Liverpool 1 (Koscielny (O.G) 23) – Arsenal 2 (van Persie 31, 90+2′)
Man of the Match – Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal)
Captain Vantastic came to Arsenal’s rescue yet again, in an enthralling game at Anfield, as the Gunners stole 3 points from Liverpool, in what can be described as a smash and grab.
With Liverpool on a high after winning the Carling Cup last weekend, and having paraded it around Anfield by Steven Gerrard, before the early kick-off, and Arsenal, too, in good spirits after mauling their fiercest rivals Tottenham Hotspur, last week; everything was in place for an absorbing contest.
Liverpool were dealt a blow when captain Steven Gerrard was ruled out of the clash after sustaining an injury in the meaningless friendly against Holland. Daniel Agger, having been ruled out for 6 weeks with a broken rib, was replaced by Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher in the centre of defence.
Arsenal started with the same eleven that had thrashed Spurs last week. van Persie, Vermaelen and Rosicky all were passed fit, despite suffering strains through the week, thanks again to the meaningless friendlies.
Despite the injury problems, it was Liverpool who had the brighter of starts, winning 3 corners in the opening exchanges. Stewart Downing should have given the home side the lead, when Szczesny rushed out of his area, to deny Suarez an opening, but his effort was poor.
Luis Suarez was looking bright and was causing plenty of problems for the Arsenal defence, with his skill. He played a 1-2 with Dirk Kuyt, and went down theatrically on the slightest touch of Szczesny. Charlie Adam was supposed to take the penalty, but signals from Liverpool’s bench suggested Dirk Kuyt to take the spot-kick. His tame penalty was brilliantly saves by Szczesny, and his return shot too was well kept out by the Pole. Justice done.
However, Liverpool were least affected, as they came pouring forward in attack. They got their reward on 22 minutes, when Jordan Henderson’s cross was deflected into the net, rather unfortunately by Laurent Koscielny.
Liverpool could have added to their lead, but Szczesny saved Henderson’s shot, and Suarez was denied by the post. Arsenal got the equalizer, soon, when Bacary Sagna’s perfect cross, was met by Robin van Persie’s head. The Dutchman prodded the ball home after losing his marker Jamie Carragher.
Liverpool were denied again by the post, the 21st time it has happened to them this season, when Dirk Kuyt flicked Charlie Adam’s cross.
Nearly 7 minutes were lost when Jordan Henderson accidentally collided with Mikel Arteta, in an off-the-ball incident. Arteta suffered a heavy concussion, and had to be taken stretchered off the field, and needed oxygen support. He was given a rapturous applause by a crackling crowd at Anfield, and also a pat from Henderson.
It seemed to take the momentum off Liverpool, as Abou Diaby, making his return after a long term injury and the rest of the midfield, passed around with ease. Theo Walcott’s shot between 3 defenders, after a fine cross by Kieran Gibbs, deflected off Martin Skrtel, and bounced off Reina’s leg.
Liverpool responded with attacks off their own, and Kelly missed with the goal wide open, as he miscued a cross. Arsenal threw on Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in place of Yossi Benayoun, who himself got an applause from the faithful of his old team, and Diaby, probably as a precautionary measure.
Surprisingly, Liverpool didn’t make any changes till the 88th minute, despite having the pacy Craig Bellamy, Andy Carroll and Maxi Rodriguez on the bench.
Fatigue probably took its toll on Liverpool, as Arsenal set out to close out the game with one final flurry. Alex Song played a marvellous ball to Robin van Persie, who volleyed home the winner in the 92nd minute, to send the Arsenal end in delirium. It was just like the Everton goal, and it was Song’s 11th assist of the season, and van Persie’s 31st goal of the season.
Andy Carroll was thrown on, but Arsenal kept their calm, and could have made it 3-1, but Chamberlain’s fine shot went just wide off the post.
The final whistle bought with it 3 precious points for Arsenal. Now, they are 10 points ahead of Liverpool, who still have a game in hand, and 3 ahead of Chelsea, who lost to West Brom in the later kick-off, and just 4 behind Sp*rs, who face Manchester United at home tomorrow.
Szczesny (9) – Conceded a harsh penalty, but made up for it with a brilliant save. Kept remarkable calm denying Liverpool on several occasions.
Sagna (8.5) – Another fantastic game from the French right-back. Provided a fine assist for the equalizer, and kept Downing under check, for large parts of the game.
Vermaelen (8) – Played through niggling injury problems, and a back injury he sustained during the game. Was massive, winning almost all headers. His performance sums Arsenal spirit.
Koscielny (7.5) – Despite the unfortunate own goal, another fine performance from the French centre-back. Like Vermaelen, he won almost everything that came through the centre, though was baffled by Suarez a couple of times.
Gibbs (7.5) – A fine game from Gibbs. Neat while coming forward, and composed at the back, keeping good tabs on Kelly and Kuyt
Song (7.5) – Was magnificent today. Won possession often, despite Arsenal failing to build on it, and provided a priceless assist.
Rosicky (7) – Didn’t really build on his Tottenham performance, and lost possession far too often.
Arteta (7.5) – Unable to stamp his authority on the game, as Henderson, Spearing and Adam won the midfield battle.
Benayoun (7) – Again, didn’t build on a fine display against Sp*rs.
Walcott (6.5) – Lacked ideas, and was easily closed down by Liverpool. Another player who didn’t build on from his display last week.
van Persie (8) – Matchwinner. 2 real shots, and 2 goals. Arsenal have to hold on to him, by hook or crook, come the end of the season.
Diaby (7.5) – Looked lively when he came on. Would be a valuable player till now and the end of the season.
Gervinho (7) – Shielded the ball well towards the end.
Oxlade-Chamberlain– Came on too late to get a rating, but almost scored Arsenal’s 3rd.
Overall Team Rating – 7.57