The way I see it - Arsenal v Liverpool

Last updated : 02 April 2008 By Jason Hogan
The last time I did a piece for this website was prior to the Aston Villa game at the beginning of March and little did I know then that Arsenal would go on to have a month which was rather chequered at best.

By the time we went up to The Reebok last Saturday I felt like I didn't know whether I was coming or going. Part of me was thinking about all the things I said in my articles over the season and all the times I banged on and on about the moral victories we had gained throughout the season that threatened to make a complete mockery of all the things that were said about us by all and sundry in the summer.

On the other hand, I have felt a bit like a salesman who doesn't have total belief in the product I have been selling lately. Because whilst I am not exactly in a position to criticise any Arsenal fan who still chooses even now to take the view that we are closer to ManUre and the PRF than anyone expected at this stage in the season, there has been a part of me that has been tempted to look at such an argument as rather glib one given the position we were in at the end of February as opposed to now.

On reflection, the defeat we suffered the other day in Little Moscow at the hands of the Phoney Russian Franchise was coming. With the lack of momentum we had going into the game it was always going to be asking a lot to expect both our level of performance and above all our luck to turn around dramatically enough to see us get a convincing result there.

The sad part was we didn't actually play that badly on the day and in contrast to the pre-match assertion of my buddy Gazza, we were not hammered. In fact, it was a game that I felt was there for the taking by Arsenal particularly after Bacary Sagna put us in front.

But the PRF went into Bolton/Wimbledon mode, we didn't deal with the succession of up and under's they launched late on and we allowed them to turn the game on its head. I tell you what, even the cup defeat at Old Trafford wasn't as galling. Because, even though we may not have done quite enough to win, I will sear until the day I die that we didn't deserve to lose either.

As I said earlier, I have been wrestling with my emotions lately and I literally didn't know what to think ahead of trip to Bolton on Saturday. I tuned in to listen to the game on the radio and the impression I got was that we should have been two up inside the first 15 minutes - but the Arsenal ended up a goal down instead courtesy of Matt Taylor.

When I heard the goal go in, I shook my head turned my stereo off and went into the garden and stared into space. Curiosity got the better of me and I came in and switched the stereo back on only to discover that we were two down and Abou Diaby had been sent off.

Having seen the incident for myself later on TV, I was disgusted with Diaby's challenge and I was really furious with him. The boy made no attempt to go for the ball and took out the Bolton player's standing foot. I hope that Wenger fines the lad two weeks wages because what Diaby did was unacceptable in my opinion.

Mind you, it's a good job Diaby didn't do that to one of England's golden boys though. The press and the media, not to mention the Anti-Arsenal brigade would have struck up a campaign to have the boy deported on the spot there and then.

The stereo was switched off again and I retreated back into the garden. But once again I couldn't stand not knowing what was going on for long and 15 minutes later I was back in the living room with my stereo back on again.

At just around the hour mark in the game, the Arsenal suddenly had a chink of light. Gallas had stolen round the back to score from a corner and I can honestly tell you all that I had a felling that we would go on to win from that point on. I didn't know why. It was just a feeling.

Five minutes later, Hleb won a penalty which was duly despatched by Van Persie and sitting in my living room, I felt, for the first time since the Milan game a real sense of belief. I thought our moment came when young Theo skinned two Bolton defenders down the right and cut the ball back to Van Persie but the Dutchman's final shot was wayward.

But it became quite clear, despite listening to the radio that we were in no mood to back off and thanks to a couple of fortunate deflections we got the winning goal we deserved.

I let out a roar so loud my missus heard it from the garden. She ran into the front room, sighed and said "Thank God for that!" turned on her heel and disappeared back into the garden again.

And so, a traumatic month actually ended on a bit of a high for the Arsenal. To be 2-0 down at our perennial graveyard and come back to win with 10 men was hugely satisfying and all things considered I would put our win at The Reebok up there with the one we got at Shite Hart Lane early in the season as the sweetest we have gained this season on a domestic level.

Does it mean we are back in title race? Only mathematically I would say. If we are there or thereabouts when ManUre go to Little Moscow at the end of April we have a small chance but that's about it.

So, if we are going to get some real joy out of this season it's going to have to come in the Champions League. But first, we will need to get past Liverpool.

I'm not going to bore you all with a load of waffle. The fact is that we go into this tie as underdogs as far as most observers are concerned. I was off work when the draw was made and the first thing the Sky pundits talked about was not Arsenal v Liverpool but what would happen when the PRF met Liverpool in the semis for the third season running!

As far as the press and the media are concerned this tie is virtually a foregone conclusion. After all, Liverpool are geared up Europe, Liverpool are a different animal in Europe, Benitez has the magic touch in Europe, don't they?

None of these widely held assumptions take into account the fact that Milan had a far more impressive recent record in Europe than Liverpool. The Rossoneri have made four semi-finals in the last five years, winning three of them and in turn two of those three finals. Arsenal were not supposed to be able to lay a glove on the wily experienced Italians and they were expected to brush us aside - but we all know what happened don't we?

For me, the pressure is severely on Liverpool going into this tie. Because when the season began, THEY were the ones that had title credentials when we had absolutely none and THEY were the ones that were expected to vie with ManUre and the PRF for supremacy in the Champions League as well - not us.

What's more, the common consensus in the press and the media is that the Arsenal are a team running on empty despite what they did at Bolton on Saturday. I watched The Sunday Supplement on Sky on Sunday morning and the hacks around the table were unanimous in their assumptions that our victory at The Reebok said more about Bolton and their shortcomings than Arsenal's powers of recovery.

It didn't surprise me really to be honest. In the end, it was really just the same old negative shit about Arsenal just on a different day and for me it will just make an Arsenal victory over the two legs all the more satisfying if we pull it off.

For me, success for Arsenal will come down to what it always has - the chances we create and the chances we take. Liverpool may be considered to be some kind of phenomenal European machine. But there is not a damn team on this planet that Arsenal cannot make chances against and ultimately beat if we are remotely efficient in taking them.

Being underdogs, as we are in this tie, suits me just fine. When you really think about it we have been in that position all season long. I just think that it's important for Arsenal to remember what they are good at and not allow themselves to be sucked into some tactical struggle. That's what did for the PRF when they twice got done by Liverpool.

We need to just be true to ourselves, have faith in our own philosophy on how the game should be played and go from there. If we do that, we will have put the cat well and truly amongst the pigeons believe me.