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Slipperduke

The Camden Cad
Joined
Aug 24, 2004
Messages
4,333
Location
North London
Arsene Wenger was left baffled by his team's failure to beat Liverpool in an intruiging contest at The Emirates, but refused to agree that their opponent's away goal made them favourites to progress to the last four. Arsenal certainly had the better of the game, particularly in the second half when they dominated possession, but when it comes to protecting an advantage in Europe, Liverpool are unsurpassed.

"I think Dirk Kuyt played right-back for the second half," said Wenger, summing up Liverpool's approach to the closing stages. "The whole of the second half was played in their half of the pitch and we were punished by the only chance they had."

This was a masterclass in European football by Rafa Benitez. After Steven Gerrard dared the world's media to find a metaphor other than, "grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck," Liverpool settled into their foxholes and prepared for battle. They weren't stupid enough to sit back and play aimless long-balls in the same way that practically relegated Bolton at the weeked. They stroked the ball around, waiting for Fernando Torres to find space. Their withdrawn players sauntered off the pitch when they were substituted, they took their time over throw-ins. At one point, Andriey Voronin played keepy-uppy on the touchline for twenty seconds. It wouldn't have been a problem, but he hadn't actually taken the field at the time, he was just warming up and waiting for Jamie Carragher to stroll over and take a throw. As an exercise in limiting potential opposition, it was genius and you have to doff your cap to Benitez, he really excels in this competition.

This isn't to say that Liverpool weren't impregnable. TNP columnist John Burridge wrote recently about Pepe Reina's sudden inability to deal with anything whipped in over his head and I think Arsene Wenger may have been reading online. The Spanish goalkeeper struggled as Arsenal violated his airspace on several occasions and you wonder if a little more confidence claiming crosses might have prevented Emannuel Adebayor's opening goal. Their offside trap failed on numerous occasions, allowing Arsenal's nippy strikers to run in on goal, but they just couldn't provide a final ball, or a clinical finish to make their chances count.

Wenger was convinced that his team were denied an obvious penalty in the 68 minute when referee Pieter Vink failed to spot a rather obvious tug by Dirk Kuyt on Aleksandr Hleb and then there was a bizarre incident where Nicklas Bendtner managed to clear a goal-bound shot off the line, a commendable act when its your line that's under threat, a inexplicable one when it's not.

"It's always important to have an away goal," said Benitez afterwards, "and to play at Anfield is an advantage. It's a good situation. Difficult, because Arsenal are a quality team, but better than it was."

Regardless of his caution, it's clearly advantage Liverpool and the 1-1 scoreline means that we're all set up for one of those 'magical European nights at Anfield.' Unfortunately, though that may be an evening of singing, dancing and breath-holding for Liverpool fans, that's 90 minutes of frantic rearguard and a goaless draw to the rest of us. If Arsene Wenger though that his opponents played defensively tonight, I can't wait to see his reaction after next Tuesday's game.
 
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