Like anyone who grew up watching a red army steamrollering all around them, dubious penalties, last minute winners and all of that, I grew up hating Liverpool. Alright, ok, outside of the Arsenal football club, there aren’t many football clubs I do like. But where I can at least look at Manchester United and respect the way one man has turned them into one of the three biggest clubs in the world, there’s just something about Liverpool that really gets my back up. It stems from childhood, I’m sure of it. And probably the 2001 FA Cup Final. I love the fact that, although we merely passed the torch to Manchester United, it was essentially our last gasp league title victory in 1989 that ended an era of Liverpool dominance.
Anyway. All of this is to say that, frankly speaking, I couldn’t give too shits about who played the better football yesterday lunchtime. I don’t care that Luis Suarez’s finishing ability isn’t quite as good as his ability to con a ref- more of which later- I don’t care that Liverpool hit the post twice and that Arsenal had a magnificent Wojciech Szczesny performance to thank for us still being in the match at half time. However, I do care that in Robin van Persie, we have a player who- to paraphrase le gaffer- makes the impossible possible. If last week was all about a team, who have had all manner of shit thrown at them, deciding that enough was enough, then our smash and grab at Liverpool yesterday was very much about an outstanding goalkeeper- and the best centre forward in world football right now.
I’m training to run a 10k race in London in May, so I was at the gym yesterday putting in some hard yards. I raced back from the gym just in time for the football and, in the back of my mind was the last time I’d come rushing back from the gym- that terrible day at Blackburn. Liverpool always seem to raise their game when we’re in town and so it proved yesterday. They seemed to be playing through our midfield at will and our defence had the “Open all hours ” sign up on the door. In contrast to last week, we seemed unable to string two passes together- although a Theo Walcott shot from wide right was the first real threat on anyone’s goal. But, with Szczesny having to race from his goal to clear danger, in the process nearly setting up Stewart Downing, the warning signs were there.
In the 18th minute, Suarez came in off the left flank and played a tricky little 1-2 with Kuyt, Szczesny came out, Suarez went up and over and rolled around holding his shin as if someone had taken a machete to it. Referee Halsey bought it (as he did everything LIverpool did) and pointed to the spot. In a season where you feel an Arsenal player would actually have to be macheteed in the penalty area to win a spot kick, the concession of two penalties to dives in one week is very difficult to take. And when you get Alan Hansen saying it was a dive on national TV… Anyway, Szczesny made it easier to bear by going to his right to parry Kuyt’s penalty, incredibly he then recovered his balance to push away the goalbound follow up. Having given such a soft penalty (which he couldn’t have seen clearly anyway), Halsey then chose to ignore a clear foul on Theo by Skrtel and then a ridiculous tackle by Spearing on Rosicky. And then Liverpool went 1-0 up, Laurent Koscielny didn’t have a great day yesterday and this was epitomised when he sliced a Henderson cross past Szczesny.
The Liverpool lead didn’t last too long though, as Sagna whipped in a delightful ball from deep on the right, van Persie managed to escape Carragher’s close attention and thump a header past Pepe Reina. Suarez hit the post when he should have scored, a weaving run through our defence would have brought a delightful goal, but Wojciech was equal to the attempted finish and then, right on half time, Kuyt struck the other post. I think everyone thought that was in. Arsene said later that to get to half time level was “lucky”, I don’t think anyone was arguing.
Our afternoon took a turn for the worse when Henderson inexplicably ran into Arteta off the ball. Arteta needed lengthy treatment and was eventually stretchered off, suffering from a severe concussion. Despite his Everton past, the Liverpool crowd sportingly applauded him off. I mention this as it was in marked contrast to the actions of Spurs fans when a certain B. Sagna lay on the touchline with a broken leg earlier this season- I bet he loved that goal last week. Abou Diaby came off the bench and was swiftly into the action, creating a chance for himself which he then scuffed straight to Reina from the edge of the box.
Martin Kelly missed a sitter for the home team, a Rosicky cross was deftly touched away from goal by Carragher and Walcott, free in the box, wasn’t quite tall enough to get a better contact on a header as the game entered it’s final stages. Gervinho replaced Benayoun who’d struggled to match his impact last week and then Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced the luckless Diaby. This isn’t a fixture that has been short on late drama recently, so it proved again. Alex Song with the ball 40ish yards from goal is becoming quite the danger man. Just as against Everton earlier this season, 2 minutes into injury time, he chipped a ball up and over the Liverpool defence towards the left hand side of the box. Tick, the ball dropping into space Robin van Persie was about to fill. Tock, the crowd seemed to suck its breath in. Tick, the deadliest marksman in the Premier League took aim. Tock, he sidefooted an emphatic and brilliant volley just inside Pepe Reina’s near post and the away section exploded. It was van Persie’s second touch of the game inside the Liverpool penalty area, Liverpool well and truly Robbed.
Sitting watching this, at home in London, you couldn’t help but think of that horror show last April when we scored a 98th minute winner only to conceded a 112th minute equaliser, but there were no real alarms or surprises to be had here. Liverpool had shot their bolt. In fact, it was the Ox who came closest to adding to the scoring, his rising drive just rising too high. The points were in the bag and, what could have been a really horrible week has turned out rather nicely- if you can’t be happy with 6 points from Liverpool and Spurs, it may be time to find a new sport. I loved listening to both van Persie and Szczesny after the game, they spoke so well and are fine ambassadors for our club- I think all the naysayers (J Redknapp, Hansen…) might just be in for a shock when Robin makes the decision on his next contract this summer.
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