liverpool at Anfield after six years of trying to break the mould, and let me tell you, it felt as sweet as any of our victories so far.