I was laughing at half-time, a maniacal cackle. After solemnly deciding that the quick, direct passing and intense pressing Arsenal displayed against Spurs last weekend was the template to follow for the rest of the season, we were displaying scant quickness and minimal intensity. Liverpool attacks arrived with the frequency of quizzes in Analog Electronics (The Joey Barton of subjects, if you must know), our midfield was powder-puff in the extreme and our defence was like a papier-mâché house in a thunderstorm; but it was all made dandy by one inexorable, relentless fact- Liverpool had forgotten how to score a goal.
Not that I knew of this fact at the outset, of course. Initial forays forward by Suarez and co. was met with a cowering of pink boots behind the common-room seats, exhausting fingernails en masse as porous Arsenal persisted in their porosity. But as the minutes rolled by and my seizure subsided, I realized that Liverpool were displaying an Arsenalesque level of wastefulness in front of goal; owing partly to Szczesny’s superhero brilliance, partly to poor decision-making from the home team, partly to luck and partly to this just being one of those games. There was no more cowering; I stood tall upon the common-room chairs, secure in my cloak of invincibility and guffawing as shots were scuffed and hit the post and hit Szczesny and hit the post again and went into orbit- nah, Liverpool weren’t scoring today.
Right, let’s bullet-point the important junctures of the game-
Didn’t elicit the outrage of injustice from within me that I thought it would. Suarez was involved in good interplay from a throw-in, jinking his way into the box and going down under minimal contact from Szczesny, if any. He was definitely on the way down before any contact was made.
Now while being conned by a diving buck-tooth can still be forgiven, Mark Halsey gave the penalty after viewing the incident through a mass of arms, legs and other body parts. Seriously, how could he have seen contact (or otherwise) in that entire ruckus? Did he gauge the reaction of the players and guess that it was a penalty? That is unforgivable.
But it still did not result in any teeth-gnashing, because it’s happened too many times against us now for it to feel unfair. Plus, you know, because Szczesny saved the goddamn thing. The first save was decent, low down to his right, but it was mostly guesswork (Halseywork?) as most penalty saves are. The second save was the bees’ knees though, dovetailing in the other direction brilliantly to keep out the rebound, skewed posture be damned. Sweet.
Was obviously not scored by Liverpool; we’ve already established that they had widespread impotency issues. Although it did demonstrate Arsenal’s inclination to make even the most benign of situations seem dangerous. Henderson’s cross in was the definition of mediocre, no real pace or direction, but Koscielny swung a scandalous left leg and swept it into the net.
The French defender doesn’t have much of a left leg. Barely two minutes later, a similar cross came in and he twisted his body to clear with the right foot. Yesterday was one of his shakier games this season, being turned by Suarez multiple times and culpable of occasional miscommunication with Vermaelen.
Was eerily similar to how we clawed back against Spurs, personnel-wise. Our two most lion-hearted players combined again to lift a stale Arsenal performance and give us a chance. When Sagna usually gets the ball on the right and readies himself to deliver a cross, most of us take our eyes off the screen, chitting and chatting with our seated neighbours until the stewards find the ball in the adjacent lake or tube station and play resumes. This was a refreshing deviation from normalcy.
The cross was absolutely delicious, lather it with whipped cream and gobble it up delicious. It had enough swerve to beat two Liverpool defenders, and enough power so that van Persie didn’t have to generate much of his own as he planted his head on it. Parity restored, undeservedly so.
Was pants throughout the game. Arteta had one of his worst games in an Arsenal shirt (a successful pass percentage of 80%, sacrilege), Rosicky had a fraction of the influence he had against Spurs, and Song was tired after having returned from international duty only the previous day. But a striking condemnation of Liverpool would be that they didn’t manage to do too well against an Arsenal midfield which was this level of pants.
I’m not saying they didn’t do well; the home side dominated possession and their work ethic to repeatedly win the ball back was impressive. But their movement when they had the ball left much to be desired. Spearing, Adam and Henderson aren’t the greatest names on paper, and it only took a Diaby to disrupt their equilibrium. Ever since the lanky Frenchman came on, Arsenal looked more cohesive, if not penetrative. Chances for Liverpool were an exception in the second half, not the norm. One sensed that this match would peter out into shared spoils, Liverpool ruing their luck and Arsenal thanking theirs.
And that’s when things got exponentially funnier.
Was eerily similar to how we won against Everton back in December. Back then, Alex Song lumped a radiant ball forward and van Persie put years of fury behind his volley to shake the Emirates’ foundations and give Arsenal the three points. This was more controlled instead of fierce, near post instead of far, subtle knife instead of roundhouse kick, but the result was just as satisfying; Merseyside once again left reeling by one man’s left foot.
The commentators’ wibbled on about how one had to feel bad for Liverpool, but why one had to do that is something I can’t fathom. I personally found it drop-dead hilarious; Reina holding his head, Charlie Adam looking like a perplexed potato, Kenny Dalglish mouthing off a mountain of abuse on the sidelines, it was positively rib-cracking.
Things always even out in the end, and this was the much-awaited balm for all the jammy losses we’ve had this season. For once, the opposition were profligate, we were clinical, and it felt good.
Would you play a B team against Milan? Newcastle next week seems more important.
This post also appeared on BigFourZa
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