EPL 2006: Arsenal 2 – Liverpool 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
March 13th, 2006 • 9:17 am

With Tottenham losing at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, it was really vital for the Gunners to grab all three points and move within two points of their main rivals for the fourth spot synonymous with Champions’ League qualification for next season.

It was another highly entertaining game, which had a bit of everything: flamboyance, grit, drama, wastefulness, woeful errors, etc. In the end, the Gunners were of course lucky to get a win through Steven Gerrard’s bad mistake (similar to the one in Euro 2004 in the France – England game). But they had done more than enough to win the tie—except for the most essential, that is, i.e. score enough goals to bury the opposition.

The first half was mostly one-way traffic. After 20 minutes of utter domination, Thierry Henry got through on an inch-perfect pass by Fabregas and put the finishing touch in his typical high-class fashion.

At half-time, the only disappointment was that Arsenal hadn’t put the result beyond any doubt with a couple more goals, You just knew that Liverpool would try to fight back in the second half, and they did just that, albeit with their woefully inefficient strike force.

The Gunners couldn’t afford to rely on a single goal advantage, and had to try to press for a second goal. There were more opportunities, but still no second goal. And when a fierce but speculative Gerrard shot was fisted by Lehmann right in the path of über-poacher Garcia with 15 minutes to go, it seemed that the worst possible scenario was about to unfold. The build-up might have been questionable, with what looked like a clear foul by Alonso on Fabregas that went unpunished, but ultimately, the problem was once again that the Gunners had failed to convert a greater number of their many glorious chances and establish an insurmountable lead.

This goal gave Liverpool the impetus to try and grab a later winner, and the Gunners were deeply shaken. Then came Alonso’s dismissal, and Steven Gerrard’s horrible mistake. The Alonso dismissal was maybe a bit harsh (the second foul didn’t look like a bookable offence), but maybe subconsciously Steve Bennett was trying to compensate for the foul on Fabregas that he didn’t sanction and that led to the Liverpool goal. Still, the Gunners would have taken a goal against a red card any time, I suspect.

As it happens, they did get that second goal handed to them on a silver platter by the Liverpool captain. The misguided back pass intercepted by Thierry Henry still required some work by the Gunner, but if there was one man on the pitch that was able to convert such a mistake by the opposition into a goal, it was the Arsenal captain, who had yet another great game.

So 2-1 it was, and the Gunners did get the result that their endeavour—but not their finishing—deserved. Unfortunately, they won’t always have this kind of luck and they really need to learn how to take advantage of their domination and technical excellence to kill games.

The Lehmann mistake is a bit of a worry, but, after a few glorious performances by the German keeper, we should probably give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was a one-off thing and that his current run of form will continue.

Fabregas had a terrific game and was probably the man of the match, although Thierry Henry himself was probably not far behind. The rest of the team performed very well too, although Éboué, Adebayor, and Hleb really should have capped their excellent performances with better finishing touches and a goal or two.

Ultimately, it was a week to remember for Arsenal, and a week to forget for Liverpool. Will the Gunners finish the season with a flourish? We’ve had good little spells in the past this season, but they didn’t last. Let’s hope that this one will be different and that the new Vieira-less team will confirm that it has come of age in the next couple of months.

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