- Written by Luke Peterson
Liverpool came into the game with a slight no-win situation, knowing that a victory against the Gunners would effectively hand Manchester United their record 19th top division title. Arsenal, on the other hand, were in desperate need of a win to restore their season and their pride.
It was a cagey opening from the home side, with Andy Carroll finding space in the box after mis-communication between Laurent Koscielny and newly returned Johan Djourou. Fortunately for Arsenal, the England international just failed to nod the ball back into the penalty-spot melee.
Djourou again got lucky when Jack Wilshere impeded Andre Marriner’s vision as the Swiss defender came together with Jay Spearing in the box.
The combination of Carroll’s power and Luis Suarez’s creativity showed all the signs of unsettling the Arsenal back-line as Carroll was just caught offside when the Uruguayan looked to set him through with a ball over the top.
But with the home side’s attacking line-up – Abou Diaby making up a direct midfield three in place of Alex Song – they soon made the transition from counter-attack to controlled possession.
From then on, Liverpool posed absolutely no threat to Arsenal, leaving the Gunners free to play their football. They moved the ball around swiftly, spreading the play and rarely giving up possession.
However, as is so often the case with this side, they were unable to seriously hurt a strong and organised Liverpool defence. Even when Fabio Aurelio went off injured, leaving the away team with a 17 and 18 year-old at left and right-back, they defended stoutly.
Arsenal managed to come agonisingly close only once, and it didn’t come from a usual flowing move. An in-swinging corner from Robin van Persie left Pepe Reina in no-man’s-land as Koscielny headed against the bar, with a half-hearted penalty shout from the rebound proving unfruitful.
It was becoming increasingly tough for Arsenal and they were left with just half-chances and efforts from mid-range.
Theo Walcott brought a fumble out of the Liverpool goalkeeper with a swerving drive from near the angle of the box but no one in red could capitalise on his mistake.
Other chances were few and far between; Emmanuel Eboue slipped just as he was attempting a close-range shot. It deflected and bobbled away for Liverpool to clear.
The final move of the half ended with Samir Nasri trying a through ball for the ever-lively van Persie, which ran for a goalkick. It was a forced attempt from the Frenchman, and a frustrating first half for Arsenal.
A game of two-halves
The second period began tentatively; Arsenal’s back-four struggling to adjust to tactical change from Liverpool which saw Suarez take up a more central role behind Carroll. Suarez was finding space early on and the two Gunners centre-halves backed off too much as the nimble forward drove through the middle towards goal. Wojciech Szczesny watched the ball fly a yard or two wide but it was the first real sign of danger for Arsenal and their season.
The game had become far more end to end than the first half and Suarez broke free yet again as Djourou failed to turn quickly enough. The 2010 World Cup villain exploited the centre once more but couldn’t test the Arsenal keeper with anything more than a tame left foot strike.
Then came a serious knock to the pace of the game, and a serious knock to the head of Jamie Carragher. He clashed heads with a teammate and immediately appeared to be in a state of unconsciousness. After a long spell of treatment, Carragher was taken down the tunnel for a precautionary X-Ray and replaced by Sotirios Kyrgiakos.
The game resumed and things were getting stretched, as was the time. Arsene Wenger reacted by introducing Nicklas Bendtner and the Liverpool specialist, Andrey Arshavin. Samir Nasri dropped into midfield as the fatigue-struck Wilshere left the field.
Straight away Arshavin found his feet, and stayed on them as Ray Wilkins would like to point out in the Sky commentary box.
The Russian probed at the make-shift Liverpool back-line, their defenders clearly fearing the worst from his right foot.
However, Arsenal’s biggest chance of the game came through Robin van Persie. A brilliant flick from Nasri led the Dutchman through on goal but Reina pulled off a hugely important reaction save to keep out van Persie’s left foot shot. The rebound bounced through for Nicklas Bendtner, who struck it goalwards but couldn’t find the necessary power and the Spaniard in goal saved comfortably.
At the other end Arsenal were looking ever the more vulnerable. Eboue was too eager to get forward and was caught out of position all too often. Koscielny and Gael Clichy were lacking communication and allowing too much space down the left, whilst Diaby was tiring and ineffective in defensive areas. Wenger brought on Alex Song and for a time it did the trick. Neat and tidy in possession and fresh enough to aid the defence, he helped restore Arsenal’s dominance.
Then came the moment. The moment all Arsenal fans were waiting for; the breakthrough. Deep into stoppage time Fabregas stole into the area and won Arsenal one of those last-minute penalties he so often scores. This time it was van Persie who stepped up. It was heart in mouth time until he sent Reina the wrong way and scored one of the most vital goals of the season.
