13 November 2006

Arsenal 3-0 Liverpool

Arsenal 3-0 Liverpool
It is obvious to me that I have a finite amount of luck to share among the teams I follow. In the fall, it's a very simple equation. There are three teams that I want to win on a given weekend: Arsenal, the Indianapolis Colts, and the University of California. And I have about enough luck for 1.5 of them. This week, it deserted the Golden Bears, who lost a game against Arizona that they should have won. And Indianapolis barely had enough to get by, winning 17-16 against the lackluster Buffalo Bills.

So that leaves the Arsenal, and their fine win over Liverpool. The stories today are all about Liverpool's poor performnace, but it's important to remember that this was a tense, cagey match until the first goal at 41'. Both Arsenal and Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net earlier, but both were (correctly) ruled out. Most of the game had been played in the middle third of the pitch, with two teams scrapping for the ball and refusing to yield ground. At 35', a draw seemed a distinct possibility.

And then the Gunners broke through. I'm sure you've seen the goal, which featured both the precise passing the Gunners are known for and the scrappy opportunism that they often miss. Both Alexander Hleb and Cesc Fabregas had great runs and sweet passes, but I would single out Mathieu Flamini for his willingness to throw himself at the goal. We need to attack the net like that more often.

At halftime it wasn't a done deal, but things turned quickly and the Gunners were soon in control. The second goal came at 56' and what a sweet goal it was. Despite a dodgy first touch, Robin van Persie hit a beautiful pass, and Kolo Toure finished sweetly. Kolo has been coming forward more often of late, regularly enough that it must be on orders from the manager. He always looks good doing it, and it's great to see his effort rewarded.

After the second goal, Liverpool went from inconsistent to consistently bad. The third goal seemed inevitable, but when it came it was due to amazingly bad defensive work from Liverpool on a corner. It understates things to say that William Gallas was unmarked. He was two yards from any defender -- and that's in the center of the six-yard box.

After the game, much of the talk is about whether Rafael Benitez should have played Steven Gerrard in central midfield. Which rather misses the point that Gerrard was worse than useless yesterday. He was rarely involved, but when he did get into the run of play, it was most often to promptly yield possession. He was also at fault for failing to mark Gallas on the corner, and when moved to the middle, promptly shot well over the goal. Gerrard is generally a legitimate top talent, but yesterday he was a liability, and it's unfair to blame Benitez for it.

The net result will be much debate and media attention for Liverpool. They are miles from contending for the title, and look like a team that's lost it's way. In the second half, they looked on the verge of collapse, with arguing teammates and senseless fouls born of frustration. Fortunately for Liverpool, their next few matches are winnable -- away to Middlesbrough, home to Man City, and home to Portsmouth. But if they take less than 7 points from these three games, I think there's a real chance that Benitez will be gone before January.

But for Arsenal, things are looking up. The previous two league games were quite disappointing, but winning over one of the Big Four will surely restore their confidence. Hopefully next week's home match with Newcastle will continue that, because the following week brings a road trip to Bolton, and Sam Allardyce seems to know how to frustrate the Gunners. They'll need all the confidence they can muster.

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