EPL: Day 32 (Arsenal 4 – Liverpool 2)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 9th, 2004 • 5:23 am

This one was for the doubters. Arsenal might not be the best team in Europe just yet (but then, neither are Monaco, Porto, Deportivo or Chelsea), but they certainly have a firm grip on the English Premiership, and that’s no small feat.

The grip didn’t seem as firm today during the first half, where twice Liverpool took the lead — but that can be attributed to defensive jitters, which are not abnormal after the traumatic events of the past week. (And Michael Owen’s goal from Gerrard’s pass was a nice piece of work.) More importantly, players like Vieira, Pires and Henry were nearly back to their best, and that’s a pretty swift recovery considering that the defeat against Chelsea was just three days ago.

You could probably argue that Arsenal simply suffered a Chelsea overdose last Tuesday. Having beaten them twice in the league and once in the FA Cup this season, they ran out of ideas and couldn’t feel the urge to win that Chelsea did, no matter how important the competition was. Had Arsenal been drawn against another, non-English side, they might very well still be in the competition.

In any case, if they had lacked character and motivation, falling behind against Liverpool twice at home might have been deadly for them. But they did more than enough to show their true spirit. Granted, they were somewhat fortunate on the first Thierry Henry goal, because Liverpool had a case in the mid-field battle that went to Arsenal’s advantage when a foul against them could have been called. And Owen missed a clear-cut chance to increase his team’s lead in the first half.

But there was absolutely no doubt about the other three Arsenal goals. And there is no doubt about Thierry Henry’s class, demonstrated in his second goal, with a run that simply left Liverpool’s defense transfixed. His third goal (and the Gunners’ fourth) was a lucky bounce, but it was luck created by Arsenal and not gifted to them.

The league statistics are still going up for Arsenal. It’s now a run of 31 games unbeaten this season (Arsenal have a game in hand because of their FA Cup run). And Thierry Henry’s league tally is now 25 goals. The lead over Chelsea is back to 7 points and the pressure is back on the London millionaires to keep up with Arsenal.

The question is now: What kind of team will Arsène Wenger field on Sunday in Newcastle? He obviously will have to balance the desire to maintain his team’s unbeaten run against the need to rest some players. Undeniably there is a certain lack of depth in the squad in such a situation. But at least the Gunners will have a whole week to recover after that, with no mid-week game on top of everything else. And the injuries appear to have been kept to a minimum, in spite of the Reyes/Ljunberg/Henry scare earlier in the week.

We shall see.

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