For those who read my preview of the game at Anfield, you will know I had this pegged as an Arsenal sneak at 2-1. As a Liverpool fan, I am reveling in being wrong. Only just wrong mind you, but still wrong all the same.
I had an inkling that Liverpool may win when Steven Gerrard started the game as he did. Putting himself about, making sure the supply to Fabregas was limited and also Javier Mascherano he had no space should the ball reach him. The goal on 7 minutes was shear Gerrard; power, accuracy, genius. Xabi Alonso had exaggerated for the free-kick but contact was made and hats off to the ref for noticing.
However from 15 minutes Liverpool were in trouble. Gerrard started playing too far up the field and the midfield of Alonso and Mascherano began to get exposed, and Arsenal hit third gear. Only commanding goalkeeping from Pepe Reina and heroic defending by Jamie Carragher and the luckless at the moment Sami Hyypia saved them. For a moment the 7-1 odds of Hyypia scoring another OG were getting shorter by the millisecond, but luckily he kept his head and cleared as well as could be expected.
The second half saw the introduction of Peter Crouch for the injured Fernando Torres. For the first 10 minutes the dimension to Liverpool’s attack changed and Crouch had the beating of skipper William Gallas. But from then on the Frenchman morphed into Carra, and he somehow began to get more and more heroic throughout the game, culminating in the magnificent block of Steven Gerrard in the final 10.
Up top meanwhile, Theo Walcott was introduced and the Arsenal machine kicked it up to fourth. When Nicklas Bendtner came on at 74 though, the Liverpool defence seemed to have too much to deal with. And this became reality when the outstanding Aliaksandr Hleb picked the perfect pass for Cesc Fabregas who wrong-footed the off balance Reina to make up for an earlier glaring miss.
Overall, Arsenal deserved more, and looked like they would get more when Fabregas and Bendtner failed to convert two open goals. But their football, all through the match was superlative. They were one down, and they didn’t panic (at first) when the equaliser failed to come, although as the game wound on the Gunners started to look flustered.
Man of the Match: Aliaksandr Hleb for me. Hold up play was excellent, superb ball for Fabregas for the goal, passing was good, handy in defence as well. Top performance in all. (Cesc would’ve got the MOTM but the miss was unforgiveable…sorry!)