His best moment in an Arsenal shirt?
I've been toying with how to write this piece. I considered a title along the lines of "thieving and whingeing - a scouse way of life" but I don't want to concentrate on that too much. Obviously there's plenty to say on the major incidents in the game but, contrary to the popular reaction fed by the media, there was more than one stick-on penalty waved away by Howard Webb yesterday, and two red cards that should both have gone to Liverpool players. More of that below, though hopefully not too much. Instead of that I want to praise a supreme effort from a weakened Arsenal team, with big credit given to some unlikely heroes yesterday.
Let's start by saying it was a great game. There were two good sides on the pitch yesterday playing really good football. Liverpool going forward, especially when they get Suarez on the ball, are very much like Manchester City. They have pace across the front line and superb movement. In Suarez they have a player with supreme ability from whom it is almost impossible to get the ball once he has it under his spell. Their issue is that they don't have a defence to speak of. They also have a declining Gerrard whose main contribution yesterday was his persistent fouling. Obviously he can still pick a pass when given the space to do so, but his lack of pace these days is very noticeable. That ITV managed just seven minutes of highlights from the game says plenty about the way they run their production.
Arsenal might be considered fortunate that we weren't 2-0 down inside five minutes again. That movement I mentioned above saw Sturridge get in behind our defence far too easily on two occasions and he really should have put at least one of them in the net. It was a relief that we then settled down and got on the ball a bit more. I had been surprised and disappointed by the team selection from Wenger. I was annoyed at the choice of full-backs and I didn't see the point in leaving out Bendtner to allow an untried teenager to play the lone striker role. An indication that Arsene might be right came in the very first minute when the ball was played up to Yaya Sanogo who was immediately barged by Skrtel. Seeing the Liverpool man bounce off Sanogo was a sign of how strong this young man is. He went on to impress me throughout the game with his strength and physicality. Nicklas Bendtner could not have played like Sanogo did. Throughout the second-half he was fouled by Agger every time he went near the ball, yet Mr Webb and his linesman chose to ignore each one until about ten minutes from the end. By the time we went ahead, Sanogo's dominance of the Liverpool centre-backs had got us on the front foot as far as I was concerned.
When we did score it came from a fine piece of play from Sanogo whose shot was blocked by Gerrard. Oxlade-Chamberlain's finish was superb in a crowded penalty area and was just one moment of class in a superb display from The Ox. His pace and strength was too much for Liverpool down Arsenal's right wing and his willingness to run beyond Sanogo gave support to the big man, as well as bringing Mesut Ozil's biggest qualities to the fore, as we saw for the second goal.
Most of the rest of the first-half passed off without too much goalmouth action, apart from a fine save from Fabianski as Suarez got a shot off from a tight angle. Most of the incident was involving fouls and yellow cards. Gerrard got one for his second bookable offence (Webb's failure to punish his first one meant that Lukas Podolski had to be let off just a few seconds after), while Sterling should have been sent-off on half-time for putting his hands on the referee. I imagine every Sunday League ref in the country was cursing Webb for not producing a red card. I bet they can't wait to be shoved in the chest by someone this weekend.
After half-time Liverpool got in behind again straight away with Suarez bringing another wonderful save after yet more Messi-esque skill. It was a crucial intervention from the big Pole as we went right up the other end and scored a wonderful goal. As I said, Ozil's magnificent eye for a pass was brought to the fore yesterday by having a player who was willing to run in behind the opposition. The searing pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain saw him give his full-back a two yard start, yet still blow him away as he got in down the right. His pull back for a charging Lukas Podolski was perfect and Poldi's first-time finish with his right foot was as sweet as it was surprising. Great football from great players.
It was at this point that the scousers in the Clock End came in to their own. It seems they will steal anything, even the match ball when they're 2-0 down. I found it incredible that the other fans in there weren't going mental at whoever had stolen the ball as it was their own time that they were wasting. The singing through a requested minutes silence was also ridiculous, however well intentioned it might appear to have been. When they got their goal there were smoke bombs being let off in their section as well. No set of supporters are angels, far from it, but there is a reason why most match going fans don't like the scousers.
Liverpool got their goal from a clear penalty.No argument. Yes, it may have been soft, and maybe Suarez could have kept his feet, but it was a foul and it was a penalty. A few minutes later they wanted another one. Having seen it on TV it seems a clear penalty. At the time, 100 yards away, it looked a dive by Suarez. The contact, at that distance, wasn't obvious. However, the ridiculous reaction from Suarez was very noticeable. Obviously Howard Webb was right next to it and he clearly saw the contact, as he did when Suarez was fouled by Eto'o a few weeks back at Chelsea. I strongly suspect that, apart from Webb being utterly useless, it was the dying fish bit from Suarez that cost him the decision this time. Brendan Rodgers says Suarez has a reputation that costs Liverpool. Yes, he does. But it's a self-earned reputation. Does that make it fair? No. But if Liverpool had put Suarez under the hammer when they should have done then maybe a reputation wouldn't be there. Having said that, Robert Pires dived once, against Portsmouth, and played with that "reputation" for the remainder of his career. He didn't do it again.
For all the Liverpool supporters blaming Webb they also need to look at Sturridge. He went through on goal yet again not long after and Lukas Fabianski came off his line to make a Bob Wilson style save diving at the feet of the striker. For me it was the most impressive moment in a stop-start Arsenal career for Fabianski. He was the star for us yesterday and would go on to deny Suarez on a couple more occasions with good positioning facing shots from range. He probably deserved to get away with his one error in the last couple of minutes when Agger should have scored.
At the other end Mr Webb was upsetting the Arsenal fans. The already booked Gerrard lunged in from distance on The Ox, with no real attempt to play the ball, yet Webb let him get away with it. It was ridiculous from Webb and that ought to make the scousers realise they weren't the only ones getting bad decisions from him. He also then turned down Arsenal's stonewall penalty appeal as Cazorla was taken out by Skrtel while trying a shot from 16 yards. The TV highlights neglected to show it for some reason but I've seen a replay on the internet and it's a clear foul and a definite penalty. We were both hard done by on the day, but I reckon Arsenal got the worst of it as it happens. If Webb had sent-off Sterling when he should have done then Liverpool's high-speed attacking would have been severely affected. Cazorla also missed a golden chance to put the game to bed when he miscued one over the bar shortly after coming on.
All in all I was delighted with Arsenal's effort yesterday. The atmosphere in the last 30 minutes was as good as it's been since we moved to the new ground. The players giving their all was the catalyst for the wall of noise in the stands. They gave it everything for us on the pitch yesterday and we responded. It just goes to show that if the players show they're willing to play for the shirt then the fans will respond to them. It was a privilege to be there yesterday and a it was a huge win for Arsenal after a tough week. I hope it has restored confidence, but Wednesday will be even tougher. At least there will be some fresh legs coming back in for that one.
One final thing to remember for Liverpool supporters feeling that they were robbed by the referee yesterday, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is the 2001 FA Cup Final and a certain Stephane Henchoz. You want to talk about being robbed by a cheating referee? I give you Steve Dunn.