Monday, 18 April 2011

Late drama as Dirk denies Gunners

Dirk Kuyt's penalty in the 12th minute of injury time earned Liverpool a well deserved point yesterday after his fellow Dutchman Robin Van Persie had converted another spot kick at the other end only moments earlier to break the deadlock and seemingly hand the Gunners all three crucial points.

A competitive and keenly fought contest had lacked any real exciting goalmouth action until the closing stages, as the Reds makeshift back four, composing of two teenage full backs, remained impressively firm and restricted the hosts considerable attacking threat admirably. Van Persie's last gasp goal then broke Red hearts, however this team's incredible, never-say-die spirit came to the fore to grasp what felt like a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Kenny Dalglish kept faith with the same side who had disposed of Manchester City so emphatically in our previous Premier League match, with youngsters John Flanagan and Jay Spearing featuring in the first eleven once again, demonstrating the obvious potential within the ranks at the Academy.

Following an impeccably observed minute's silence for the 96 who died at Hillsborough and former Arsenal director Danny Fizsman, the Gunners began the match on top, with Diaby glancing a great chance just wide four minutes in. After that Andy Carroll guided headers over the bar and into the side netting, however from then on the first half was dominated by the home side, with Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny a virtual spectator.

A rare error from Reina on 15 minutes afforded Arsenal an inviting opportunity, as the Spaniard horribly misjudged his jump at a set piece, allowing Koscielny to crash Van Persie's corner against the cross bar. Van Persie's exquisite effort was then flagged offside and Fabregas sent a shot just wide to almost punish Suarez after he'd sloppily lost possession, as Arsene Wenger's title challengers placed the Merseysiders under sustained pressure.

To worsen the situation for the Reds the injury prone Brazilian Fabio Aurelio had to be replaced by Jack Robinson midway through the half, disrupting our defence and throwing the 17-year old left back in at the deep end against the threatening pace of Theo Walcott. Thankfully, he dealt with Arsenal's number 14 well and contributed to our resilient back four's display significantly.

On the stroke of half time Eboue ghosted into the area and fired a shot goalwards, only for the magnificent Martin Skrtel to deflect his effort across the face of goal and away to safety. Arsenal had been in the ascendancy throughout the first half, and the Reds were relieved to enter the half time interval with the scores level.

Dalglish's troops began the second period the better though, with Suarez curling the Reds' best chance of the match just wide on 50 minutes after he had cleverly evaded two defenders with a drop of the shoulder to create space for himself on the edge of the box.

Liverpool's attacking threat may have improved slightly, but their luck with injuries remained conspicuous in its absence as talismanic vice-captain Jamie Carragher had to be stretchered off following a clash of heads with the equally committed Flanagan.

Fittingly Carra, who had been knocked straight out by the incident, received a standing ovation from the whole of the stadium and, fortunately, his determination wasn't missed, as it was replicated brilliantly by his teammates. Spearing, who was at his conscientious best, epitomised this depth of character and commitment with 20 minutes remaining, when he raced all of 40 yards to regain possession from Wilshere with a brilliant sliding challenge.

After 83 minutes Clichy crossed from deep and Van Persie flicked on a header that was easily stopped by Reina. A sublime move from the London side moments later unlocked our defence and set up the Dutch striker perfectly, however he was denied by a sensational save from the alert Pepe Reina.

Entering the eight minutes of injury time the exasperated and frustrated Gunners were surprisingly not throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the Reds' backline, however their breakthrough eventually arrived in the 97th minute, when Andre Marriner correctly pointed to the spot after the otherwise excellent Spearing had felled Fabregas. Van Persie displayed composure to roll home the penalty and, it appeared, win the game for Arsenal.

However, the Reds, who had scored in every one of their past 14 league games, refused to give up, with Dirk Kuyt smashing an Alonso-esque effort at goal immediately from the re-start. Encouragingly Liverpool threw everybody forward in a desperate attempt to earn something from the match, and they were rewarded when Eboue bundled over Lucas in the penalty area after Suarez's free kick fell for the Brazilian midfielder.

Kuyt, who recently received a contract extension, stood up to hammer home the spot kick with literally the last kick of the game, to send the travelling Kop into delirium.

With the last gasp equaliser arriving so late on in the encounter, Liverpool celebrated as if they had won the game, although the real winner from yesterday's match may just turn out to be bitter rivals Manchester United, who have both the momentum and the all important six-point lead heading into the final few games of the season following yet another Arsenal slip up.

That matters little to Liverpool though, who should rightly be delighted after a battling display and dramatic ending earned them an excellent point at one of their bogey grounds. Diligent defensive work and a hard fought battle in midfield were accompanied by the never-say-die attitude that has been engendered into the squad by temporary manager Kenny Dalglish.

As a result the Reds have collected four points from the six available from fixtures against Manchester City and Arsenal, and a new confidence against the better sides has steadily yet significantly developed, which should see us in good stead next season, when the Merseysiders will look to compete against the likes of these for a top four finish.



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