Liverpool (0) 1 - 3 (2) Arsenal|
Anfield, Saturday 6th January 2007
FA Cup 3rd round
Eboue (Hoyte 67) Toure Senderos Clichy
Hleb Gilberto Flamini Rosicky
Henry (Walcott 88) van Persie (Baptista 72)
A great win from a great performance. We were
under the cosh for spells but defended heroically
and as a team. At the end of the day Liverpool just
didn't have the right kind of cutting edge and their
fans must be wondering why Craig Bellamy didn't play,
he might have had the speed and belligerence that would
have made a difference.
For Arsenal Manuel Almunia replaced Jens Lehmann in
goal and Mathieu Flamini replaced the suspended Cesc Fabregas as
Gilberto's partner in midfield. Both filled the boots
(or gloves) of their first-choice counterparts with
honours. Manuel might not have had a lot of saves to
make but he came out to grab a good few balls that could
otherwise have troubled us, and came rushing out of area
a couple of times to make crucial clearances. I guess
he'll be playing again on Tuesday and today he gave us no
reason to fear that.
A word, too, for the much-maligned Philippe Senderos who
at last asked questions about his 4th choice status. There
was a spell in the second half when, time and time again,
perhaps 5 or 6 times in a row, it was Big Phil who was
positioned right to head the ball clear.
Thierry Henry did what he does better than anyone
else, grabbing an extraordinary solo goal to turn a
nervy looking end to the game into a celebration.
And of course Tomas Rosicky has to get a mention for
his terrific double strike that won the game.
Also worthy of mention were the Liverpool fans. I have
to admit that I don't know why this particular date or
match was chosen to bring the Hillsborough Justice
campaign to the fore, but they pulled it off
brilliantly. So much so that the first 6 minutes of
the game were completely drowned out by their
continuous singing of 'Justice for the 96'. The players
seemed overawed by it and the game didn't really start
till they'd finished. I doubt if there's any other
club whose fans could have pulled it off so
Once the game did start, Liverpool were, on the face of
it, on top. It was a bit worrying. But as it went on
it became apparent that possession is far less than
nine tenths of a game of football. They just weren't getting
through, and on the rare occasions that Arsenal did
break out we looked soooo much more likely to do something
with it. Not that we tested Dudek any more in the first 20
minutes than Liverpool tested Almunia - the closest anyone
got was a Gerrard shot that came closer to testing the
Then Gilberto's touch deserted him for a second, miscontrolling
a Liverpool cross into our box and allowing Alonso an opportunity
to nick the ball back into the area. Gilberto slid in to
try to make amends and Alonso went tumbling over his leg.
There was contact, but fortunately the ref spotted that
Alonso had started his fall well before contact, and gave
him a yellow card for diving instead of a penalty kick.
Definite justice for the Arsenal, but it could so easily
have been given the other way.
Then on 35 minutes Alonso came very close with a
25 yard volley, direct from a corner. Before the
home fans had time to get over their continuing misfortune,
Arsenal were ahead.
We won possession a few yards inside our half and
passed forward to Rosicky who brought the ball forward
from the centre circle. He passed wide to Alexander Hleb
on the right wing, and continued forward. Hleb passed infield
to Rosicky, who quickly passed it back to Hleb. A couple
of defenders were in position to try to prevent the cross
but instead Hleb spotted Rosicky still in space just outside
their box, and passed back to him, this time threading it
through 3 red shirts. Rosicky hit the ball first time as it
came to him from the right, sending a quite beautiful
right-footed shot looping over Dudek and into the top left corner.
A few minutes later, he did it again. Tomas had been involved in
a patient build-up, down the left this time and this time
exchanging passes with Henry. When Henry passed back infield
from the wing and started a run towards the box, it
didn't look like there was much on for Rosicky apart perhaps
from trying to thread the ball through a mass of defenders
for Henry or van Persie to try to latch onto behind them.
But, one has to say, those Liverpool players were amazingly
generous. Perhaps the fact that there were so many of them
got them confused, but there's really no excuse for the way
that 3 of them approached the man with the ball then each veered
away instead of making a challenge. Rosicky accepted the
offer, and carried the ball forward as they backed off,
before shooting low, this time into the bottom right corner.
Liverpool came out fighting in the second half and were a
bit more worrying in possession. But the Arsenal defence held
firm until 20 minutes from time when Crouch got to a corner
and headed it goalwards, but straight at Almunia. Kuyt had
cunningly stayed in position right in front of the keeper
and got his head to the ball, adding a slight deflection
so close to Almunia that there was no way he could react in
time to stop it going past him.
Julio Baptista replaced Robin van Persie but Liverpool kept
pressing. Aurelio volleyed wide after a cross from their
right had drifted over the defence to him, and Kuyt headed
wide after being given too much space in the box. Many
more chances like this and they'd be putting one away.
Then, with 5 minutes to go, Henry won possession in the
centre circle and passed it diagonally forward towards
the left touchline. He passed it to himself, but he was
still in the centre circle. So, off he hares in pursuit of
Jamie Carragher who was clear favourite to get there first.
Carragher did just about get there first but despite a
huge head start for the Liverpool defender, Henry was on
his shoulder already. It looked like Carragher was trying to
control the ball rather than hoof it out, but Henry was
too strong for him and all Carragher succeeding in doing
was keeping the ball in for the Arsenal captain. With
Carragher on the floor, Henry picked the ball up and
ran for the box. He came up against a defender when he
got to the corner of the box, but jinked to his right
to find a bit of space and fired low past (under)
Dudek for 3-1. Marvellous.
I'm sure I can't be the only one whose first reaction
at the final whistle was,
"Fantastic. I bet we get Bolton in the next round..."