Archive for April 1st, 2007

Liverpool 4 – 1 Arsenal: “Basketball player” returns to haunt Arsene

134 comments April 1st, 2007

Arsene Wenger once dismissed Peter Crouch as a “basketball player who can play with his head”. Well Arsene, he’s not a bad footballer either, and yesterday a hatrick from the giant England forward put a poor Arsenal side to the sword.

It was a fairly depressing occasion all in all. Yes, we won twice at Anfield in the cup competitions, but this was the league – the bread and butter – and we came up short. And next to Crouch, short is nowhere.

I was concerned as soon as the team line-ups were in. Tomas Rosicky and Freddie Ljungberg were rested, and the horrifically out of form Alex Hleb and Julio Baptista both started. Furthermore, with Gilberto absent from the centre of midfield, Arsene left Mathieu Flamini out of the squad entirely and shunted Diaby to left-midfield, meaning we began with two nineteen year olds in Cesc and Denilson.

My fears were confirmed within four minutes of kick-off. Some great work between Pennant and Arbeloa allowed the Spaniard in behind an isolated Gael Clichy. The whipped cross arrived at the near post, where the long leg of Crouch steered the ball into the net. It was fantastic approach play, and one can hardly blame Kolo Toure for having shorter legs than the telescopic striker.

The same could be said about the second goal – a wonderful cross from Fabio Aurelio (the kind that Gael Clichy should be forced to sit and study) floated in, and Crouch unsurprisingly rose highest to power home a header into the top corner. Again, I was left frustrated at having conceded, but couldn’t see how any individual was at fault – we just hadn’t dominated play enough to keep possession and prevent Liverpool supplying Crouch.

Half-time came and went, and Arsene didn’t make a change. Indeed, after 56 minutes, Liverpool were able to bring off and “rest” their best player, Steven Gerrard. Allow that to be an indicator of how little threat we were posing.

In the second half, things did improve. Adebayor was unlucky to hit the post twice either side of Liverpool’s third, and he at least managed to have a decent game in a shambolic team performance. And yet when that third goal did come, it was no surprise. As a free-kick was awarded on the right-hand side, I predicted: “Goal”. Sure enough, another Aurelio cross, an Agger header, and it was 3-0. Game over.

William Gallas scrambled home a consoltation, before Peter Crouch made a fool of Kolo Toure and fired in his hatrick. 4-1. An embarrassing scoreline, and one we couldn’t complain about. Liverpool had played good, expansive football at a high tempo, and Crouch had provided a fantastic focal point for their attacks.

We, on the other hand, were poor.

Arsene Wenger was quick to highlight our “horrendous” defensive display, but like I said earlier, I didn’t feel a huge amount could be done about the goals: good crosses, good finishes. Perhaps Philippe Senderos would’ve been a better option against Crouch, but for the most part the problem was our complete inability to keep the ball and create chances of our own. We allowed Liverpool the upper-hand, and never looked like getting a grip on the game ourselves. That said, the fact that our supposed first-choice back four shipped four goals is not good news at all.

The decision to play Denilson and Cesc together backfired hugely. Whilst Diaby’s power was again impressive on the left, he would’ve been far more useful breaking up the play in the centre. Even Mathieu Flamini might’ve been a better option. As it was, Gilberto was hugely missed: Denilson looked out of his depth and Cesc looked at his wits end.

Aleksandr Hleb was again terrible. Why Rosicky and Ljungberg were rested is beyond me. Yes, they played in the internationals, but we don’t have a game for a week. Why not at least give them the first hour today? As it was, we went with Hleb: a player in the worst form of his two-year spell here. I’m not going to start saying he’s completely useless, nor anything like it, but something has clearly gone very wrong in his head. He’s not even putting in the work that initially endeared him to the fans. It’s a real concern.

Julio Baptista is not staying at Arsenal. He knows it, and the fans know it. I’ve supported him all the way, but he now looks about as likely to win Miss World as score a goal. His confidence, like Hleb’s, has disappeared. Furthermore, unlike Hleb, his technique is horrible. When, like Baptista, your game is reliant on power-running and power-shooting, you need to believe you will out-muscle your man, or that you will find the top corner. The only thing he believes at the moment is what I suspect he knows: he’s going back to Spain. A shame.

Abou Diaby and Adebayor managed to be promising on an appalling afternoon, and there are basic reasons for that. Arsene said of Liverpool:

“They were more mobile, sharper and determined.”

Diaby and Adebayor are mobile, sharp, and determined. A few more power-houses like this in the squad, and less fancy-footed bottlers like Hleb, and we might get somewhere.

And so to the future. I’m sure after yesterday there will be calls for a clear-out, but that won’t happen, and those shouts will die down after we beat West Ham (I hope) next week. However, it’s clear things do need to change. It seems to me it’s as much a mental thing as anything. There’s no toughness to the squad – the lack of Gilberto’s leadership skills was plain as day. Wenger needs to as tough as anyone, and cut the dead-wood. We won’t achieve much next season if the likes of Hleb are part of our first eleven. Certain experienced players need to be replaced, and certain younger ones held back. I’m sure Denilson will be fantastic, but today we really needed someone of more experience in there alongside Cesc.

After this defeat it looks like we’re going to end up coming fourth, but I’m going to try and finish on a positive note. Last season, when we struggled to fourth, we had to put up with critics everywhere calling us a “One Man Team”, and questioning where we’d be without Thierry Henry. Well, this season, we’ve played almost entirely without Henry, and come fourth aswell. In his absence, the squad has grown and matured (if only slightly). If, come next season, we can add a revitalised Henry to that squad, things could be on the up.

But only if we make two or three significant signings. Who?

Don’t ask me.

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