ARSENAL BACK IN THE TITLE HUNT AFTER LIVERPOOL VICTORY
Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool
Arsenal kept their title hopes alive with a vital 1-0 victory over Liverpool at the Emirates last night. The win saw the Gunner’s close the gap on Chelsea to 6 points after they were beaten 2-1 by Everton. With Manchester United also dropping points it was a great night for Arsene Wenger’s men. Liverpool remain 4th on goal difference but Manchester City have a game in hand.
Arsenal were boosted by the return of striker Niklas Bendtner to the starting line-up with Theo Walcott dropping to the bench. The only change made from the defeat to Man Utd was Emmanuel Eboue replacing Bacary Sagna at right back. Liverpool made one change from the side who beat Everton replacing the suspended Kyrgiakos with Martin Skrtel.
The first chance of the match went to Arsenal, an unmarked William Gallas heading over from a Fabregas cross. But apart from that the first 20 minutes was highly forgettable. Arsenal were struggling to get their rhythm going while Liverpool’s game plan was to defend in numbers and stifle Arsenal, with attacking an after-thought. It made for a very scrappy first half.
There was a brief moment of excitement in the 25 minute when Arshavin put Bendtner through but he smashed his shot over the bar. Nasri had a goal-bound effort blocked shortly after, while Liverpool managed their first real threat on Almunia’s goal with Maxi Rodriguez blazing over from the edge of the box.
The only other talking point of a poor first half was Nasri being forced off after a blow to the head, being replaced by Thomas Rosicky. 0-0 at half time with Rafa Benitez likely to be the happier of the two managers, his Liverpool side had subdued Arsenal’s attacking threat although they had created very little themselves.
The second half began with a much faster tempo and it seemed both sides were going to have a go. Arshavin was first to carve out an opportunity but sliced his cross into the side netting when well positioned. Liverpool went straight up the other end and Leiva shot narrowly over from inside the area.
The best chance of the game so far fell to Ngog after Gerrard sent him clear. The young Frenchmen never seemed confident and his indecision allowed Gallas to get back and make a superb interception. Arsenal hit back immediately, Arshavin fed Rosicky inside the Liverpool area but his heavy touch meant the chance had gone. It was end-to-end stuff.
Minutes later Bendtner bull-dozed his way through the Liverpool defense only for Reina to make a smart block. Then the Dane was booked for diving after he went down following a Daniel Agger challenge just inside the area, reply’s showed there was a slight touch so Arsenal and Bendtner were unlucky.
Arsenal almost took the lead mid-way through the second half but a Rosicky drive was deflected out for a corner. Although the game was still tense you could feel a goal coming and it was Arsenal who were looking the more likely to score.
It wasn’t long before Arsenal made the break-through. Bendtner did well to retain possession in the Liverpool box, he laid it off to Rosicky who’s cross found an unmarked Diaby to head home.
1-0 Diaby (72)
The goal forced Liverpool to open up and search for the equalizer, while Arsenal are not renowned for holding onto 1-goal leads and seeing out the game, it was always going to be a tense final 20 minutes.
With 15 minutes remaining Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard tried a desperate attempt to win a penalty, chasing a loose ball he dived into the back of Abou Diaby falling to the floor apealing for a penalty. If Howard Webb booked Bendtner for diving where was the card for Gerrard?
Substitute Ryan Babel almost grabbed the equalizer for Liverpool with 5 minutes left. His 25 yard effort was expertly tipped onto the bar by Almunia, it was a great save. There was to be one more piece of controversy from the match in the final minute. Again Gerrard went looking for a free-kick 25 yards out, diving to the floor with no challenge in sight, but instead of pulling the Liverpool man up for a deserved booking, Howard Webb chose to punish Fabregas for a push on Kuyt. A very generous decision and one which incensed the Arsenal captain so much he earned a yellow for his protests.
You got the feeling that Gerrard was going to punish Arsenal simply because of the controversial way they had won the free-kick. Thankfully justice was done when the referee somehow failed to see Fabregas stop the resulting Gerrard free-kick with his arm. Liverpool appealed for a penalty, which was funny as it was outside the box, but would have been harsh anyway considering it should have been an Arsenal free-kick following Gerrard’s antics.
The game finished 1-0 to Arsenal with referee Howard Webb surrounded by Liverpool players at the final whistle. Arsenal deserved the victory, just. It was a nervy game with neither side hitting top gear, but maybe that’s to be expected with so much at stake.
The 3 points mean Arsenal close in on the top two and extend their lead over 4th place Liverpool to 8 points. Arsene Wenger will be delighted with the win and with results going their way elsewhere, it seems his Arsenal side might be back in the Premier League title race.