Arsenal ended a tough run of fixtures on a high tonight with a hard fought 1-0 victory over Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium. Abou Diaby’s 71st minute goal was enough for the Gunners to secure all three points and extend their lead over Liverpool in the league to eight points, consolidating their third place in the process. The victory was Arsenal’s first win in their last four games in all competitions.
Last seasons encounter between these clubs at Anfield provided one of the best games of the Premier League’s history, however fans hoping for a repeat of the 4-4 thriller were left disappointed tonight as they witnessed a game that did not quite match the full on free flowing attacking football on show last April.
The opening 45 minutes were a dour affair, with neither side able to take control of the game. Scrappy exchanges were the general theme of the half and touches of quality from either team were few and far between. It took until the half hour mark before either side saw their first real chance materialise, when some tidy Arsenal passing at the edge of the Liverpool box saw Nicklas Bendtner get a clear site at goal. The Dane snatched at his shot however and put it well over the Liverpool crossbar.
The second half improved in standard as both teams began to open each other up. The first chance of the half fell Liverpool’s way when a mistake by Gael Clichy resulted in Dirk Kuyt playing in Lucas Leiva who powered a shot just over the Arsenal crossbar.
At this stage, the game hung in the balance and was there for the taking for either side. Both sides pressed for an opener and the next most notable chance again fell Liverpool’s way, when Steven Gerrard slipped a beautiful pass into David N’gog who looked destined to score until an excellent covering tackle from William Gallas ended his hopes just before he pulled the trigger. Shortly afterwards, Nicklas Bendtner had an effort saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina which the Liverpool defenders then scrambled clear.
Arsenal have endured a torrid couple of weeks and players and management alike could not be blamed for being low on confidence. In a past article, I alluded to the fact that Arsenal are often most dangerous when written off. Following back to back defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea, preceeded by an exit from the FA Cup, the Gunners went onto someway vindicate my judgement of them.
Midway through the second half, Thomas Rosicky swung over a dangerous ball from the right which was met in the air by the head of Abou Diaby whose carefully placed effort gave Pepe Reina no chance. The Emirates erupted with a mixture of joy and relief and Arsene Wenger jumped from his bench in celebration. Wenger has not been his usual calm and controlled self of late and has showed clear signs of frustration with critics of his team, launching a scathing attack on the media prior to todays game.
Liverpool, who have never won at the Emirates, saw out the game very much on the front foot. Ryan Babel was brought on to replace Lucas and had an excellent effort well saved by the fingertips of Manuel Almunia. In the final moments of the game a Steven Gerrard free kick led to huge protests from the Liverpool players who judged the ball to have hit Cesc Fabregas’ arm on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area. Referee Howard Webb waved away their remonstrations, although video footage would suggest that they had a case.
The final whistle followed shortly afterwards and Arsenal entered their tunnel delighted to be back to winning ways. On a night when Manchester United and Chelsea both dropped points, Arsene Wenger’s men were the real winners and remain in this seasons title race despite recent results.The Gunners lie five and six points from Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, with all clubs having played an equal number of games. With both these clubs still set to play each other, as well as Liverpool, there may be many more twists and turns to come in this year’s title race.
If any consolation was to be taken by Liverpool, news that both Tottenham and Aston Villa also failed in taking the three points on offer to them tonight, offerred some solace. Liverpool currently reside within the much-coveted fourth place position, although Manchester City, who won 2-0 against Bolton last night, have two games in hand on them. Both sides meet in a week and a half in what is sure to be a hugely important game for the two clubs.
Arsenal: Almunia, Eboue, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Fabregas, Song, Diaby, Nasri (Rosicky 33), Bendtner (Sagna 81), Arshavin (Walcott 67)
Unused Subs: Fabianski, Denilson, Traore, Campbell
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher (Degen 54), Skrtel, Agger, Insua, Lucas (Babel 78), Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard, Maxi, Ngog
Unused Subs: Cavalieri, Riera, Aurelio, Spearing, Kelly
Referee: Howard Webb