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It's Russian roulette

MUCH more of this and the omnipresent salesmen outside of Anfield won’t be seeking buyers for a “hat, cap, scarf or a badge”, it’ll be abacuses and heart tablets on offer.

Keeping count of the score in Liverpool games has all of a sudden become as difficult as holding your nerve with goals being traded like punches in a slugfest and matches containing almost as many twists and turns as Ronaldo on a rollercoaster.

It will be no consolation to anyone at Anfield today that they have all of a sudden won a reputation as English football’s great entertainers, a tag which is fully justified following consecutive 4-4 draws and a mammoth total of 27 goals scored in their last eight games.

Instead, the overwhelming feeling will be one of disappointment having missed an opportunity to put Manchester United under the kind of pressure which might, just might, have caused them to creak a little more.

Liverpool are today top of the Premier League and it should not be forgotten that their task at the start of the season was to mount a title challenge which lasted after the last Easter eggs had disappeared from the shop shelves.

They have certainly delivered on that front and regardless of how the season now ends it will be seen as one in which progress has undoubtedly been made on the pitch and the gap closed on those who set the pace.

There has been so much to admire about the Reds since a defeat at Middlesbrough seemingly ended their title dreams and it is hard to think of the last time a Liverpool side played with as much passion, determination, character and attacking verve.

Unfortunately, the one trait which we have come to expect as a matter of course from them has been conspicuous only by its absence just when it was needed most.

Defensive solidity is taken almost for granted when Rafa Benitez sends his players out for action and the fact that they have scored four goals in consecutive matches and failed to win either of them means you don’t have to use Andy Gray’s tactics board to show where the problems lie.

All four of Arsenal’s goals last night started with Liverpool being in possession.

Two of them came from players dwelling on the ball in areas where they cannot afford to, another was the result of an uncharacteristic mistake from Fabio Aurelio and the final killer blow was delivered at the Anfield Road end following a Xabi Alonso corner in front of the Kop

Andrey Arshavin will bask in the glow of a quartet of strikes which kept Arsenal’s unbeaten run going but the reality is that each and every one of his goals was preventable. Very, very preventable.

Errors are part and parcel of football but when you are handing out as many gifts as Liverpool did last night then it becomes almost impossible to win games, even when you possess the kind of never say die attitude which has served them so well all season long.

A brace apiece from Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres yielded just a single point and had the Israeli not come up with yet another dramatic last gasp goal then Liverpool’s title chances would today be being written off altogether.

As it is, their hopes are still alive and the only thing that has changed is that the Anfield outfit now need United to lose twice whereas previously two draws might have been enough for the partially open door at the top of the table to be flung wide open.

In an attacking sense, Liverpool are undoubtedly playing well enough to ensure that belief will not be extinguished until and unless it becomes mathematically impossible for them to win the league. Their passing is as crisp and imaginative as it has been at any time during Benitez’s reign and chances are being created with such regularity that it is hard to see them failing to score in any of their remaining five fixtures.

But what has been gained in creativity appears to have been lost in balance and game intelligence, temporarily at least.

Having gone 2-1 up against the Gunners the wisest move would have been to take stock and try to take some of the heat out of what had become a pulsating, end to end game.

Instead, Liverpool continued to pour forward leaving their back line exposed against a side which thrives on lightning fast, counter attacking football and they paid dearly for their gung-ho attitude.

At one stage it seemed that the magnificent pre-match tribute paid to the great Ray Kennedy – a number five in the Kop and a number ten in the away end – could turn out to be an uncanny prediction of the final score, such was the commitment of both sides to attack.

As well as the goals, Torres and Daniel Agger also had headers cleared off the line and chances came and went with such regularity that it was difficult to keep track.

Liverpool were the better side and by no little distance, particularly in the first half which they dominated only to perversely find themselves training, and the fact that Arsenal did not win a single corner in the entire match tells its own story.

The problem was that they put so much energy into their latest comeback from a losing position that they ended up running on empty in the closing stages and when Arshavin again found the target it was hard to see how the Reds could possibly get back into the game.

From somewhere though, they again found the resilience and determination to come up with a result just when it seemed one would be beyond them and in doing so they kept their title dreams alive.

Should Portsmouth show as much desire at old Trafford tonight as Arsenal did at Anfield then a disappointing point could yet turn into a decent one.

The advantage is very much with United but no-one should write Liverpool off just yet, not in a season when anything can and so often does happen.The white knuckle thrill ride that is Liverpool’s title challenge may have been driven off course but it has not been derailed and the seemingly endless succession of twists could still turn things back in their favour.

But right now their fans would like nothing more than a bog standard 1-0 win without any of the thrills and spills that have characterised their recent games.

Chance would be a fine thing.

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Kuyt (El Zhar, 85), Mascherano, Alonso, Riera (Babel, 72), Benayoun, Torres.

ARSENAL: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Nasri, Fabregas, Song, Arshavin, Denilson (Walcott, 65), Bendtner (Diaby).

REFEREE: Howard Webb.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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