by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
There are games where it seems that despite seemingly doing everything right, a goal will not come for the side in control of a game. That feeling has become all too familiar for Liverpool supporters in the past few weeks as the side has retained the capacity to dominate whilst forgetting how to capitalise on it. Liverpool have been punished for profligacy late in games against Birmingham and Manchester United but against Arsenal it was the Reds who were to enjoy the drama that unfolded.
Arsenal arrived at Anfield licking their wounds after a run of results below the standards they've been used to setting. A recent spate of injuries has been used as mitigating circumstances though the side put out at Anfield was at full strength other than in the back four. The emerging right back Eboue was deputising for Lauren whilst Flamini was selected at left back due to the absence of Cole and Cliche. In the centre Senderos and Toure could both put forward strong claims to start ahead of Campbell should he have been available for selection given his recent antics.
Peter Crouch missed the game due to injury so Fowler and Morientes were given further opportunity to establish a partnership that had shown flashes of shared thinking against Wigan. With Dudek continuing in Reina's absence, Riise in at left back and Sissoko partnering Alonso Liverpool had a powerful look to the side. So it proved in the opening exchanges as Liverpool quickly took control of midfield and pressed Arsenal high up the pitch.
Liverpool have previously found themselves outplayed by Arsenal but this was never the case as the Gunners were given little opportunity to put together anything like the football they've previously been capable of. It was Liverpool who were playing the football, especially in the centre of the park where Xabi Alonso gave a master class to his Spanish compatriot Cesc Fabregas on how to control and dictate the tempo of a match. Somewhat surprisingly, for all their control it was nearly fifteen minutes into the game before Liverpool's first chance arrived. A ball from the left found Kewell coming in from the other flank where he had taken temporary residence but his shot was pushed wide of goal. Arsenal had shown a little threat on the break in creating two half chances but neither required Dudek to make a save.
With Steven Gerrard rarely venturing inside from the wing, Liverpool continued to press forward. However chances were coming steadily rather than at a rate at which Arsenal were truly stretched. That said, Jens Lehmann was forced to make a brilliant reactive save after Senderos's header looped a wicked Gerrard cross goalwards. The German keeper took two steps back before stretching behind himself to claw the ball away from goal. Fernando Morientes who had enjoyed a lively opening period saw his frustration in front of goal continue as he missed his kick from a Kewell cross. The ball was delivered low into the box and with Toure swinging at the ball, Morientes seemed deceived by the defender who possibly got a touch on the ball and the chance was gone.
Like Morientes, Kewell had started in lively fashion and the two combined well to enable Morientes to move onto the ball in the area. Eboue, reacting to the danger, came across to shield the ball away from Morientes and whilst his arm rose after contact he had seemingly done little wrong. It wasn't the interpretation of match official Graham Poll though who after a moments contemplation pointed to the spot. Any thought that Robbie Fowler might get the opportunity to extend his Liverpool goal tally were quickly dispelled as Gerrard continued penalty taking duties for the season. The skipper with eighteen goals already struck his penalty low to Lehmann's right but was distraught to see the German stopper get down quickly to make an excellent save. Liverpool had peppered the Arsenal goal up to that point with shots from range though whilst Riise came close with one effort, too many drifted wide of the target.
Whilst the penalty save seemed to knock Liverpool out of their stride for the remainder of the half, they resumed after the interval with renewed vigor. Immediately they were attacking down the Arsenal left and whilst Gerrard's cross was clear, the signal of intent had been made. Lehmann's brilliance started to stand out due to the lack of real action he was involved in. Whilst it would be easy to blame for the forwards for the lack of penetration, in truth Liverpool rarely committed anyone other than the front two into the area which made it easier for Arsenal to mark the pair.
An opportunity arose for Benitez to change the shape of his side as Alonso was forced from the game seemingly through injury. However the decision was made to send Hamann into the action and keep the shape unchanged. Morientes again failed to make connection, this time from a Gerrard cross from the left that was whipped in viciously. Arsenal also enjoyed a little more time in Liverpool's half with Alonso's absence resulting in a slight loss of control for the Reds. Dudek was eventually brought into the action when Henry hit a dipping shot at the Pole, though due to the pace of the ball he punched clear.
Benitez made further changes, with Luis Garcia coming into the action, as did Djibril Cisse with around ten minutes remaining. As a result Gerrard switched to a central position. For all his faults, Luis Garcia has shown in his time at Liverpool that he is a match winner. It is not something new, as he was often the player at Barcelona in the season before moving to England who would open up games when it seemed a draw was on the cards. In the past few weeks with Liverpool's inability to open up games where they've pushed teams onto the back foot there's been a feeling that Garcia's absence has been a crucial factor. He gave believers in that theory further evidence for their cause in this game. With a few minutes left to play, Arsenal attempted to clear a ball into their box. Didi Hamann was loitering around twenty five yards from goal and having collected the ball he hit a powerful shot across Lehmann that seemed destined for the bottom corner. The German though mirrored his earlier saves and got down brilliantly to push the ball away from the six yard box. Luis Garcia who had been outside of the box when the ball initially arrived at Hamann had gambled and followed the shot into the area. It was a rare occasion in which a Liverpool midfielder had got beyond the front pair and it paid dividends as he managed to gather the rebound before firing it past Lehmann who was scrambling across his line.
With little time left, Arsenal showed more ambition than they had done at any other stage in the game, even throwing Lehmann into the area for a last minute corner, their first of the game. A long throw had caused hearts to flutter as the ball was allowed to bounce with Henry in close occupation but there was enough in the Liverpool tanks to see off the danger. This win, coupled with the victory over Wigan will have done wonders for the weary legs of Liverpool. In fact, it could be argued that Arsenal looked the team who had played forty four matches already this season as Liverpool had too much energy for them all over the park. There were encouraging performances in a number of areas. Sissoko was back to his harrying best alongside the peerless Alonso. Gerrard showed great responsibility in sticking to his flank, whilst Kewell always looked to take on his man though his ability to stretch Eboue diminished as the game wore on. Most promising of all was the showing from Fowler who showed that for whatever he's lost, he still retains an awareness of the game that few can match. In one instance in front of the Kop he had claimed a right wing cross from Gerrard with his first touch, taking himself beyond his marker and shooting at goal with his next. Had it not been for another excellent save from Lehmann, he would have stolen the headlines.