For the time being, Arsenal’s title challenge was not over, but neither was the match.
Liverpool broke up the other end of the field and just millimetres separated them from a penalty of their own as Song fouled on the edge of the area. It was nerve-wracking to watch as it took an age for the wall to get lined up, Suarez just waiting for his time to pounce.
All Arsenal had to do was hope, hope that Suarez missed. And so he did. He cannoned the ball straight at a wall which would have been made of brick had Arsenal had the choice.
The job was done, the ball flung away towards the left of the area with Eboue giving Lucas no room to turn. But the ever-frustrating right-back gave him too little room and seconds before Andre Marriner would blow the whistle, Eboue bundled the Brazilian down in the box. This time, Liverpool were awarded their penalty and awarded their goal as Dirk Kuyt put the ball just out of Szczesny’s reach.
The whistle blew again straight away and this one was for full time, as the clock ticked comfortably past the 100 minute mark.
A game which had been billed as a must-win and the first of seven cup final equivalents for Arsenal had ended in a draw. No extra-time, no penalties (aside from the 4 minutes extra added time and two spot-kicks).
The game was over, and so may well be Arsenal’s season.
- Written by Shane Thomas
Arsenal secured their first Premier League win for seven weeks to cling to the remnants of their season. An underperforming Gunners side took advantage of some abysmal Blackpool defending to close the gap on league leaders Manchester United to seven points.
Arsenal were dreadful in the game's opening exchanges. Blackpool came out with early intent and drive, closing Arsenal down and winning the ball back quickly, while exploiting both the left and right channels to get behind the Arsenal back four.
Arsenal seem disinterested in earning the right to play their game, standing off the Tangerines midfield and allowing Charlie Adam to pull the strings whenever they attacked. It looked like a goal for the home side was imminent and probably would have come if referee Lee Mason had awarded a penalty after Laurent Koscielny brought down Gary Taylor-Fletcher in the box. While Mason's view may have been obscured, what his assistant was doing was beyond me. And you can bet that it'll be Mason who'll get the criticism in the press rather than his ostensible assistant.
But while Blackpool attacked with abandon - which has been their wont for most of this season - they forgot to leave the back door closed and Arsenal took full advantage. Up to then Abou Diaby had been as much use on the pitch as a chocolate ironing board, but he made a crucial tackle in the centre circle to set up the attack that led to the first goal. Cesc Fabregas played Robin Van Persie clear on the left-hand side and the Dutchman squared the ball for Diaby to tap in as the Frenchman continued his run into the penalty area.
There's no doubt that the goal completely changed the pattern of the match. Fabregas astutely took advantage of an absurdly high line that Blackpool were holding and repeatedly split their defensive rearguard with through-ball after through-ball. The best of which a sumptuous pass to Samir Nasri who was unlucky to hit the post with a first time volley.
The best move of the half led to the second goal; Emmanuel Eboue playing a rapid one-two with an otherwise below-par Jack Wilshere and the Ivorian rifled the ball past Richard Kingson in what was an almost identical goal to the one Nasri scored against Manchester City earlier in the season.
Despite the two goal lead, Arsene Wenger had looked periodically anxious at Arsenal's inability to put the game to bed in the first-half. And knowing how difficult Arsenal have found it holding onto leads this season, Blackpool came out with redoubled effort, which was rewarded when Gary Taylor-Fletcher tapped in to an empty net to make it 2-1. Lee Mason's decision to play the advantage was correct but ultimately beneficial for Arsenal. Jens Lehmann - drafted into action as Manuel Almunia had to pull out during the warm-up (hold conspiracy theories please) - brought down DJ Campbell in the box and would have been sent-off had Taylor-Fletcher not scored. Without a substitute keeper, it was later revealed that Van Persie would have had to go in goal.
Thankfully the Dutchman remained in his nominal position of centre-forward, and finished the contest after getting on the end of a counter-attack that was worthy of the Invincibles side of 2003/04.
As Van Persie said in the post-match interview, this was a win that Arsenal needed. It keeps the dying embers of the title race still flickering and puts an end to what has been a moribund run of form since the Carling Cup Final.
But this was not a good display. Taylor-Fletcher shouldn't have had one penalty but two after Koscielny fouled him in the box again in the second-half. And while Arsenal only have the league to focus on, the run-in is not easy by any means. Liverpool are next up on Sunday, followed by Tottenham at the Lane three days later. If Arsenal don't find the best of themselves before then, any hopes of a fourth Premier League title under Wenger could be gone long before United come to the Emirates on May 1st.
