Phew! Before the game yesterday, I hoped for an Arshavin goal and a Vermaelen screamer. Neither happened, but the 3 points against Liverpool isn’t any less sweeter.
It was a hard fought match, and we showed the type of grit and determination that we really ought to have demonstrated against Man U and Chelsea. We didn’t do enough to take any points from those games, but we stopped the rot against Liverpool, and it was a crucial 3 points. A draw wouldn’t have been the worst result in the world, but losing would have been disastrous, as it would have meant losing 3 games on the bounce, against our top-4 rivals. It wouldn’t have helped morale one bit, as you could tell we were feeling pretty low after the results of the past few weeks.
A few changes were made to our starting line-up, with Bendtner coming in for Theo for his first start since the Sp*rs game way back in October. It wasn’t really a surprise Theo dropped to the bench, as he’s also just coming back from injury and started against Chelsea just 3 days ago. Eboue also came into the starting XI in place of Sagna. Wenger has been keen to rotate both of them quite often this season, and I think it’s more about keeping Eboue happy by playing him regularly, not necessarily a reflection on Sagna’s performances. Liverpool only made one change, with Skrtel coming in for Krygiakos, who picked up a straight red in his last game.
The first half was nothing to write home about, really. Both teams seemed more intent on passing the ball to the opposition than creating chances. It was understandable that we were a bit conservative, seeing as in our last 2 games, we’ve been 2 nil down at half-time! So I’m guessing what was foremost on the players’ minds, not the least us fans, was getting to half-time unscathed. We did just that. There were a few half-chances here and there with Gallas heading over, Arshavin hitting the side-netting, and Bendtner and Liverpool’s Maxi Rodriguez both blazing over; but it was more of a defensive half from both teams. Liverpool seemed slightly more confident than us, especially as they were on the back of a 7-match unbeaten run in the League. We tend to be rubbish most first-halfs anyways, so it wasn’t much of a worry that our passing was a bit off, or that we didn’t create too many clear-cut chances. As long as we didn’t concede, we’d stand a better chance of winning the game in the second-half. Obviously. We did lose Nasri after 34 minutes to injury though, with Rosicky coming on to replace him.
The second-half was a much better affair, and it was end-to-end at the start. With Bendtner upfront, Arshavin was playing in his preferred role on the left, and he instantly looked better than in recent games. But with his goal-scoring record against Liverpool, I’m sure he was feeling confident about scoring. Liverpool had a great chance to go 1 nil up, after Ngog was played through by Gerrard and with only Almunia to beat, but man-of-the-match Gallas made a fantastic and important last-ditch challenge to snuff out that chance. Rosicky then had a chance to score, or at least create something, but he fluffed his lines and the ball rolled out for a goal-kick. Despite the chances, it did look like ending nil nil. Arshavin then picked up a knock and was replaced by Theo halfway through the second half, and he brought a different dimension to the game with his pace. Rosicky also had another chance to open the scoring after being fed by Bendtner on the edge of the box, but his shot flew over.
But shortly after, the goal we all craved for arrived. And it was a lovely one, as well. Fabregas, who in fairness had had a bit of a poor game until then, picked up the ball and found Bendtner with a lovely pass just inside the box. His initial cross was blocked, but he collected the rebound and slid the ball to Rosicky on the right, who had the time and space to pick out the perfect cross right across the face of the box, and Diaby was there at the far post with a fabulous header to score his 7th goal of the season. There was a huge sense of relief all around and you could tell from the celebrations of the players how much that goal meant.
But there was still a bit of time left, and we needed the players to hold their concentration and not concede a late equaliser. Not only was it important to kick-start our season, it looked like Chelsea and Man U were going to drop points, so we already had a chance to close the gap. And hold on we did. Comfortably, if I may add. Almunia did had to be alert to tip Babel’s fierce strike onto the bar and away for a corner, and right at the death, Liverpool won a questionable free-kick in a dangerous position. And with our wall just on the edge of the penalty box, the ball struck Fabregas on the arm, just in front of his head. It was definitely hand-ball, but it was outside the box, so it couldn’t have been a penalty. Liverpool appealed for one but the referee, Howard Webb waved their appeals away and seconds later blew the final whistle to signal Arsene Wenger’s 300th Premier League win with Arsenal. It was definitely a hard-fought win, and even though it was a close affair with Liverpool surprisingly shading the possession, I’d say we deserved to win.
We’d done the double over Liverpool, and it felt like a massive 3 points, which it was! So that was the fixtures of death completed. We played 4 really tough games, collecting 4 points- 1 draw, 2 defeats and 1 win. But to put it another way, it could as well have been 4 draws!
Anyways, with those games out of the way, we’ve got a relatively easy run-in to the end of the season and who knows, we could win the league! We’ve got every chance of going on a fabulous run, and the other teams might stumble. But for now, we just need to concentrate on the next game and the next game and the next game… As the Boss said:
Let’s be consistent and try to win our next game. I believe we will fight until the last second of the season and we did that tonight. That’s what we want to continue to do. We believe we have a chance and you could see again that Chelsea lost tonight, Man United dropped points, so it is open for everybody. Everybody can drop points everywhere.
So we currently find ourselves 6 points off the top of the League and 5 points behind Man U, and it seems we’re back in the title race, but we just have to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks. We’ve made a good start win the win over Liverpool, and to make yesterday’s win even better, lowly Wolves did the double over Sp*rs. Did you say 3rd place, Harry?