And so a good game ends 1-1; a game Arsenal trailed for most of the match, but certainly came close to outplaying their opponents in the second half.
An 80th minute eye-of-the-needle-pass from Hleb – surely the assist of the season so far – saw Fabregas run into the box, take a touch, and poke the ball past an advancing Reina to cancel out Steven Gerrard’s 8th-minute freekick.
For the majority of the first half, Arsenal did not have any clear-cut chances to speak of, as play became congested often in Liverpool’s third. Liverpool had the better first-half chances, with the long balls finding Voronin and Kuyt often, resulting in a lot of 2-on-2 situations. Our passing along the ground meant that Mascherano sitting in front of the defence congested the play, which saw us having to scrap for any real chances, if any.
Gerrard’s goal was almost inevitable, in a way, once the free-kick was lined up. The wall, as many papers can attest to, could have done a lot better at protecting Almunia’s goal, and the connection that Gerrard made meant the goal was pretty much a given.
One-nil down spurred on the side, and given the ‘hostile Anfield atmosphere’, quote end quote, the passing display Arsenal put on was very impressive. Going on into the second half, it never quite felt like Liverpool were going to go up 2-0, especially with Crouch replacing the anonymous Torres at halftime with the Spaniard’s injury.
Though Crouch looked dangerous at times, Arsenal bossed the second half around. Rosicky released Eboue down the right wing, who released a thumping shot low onto the base of the upright, the rebound fizzing towards Fabregas who could only spoon his shot well over the bar.
Fabregas made amends on the 80th minute to finish off Hleb’s best pass of the season. Hleb made his way down the left wing, with three runners going forward from center. Two runners ran offside before the pass, but they were two brilliant decoys for Fabregas, the furtherest away from Hleb, who collected the ball on the D, and placed the shot past Reina for the equaliser.
With ten to thirteen minutes remaining, Arsenal’s ascendancy was more than obvious, which had steadily accumulated throughout the second half. Liverpool were tired and out of substitutions – what’s becoming a very evident Wenger tactic to tire the opposition out late on – and Arsenal really should have won the game.
Fabregas teed himself up for a shot at goal, which felt like it was only going to go in, but hit the same upright Eboue hit earlier, with Niklas Bendtner missing the rebound in similar fashion to Fabregas’ miss. Though both rebounds were quick to the feet and required immediate reaction, at least one of them, one felt, could have been taken.
Still, 1-1 it finished. Our winning streak comes to an end, but both Liverpool and Arsenal remain undefeated in the league. Arsenal can be satisfied with a draw, far more than Liverpool, but a win was there for the taking. Liverpool defended in droves on their own turf, with Arsenal dictating the approach play but not fashioning enough clear-cut chances. In the end, you can only blame yourself for such things.
After the game, Wenger said of the performance:
“I feel we came out of this first big test stronger. I was always very confident, but I hope we convinced a few more people today. There’s a long way to go, but in my opinion we have the talent to fight up there for the championship. I would give credit to the attitude and the quality of the team.“
And the team’s bravado and confidence in their own ability has to be applauded when showing it off in Anfield. I still feel like it is two points lost rather than a point gained, though. On the title race, Wenger again had this to say:
“We will try, we give everything in every game and we did that again today – it was a big test but we showed tremendous quality. It will be a big challenge but we will be there.“
We now sit tied for points with Man Utd with a better goal difference and a game in hand. Next up is Sheffield Utd in the Carling Cup, but the one that really counts is the Manchester Utd vs Arsenal game on Saturday. After this showing, that game will be close, and what all Man Utd/Arsenal games should be: Riveting.