Man Of The Match:
Cesc Fabregas - What was most impressive from the Arsenal skipper was the in-game intelligence he showed. In the early stages of the match, there only looked like being one winner and that was Blackpool. So Fabregas took it upon himself to change his position during the match. He has spent most of the season playing as a second striker, but with his troublesome hamstring, Blackpool's high line and no designated holding midfielder in the Arsenal side, he dropped into a deeper "quarterback" role, dictating the game from there. Indeed, he played the Charlie Adam role better than Charlie Adam. This seizing of responsibility was the key decision of the game, and had Fabregas not taken it, Arsenal would not have won.
Lehmann - 6, Eboue - 6, Squillaci - 6, Koscielny - 5, Clichy - 6, Wilshere - 6, Diaby - 6, Fabregas - 8 (Ramsey - 87 min), Nasri - 5 (Gibbs - 86 min), Van Persie - 6, Arshavin - 5 (Walcott - 7)
- Written by Arsenal Latest
On the back of Man Utd's comeback against West Ham earlier in the day, Arsenal came into the game knowing that a victory was vital if their title quest was to remain manageable. A struggling Blackburn side appeared the perfect opponents for a Gunners' side who were struggling for form themselves, and it was to be hoped that the international break, and the realisation that the Premier League was the team's last opportunity of collecting any silverware this season, would help to refocus minds. Arsenal were also boosted by the return to fitness of Song and Walcott, and the presence of Fabregas on the bench. Almunia, at fault for West Brom's 2nd goal in the last game, was preferred to his age old adversary Lehmann.
As with most Arsenal matches, the pattern of the game was set from kick-off. Arsenal looked like they had taken out exclusive rights on possession of the ball, whilst Blackburn parked the metaphorical bus in front of the goal, employing a tactic well used against Arsenal by countless other teams of inferior quality. And in the first 10 minutes, Blackburn's players, as if loyal to their Indian owners, seemed like they had one eye on the Cricket World Cup final.
Following a well-known script, Arsenal wasted a number of well created chances, the most glaring miss coming from Wilshere, and sought refuge in pretty but ineffective passing triangles. The pace of the game, which had been well established early on by the returning Walcott and the threatening Arshavin on the flanks, was not helped by breaks enforced by knocks to Sagna and Hoillet, and a very nasty blow to Nasri's head.
In an otherwise dull half, comedy and constant distress for the fans were provided by Almunia in goal, who almost spilled a tame effort into the net, and flapped around his box in the face of the aerial bombardment like a bridesmaid trying to catch the bouquet at a wedding. Half-time arrived without complete calamity, however, and with Arsenal requiring a new approach after the break.
Arsenal's play was no sharper at the start of the 2nd half. Nasri's superb run ended with a poor final ball, and Wilshere chose to pass when he should have shot, prompting Wenger to introduce Fabregas for Arshavin. Despite a few neat moves, this change produced no real chances of note, with Arsenal's crosses aimed at a box filled with Blackburn players and devoid of red shirts.
Chamakh and Bendtner were summoned to rectify matters. With the match seemingly petering out into a draw, and Blackburn looking just as threatening as the hosts, Arsenal's chance seemed to come with N'Zonzi's sending off for a shocking two-footed foul. After excellent build up play from Van Persie and Wilshere, Chamakh's tame effort was blocked, before Bendtner put a header over the brand Van Persie mistimed his header.
Though it seemed that the players had at least woken up to the necessity of grabbing a late winner, Arsenal were not exactly bashing down the door. Bendtner's header, cleared off the line by Salgado, was the closest they came to grabbing a late winner. An insipid match ended 0-0, the point of much greater use to the relegation battlers than the title chasers.
Yet again Arsenal flattered to deceive, with the same old failings very much in evidence. Whilst the indecision at the back, and the unreliability of the keeper, did not affect this result, thanks largely to Emerton's repeated failure to put in a threatening ball from the set-piece, defensively the team still looks weak.
Likewise, when the goal was needed to keep the Gunners in charge of their own fate in the title race, the strikers' finishing was again found wanting. Chamakh in particular, after a bright start to his Arsenal career, seems less confident by the game, whilst Van Persie's form has tailed off after his great start to the year.
Most of all, the leadership so crucial to any title winning team remains conspicuous by its absence. Who was prepared to die to win the game, as Wenger has said of Vieira during his time as Arsenal's skipper? The contrast with Man Utd, an average team who keep grinding out the result when it matters most, could not be more stark.
Certainly, Arsenal could not be mistaken for a club with Charlie Sheen as its sports psychologist. For this Wenger must take a large share of the blame, for his increasingly autocratic management style has bred a group of mentally weak clones, supremely talented but insecure. With the title still a possibility, now has to be the time for the form players, like France captain Nasri and the plucky and confident Wilshere, to lead by deed and word and drag their team-mates up to their own high standard, where difficulty is a challenge to be met head on, and victory the only goal.
