Arsenal reserves run riot

Liverpool 3-6 Arsenal

As the masses started to enter the Sandon after Saturday’s FA Cup defeat, the mood was a surprisingly upbeat one as fans excitedly talked about the excellent six minute protest at the beginning of that game. Without a remarkable showing from Reds fans on Tuesday night to hide a humilating defeat, it’s fair to say the mood in the same pubs around Oakfield Road three days later was decidedly different.

In the last few days we’ve learnt that our players talk a superb game even if they don’t transfer the fighting talk on the pitch. Our skipper was the worst culprit, as his pre-match prep talk in the Echo earlier in the day looked like a waste of the paper it was printed on as he strutted round the middle watching as the Arsenal reserve midfield ran rings round him. After the defeat in the cup we were defending on Saturday, it seemed ideal that we only had to wait three days to regain pride and show that Saturday was merely a one off.

Yet, even after half an hour it was obvious to all inside Anfield and watching at home that Arsenal really are that far ahead of us, especially in the quality of their squad as well as team. Whilst the Gunners side was different in personnel from Saturday, the crisp passing and, more importantly, movement was still there. The same could be said about Liverpool though; whilst the personnel were mostly different, the ‘˜pass the ball and stand admiring it for five minutes’ routine was still evident from most.

Jerzy Dudek in particular had eleven saves to make over the course of the two games and managed to concede nine. Never mind a keeper going through a rough patch, one could have easily mistaken the Pole for a Sunday League keeper intentionally conceding goals in revenge for being dropped. Pepe Reina will never, ever be under appreciated by Reds again.

Mark Gonzalez’s seemingly routine tackle on Theo Walcott ended with the Chilean laid out on the floor, and after five minutes treatment Gonzalez was stretchered off to be replaced by Luis Garcia – who, to make matters worse, was then crocked by a late challenge ending his season in the process.

Jeremy Aliadiere scored Arsenal‘s first, before Robbie Fowler finished with a celever back heeled finish, after Fabio Aurelio’s excellent low free-kick had been parried by Alumunia in the Arsenal goal and Garcia had made the assist with a low cross.

After the sublime came the shambles. Julio Baptista’s free kick somehow beat Dudek to make it two one. After referee Atkinson had given a free kick for seemingly nothing, the Brazilian on loan from Real Madrid beat the wall, but his free-kick lacked real pace or positioning. For some reason Dudek jumped forward and never even dived for the ball as it eased into the Liverpool net. For an international keeper to go from being on his toes as the kick was taken to being in no-man’s land as it went over the wall seemed to sum up our night as experienced internationals transformed into Sunday League triers.

Again Liverpool were unlucky when Atkinson gave a corner kick that didn’t look out (Although the linesman, thirty yards and two goal posts away gave it really), although the flapping of Dudek and lack of conviction of our defence ensured that Song’s goal, after Sami Hyypia had inadvertently hit the ball at his body, virtually sealed the game before half time.

Whilst Baptista’s second of the night looked a million miles offside, the way Arsenal passed round our back line and finished easily and unmarked (Whilst Hyypia stood with his hand up in a vain attempt to get offside off the linesman ‘“ haven’t professionals heard of ‘˜playing the whistle?) was too easy. Liverpool had the look of a Third Division side that had had a go against the Premiership side but had now let the floodgates open.

At half time the Kop sung ‘œYou’ll Never Walk Alone’, more in hope than belief, yet when Sami Hyypia decided to dive in for no reason on Aliadiere, the humiliation looked likely to get worse. Although Dudek saved the spot kick, it wasn’t long before Baptista made it five one with a goal that was far too easy yet again on the hour mark.

After that an excellent Steven Gerrard volley and Sami Hyypia goal raised the voices on the Kop, but Baptista grabbed his fourth after Aliadiere won a race with Aurelio similar to that won by Henry against Carragher on Saturday.

From back to front things weren’t right. Dudek had a horrendous game, never assuring, and certainly never saving, yet his back four were little better. Stephen Warnock was solid, especially whilst playing with hurt ribs, and Lee Peltier tried hard even if he seems to lack the overall talent to make it in the first team, as evident when he was passing under pressure. Gabriel Paletta made a few excellent tackles, but positionally he was all over the place, not helped by the unusually nervy Hyypia alongside him. Sami had a shocking time and looked like the Sami Hyypia of three seasons ago, although we just put that down to playing alongside Igor Biscan in the middle.

Fabio Aurelio was okay in the middle, a strange decision for a left back. He was tidy in possession and got stuck in, although again, when you see Mssrs Fabregas and Walcott in the Arsenal midfield, it’s not good to enough to see ‘˜okay’ players across the pitch. Danny Guthrie tried hard and never stopped running, although from the look of the Arsenal players his age it’s not a good sign that he seems nowhere near good enough to make a first team appearance.

Gerrard yet again went missing for the umpteenth time this season. He’s great at pumping his arm and moaning at others whilst the ball is still in play, yet he’s suddenly nowhere when we need some to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Cesc Fabregas in particular made him look like a poor Lee Carsely as the MBE, England vice captain and OK! star watched the game pass round him for large parts of the ninety.

Craig Bellamy at least tried, yet the service from the midfield was akin to that of a spotty teenager in the McNasty’s drive thru. Whilst Robbie Fowler’s head is still as sharp as ever, his head is a few paces behind and it’s sad to see. Whenever Bellamy raced forward, held the ball up and waited for support, Robbie just couldn’t get there. An excellent finish shows he can still do it in the box, but it’s getting to the box that’s the problem.

A look at Arsenal‘s reserves as they danced round us shows that, whilst we can beat the Boltons, Watfords and Charltons of this league with ease, we’re becoming the ‘˜best of the rest’ after the top three.

But if the players largely don’t even bother, then what hope do we have of closing that gap and finally becoming genuine title challengers? As we entered this season full of optimism that we could finally show that we had a squad capable of winning the league, we now start 2007 looking at a daunting fixture list in coming weeks, a run of that our season that promised so much suddenly depends on.

Mark Piercy

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