Touch of Kuyt keeps tie in the balance but Arsenal mourn Bendtner's bungle

Everyone knew where this game was bound from the instant the draw was made, but the sides took a winding, scenic route to deadlock that nobody had expected. Frequently, there was more madness than method and this was not the type of stalemate anticipated in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. While Liverpool, with their away goal, have the edge, Arsenal would surely have won had the substitute Nicklas Bendtner, in an offside position, not been in the way of a net-bound effort from Cesc Fábregas.

Arsenal are exasperated, too, that, with the score at 1-1, the Dutch referee, Pieter Vink, failed to see the tug at the left arm of Alexander Hleb by Dirk Kuyt that should have brought a penalty in the 66th minute. On broader reflection, Arsène Wenger should be happy about spells, after the interval, when his side had an expansiveness unseen since they held that five-point lead in the Premier League not so long ago.

Nonetheless, Arsenal probably need to reach the sort of peak at Anfield that they attained to beat Milan 2-0 at San Siro in the previous round. The overall situation will gladden Rafael Benítez at a time when this competition offers the sole hope, as it probably does for Arsenal, of plucking triumph from a muddled season.

Liverpool's manager must have wondered, now and again, if the side was still under his influence. It went against all professional precepts, for example, when Ryan Babel sought to swing a pass across the width of the pitch from the left while still near his own penalty area. It ran out for a throw-in on the opposite flank.

Those old-fashioned enough to look for entertainment were rewarded, to the probable disgust of Benítez and Wenger, with goals that might have been prevented. Liverpool have more know-how in the Champions League and Arsenal did seem to be engaged in a running experiment to develop their approach.

On the early occasions that Fábregas sat as far back as Mathieu Flamini, they might have been mirroring the 4-2-3-1 formation of their opponents. Ultimately, Arsenal were true to their instincts and the teenager Theo Walcott came on for the second half to play, initially, as a left-winger, running towards Jamie Carragher, a right-back who would rather be in his old job at centre-half.

This was a game that, to public relief, ignored instructions. The omens had not been good, with each club, to begin with, effectively having five men in midfield. When 50% of the outfield players are crammed into such a small space there is a degree of overcrowding reminiscent of a Victorian slum. A match, too, can get unsanitary and there were fears for the health of this fixture.

An aberration that opens out such a game is a boon. Liverpool obliged. Robin van Persie's low shot was turned behind by José Reina and risk is normally at an end when all Benítez's team have to do is cope with a corner. This was the exception. Fábregas rolled the ball to Van Persie and his cross was headed home, in the 26th minute, by a flagrantly unmarked Emmanuel Adebayor, who had been without a goal for a month since Milan.

It must have been beyond Wenger's conception that his own men would soon be just as woolly-minded as Liverpool had been. Within three minutes, Babel passed to Fernando Torres, who set Steven Gerrard off on a run beyond Flamini and Kolo Touré. The captain's low cross from the left was then knocked into the net by Kuyt, who nipped in just ahead of Gaël Clichy. The response was outstanding from Liverpool's perspective, but Arsenal will unquestionably realise that the injury to their regular right-back, Bacary Sagna, has caused far too much havoc, with Touré obliged to deputise there.

Arsenal, who meet Liverpool again here in the Premier League on Saturday, are wrestling with themselves at least as much as with whoever happens to be sharing the field with them. Wenger, true to himself, gave Arsenal a more enterprising air after the interval. Walcott has impact when he is released from the bench and it was unfortunate for Arsenal that this should be curtailed when he was relocated to the right after Bendtner, on for Emmanuel Eboué, took his place on the left.

Liverpool were sometimes in desperate straits as Arsenal grew in conviction. Martin Skrtel had cleared an Eboué shot from the line in the 66th minute, just before Arsenal were denied their penalty for that foul on Hleb.

Sometimes Wenger's men infuriated themselves. After 71 minutes, Adebayor cleverly beat Skrtel to fashion an opening that snapped shut when Bendtner got in the way of Fábregas's shot. Even so, there is life in this tie and the Dane will not necessarily go down as the obstacle that blocked Arsenal's path to the semi-final.

Match Facts
23' Adebayor 1-0
26' 1-1 Kuyt

Manuel Almunia, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue (Nicklas Bendtner), William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Toure, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie (Theo Walcott)

Jose Manuel Reina, Fabio Aurelio, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Martin Skrtel, Xabi Alonso (Lucas Leiva), Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel (Yossi Benayoun), Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres (Andriy Voronin)

Referee: Vink, P

Venue: Emirates Stadium

Attendance: 60,041

Arsenal 6
Liverpool 3

Goal Attempts:
Arsenal 11
Liverpool 4

On Target:
Arsenal 5
Liverpool 4 © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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