- Written by Shane Thomas
After Arsenal lost the Carling Cup Final, it's clear that not just the defeat, but the manner of it has had a severely negative impact on the team, with its effects clear for all to see. Arsenal have looked cowed, callow and unsure of themselves ever since. It's been like watching a child forget their lines in a school play, desperately looking to their parents in the audience for help.
Against West Brom on the weekend, Arsenal's football was staid and pedestrian. The ease with which they gave up the first goal was as alarming as it was predictable. Even when fate intervened to give Arsenal a man advantage while James Morrison was injured, the returning Aaron Ramsey failed to convert the simplest of chances.
And - from an Arsenal perspective - as bad as West Brom's first goal was, their second will adorn Christmas "football gaffe" DVD's for years to come. It's a sad fact that Manuel Almunia not only remains an accident waiting to happen, but an accident that does happen.
It was only then that Arsenal seemed to realise that while Arsene Wenger can prepare the team as best he can, "Daddy" can't get up on stage and hold your hand through the match. Andrey Arshavin scored a fine goal to bring the score back to 2-1, and with both Marouane Chamakh & Nicklas Bendtner both summoned from the bench, Arsenal exploited West Brom's own aerial vulnerabilities to equalise as Robin Van Persie (who is patently playing whilst unfit) scrambled the ball home after good work from both Arshavin & Bendtner.
While Wenger publicly praised the players for recovering a point from the jaws of defeat, the same old problems remain. Arsenal look incapable of being able to grab the initiative in games unless it's handed to them, and they look completely rudderless without their key men, particularly the captain, Cesc Fabregas.
Yes, Arsenal have had some bad luck with injuries, but one look at Manchester United shows that while Arsenal have excuses, United have victories, regardless of whatever enforced changes they have to make to their side.
The past fortnight has been a nightmare for the Gunners, and after the last twenty minutes at The Hawthorns, maybe it's a nightmare that they've finally woken up from. But it may be too little, too late. While Arsenal have been dozing, United have stretched their lead at the top to five points, and another trophy-less season is looking increasingly likely with every passing week.
- Written by Tom Varga
Many would argue that Arsenal should be sitting atop the Premier League table by now with slip ups at home to West Brom and drawing to Newcastle after being 4 up looking like important points dropped however, Man Utd losing to Wolves and Chelsea beating them last week gave the Gunners a simple situation: win the rest of your games and you will be league champions. Once again though, not making up ground on the league leaders seems to be becoming a regular theme of Arsenal’s season.
1st half: Absentees were felt
The first half of the game was largely uneventful with both teams struggling to create clear cut chances. It could be said that Fabregas and van Persie’s absences were felt but with Nasri, who took the captain’s armband, and Arshavin one would expect that they would have more than enough in the tank to beat Sunderland at the Emirates. This was not the case and by the end of the first half it was clear that Arsenal’s midfield trio was being over-run by a hardworking Sunderland midfield, another particularly poor performance from Denilson will be a delight for the returning Aaron Ramsey who was on the bench after returning from loan spells with Nottingham Forest and hometown club Cardiff.
2nd half: Domination was not enough thanks to goalie and officials
In the second half arsenal slowly took control of the game with Mignolet making a string of fine saves in particular one from Bendtner, who did brilliantly to half volley from a narrow angle which drew an equally great moment of brilliance from the Sunderland keeper. Nasri also went close with a free kick which was saved well. The one time the in-form Black Cats keeper was beaten was a Chamakh header that crashed against the bar when you could sense an air of desperation and frustration amongst the Arsenal players.
The 2 key moments of the game came from the men in black, Taylor and his assistants. One being the refusal of awarding a penalty when Titus Bramble did his best Superman impression, flying through the air to push Arshavin out of the way of what would’ve undoubtedly at least have been a shot on target. The second came when Arshavin was put through by a delightfully weighted Nasri pass after which the little Russian rounded the keeper and slotted it in only to be ruled offside. Replays suggest that the goal should have stood with Ferdinand playing Arsenal’s 23 onside. Ironically he did his cousin Rio in Manchester, a big favour. Wenger will certainly have every right to feel robbed of 3 points but credit should go to Sunderland who did work hard and cover a lot of ground.
Bendtner had a half chance to win it at the end of the game after a polite bounce from a Rosicky punt upfield but did not get enough on his header to trouble the man of the match in the Sunderland goal. Another chance missed for the Gunners, which is not the kind of result they want after their Carling Cup final defeat and the upcoming trip to Barcelona.
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