With Liverpool's fine recent home form, Arsenal's indifferent away form and a highly charged atmosphere few gave us much of a shout in this third round F A Cup-tie. Certainly no one in our carload were optimistic of a positive outcome. The day was wet and the journey to the northwest one of perpetual grey overcast skies accompanied by drizzle, medium, light or occasionally heavy rain. Fortunately the rain had ceased by the time we arrived in Liverpool.
Both teams employed their reserve keeper, Almunia and Dudek, but other than that it was the first elevens who went into battle. That's assuming anyone, especially Benitez, knows what their first eleven actually is.
Almunia was called upon to come and take quite early as Liverpool settled the quicker and the early play was in our half as Arsenal attacked towards the Kop. Both teams were somewhat defensive early on and worthwhile chances were something of a rarity, but this was a full throttle cup-tie. Henry to Van Persie almost. Eboue just back from injury had a shaky opening twenty minutes before he eventually settled. Gael Clichy was being hacked very petulantly by an irate Pennant who took exception to one of Gael's early challenges. Steve Bennett of course failed to spot any of Pennant's hacks, which were quite worthy of a yellow card.
Kolo cleared a Kuyt cross who was for my money Liverpool's most effective forward. Gerrard broke but fired wide, quite why anyone would ever play Gerrard anywhere other than in midfield is beyond me. Kuyt again did well on their left. The ball was in the air far too much for any cultured football but it played into the hands of Senderos who was magnificent at the back throughout. Gilberto conceded a corner but Van Persie cleared Garcia's ball in. Henry to Rosicky almost. ‘Stand up for the 96'. Anfield was seriously noisy as Clichy battled away and stormed forward to enable Flamini to have a shot well off target. Free kick for leading with an aerial elbow against Gerrard.
A crucial bit of closing to block Garcia's shot by Philippe was sheer brilliance and very necessary. A clear dive by Alonso on the edge of the box got the Scousers quite excited because they though his yellow card was being flashed our way. ‘Same old Scousers always cheating'. Good tackle by Eboue on Riise who I rate highly but who didn't really feature today. Great cross from the right by Garcia, which Almunia did extremely well to tip away for a corner.
Crouch chested down a cross and fired over from no more than a half chance. Eboue and Garcia were now at it as Eboue shoved Garcia following a sly dig. Meanwhile Pennant seemed to have lost his head as he continued to kick Clichy. ‘Cashley's boyfriend'. A yellow card for Senderos as Crouch jumped away from a tackle from behind. Riise with a shot over. Henry conceded a free kick for an aerial foul on Alonso. ‘One man went to bed'. Clichy then picked up a yellow card for a late tackle on, I think, Agger. Free kick against Robin on a run forward and at the other end Kolo got in a muddle and conceded a corner. The ball in found Alonso outside the box and his peachy volley whistled past the post, this was as close as Pool came to scoring before the break.
The two teams appeared to be cancelling each other out but on 37 minutes Hleb on the right played a series of one-twos with Rosicky and the final ball from Hleb to Rosicky was hit perfectly by Tomas. He was outside the box and hit a dipping, bending shot that gave Dudek no chance, it was a ‘pick that one out' sort of goal. 0-1 to the Arsenal against the run of play. That said Liverpool had created very few chances and we'd defended comprehensively with Flamini and Gilberto in midfield doing sterling work.
Gilberto on Alonso for a free kick, another fine run by Clichy, Pennant once more having a petulant hack at our left back. How blind is Steve Bennett? A free kick against Senderos for allegedly using Crouch as a stepladder at a point where Liverpool's big punt to Crouch was becoming tedious. Our wall did its job in stopping the free kick as Liverpool won a corner that Almunia caught when it came across. He looked very safe in the air, which is where most of Liverpool's attacks came.
With the Scousers attacking the Kop we didn't reckon we'd see much play down our end in the second half and we were right. Hleb made an early mistake to give Pool a chance at goal. Kuyt then stole the ball from us and went on a charge. Garcia headed wide. A Pennant cross, he hit his crosses much earlier after the break, saw Crouch head wide. Crouch offside. An important block from Senderos followed by an all too brief spell of our one touch stuff. Crouch went down to appeals from the Kop but advantage seemed to be given and a corner gained for Pool. The corner was hacked clear.
Kolo and Crouch collided as Liverpool continued to pressure us with one way traffic. Pool's approach was predictable though and why they kept a quality fast man, namely Bellamy, on the bench was a mystery. A rare Arsenal break saw Henry play it to Van Persie who did well under pressure to win a corner from his shot. ‘She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May'. Another Liverpool corner was headed clear before Aureole replaced Riise. Almunia took another high ball with ease and soon after did very well to close and hoof clear from a charging Gerrard. Henry to Van Persie on a break but Carragher made a great saving tackle.
Eboue took a delayed tumble to the ground following a tackle and was carded for alleged timewasting as he collapsed again to the chagrin of the Scousers. If he was play acting its not what I want to see from our team, although in fairness to Emmanuel the last time this happened he was out injured for about five games. The predictable free kick towards Crouch was caught high by Almunia. Justin Hoyte replaced Eboue who didn't look to be too badly hurt as he walked around the pitch. Henry meantime was doing his captain's job well but was not quite there yet with his turbo charger following his long absence. Aureole on Senderos for a free kick. Kolo closed well to concede a corner but unfortunately they scored from it. The ball in was met by Crouch and appeared to be heading straight for Almunia before Kuyt deflected it past him with a header to the delight of the Kop. 1-2 and we were in for a very exciting or long eighteen minutes or so depending on your viewpoint.
Van Persie was replaced by Julio Baptista. A cool header by Philippe back to Almunia. A decent shot from Aurelio went wide. More Liverpool crosses, more mild panic in the Gooner ranks but not so in our defence, we were holding firm and I couldn't believe that Bellamy remained on the bench. Essentially we were under siege at this point and Liverpool were looking to win a few soft free kicks out wide so they could continue to lump high balls in from set plays. Hoyte did his job well whilst sticking with Gerrard and Almunia continued to catch every ball hit his way.
We were still under siege when with six minutes to go Thierry found himself in a chase with Carragher on our left flank. Carragher got there first but Henry nicked it got away from him and cut inside. He worked his way into the box, glided past a couple of desperate defenders and fired one low past Dudek. 1-3 to the Arsenal and the travelling Gooners, in front of whom Henry had just scored, went into apeshit mode. ‘Lets go fecking mental' It was so good to win a game for once where we'd been second best for long periods and to see our youngsters gaining confidence in one of football's most famous arenas.
Henry lost a ball soon after the goal but worked back well to win it back. Six minutes plus four minutes of added time in which Walcott replaced Thierry, Kolo hacked clear, Hoyte beat Crouch to concede a corner, Theo was axed by Carragher, Kuyt had a shot saved and Liverpool hit a free kick into our well constructed wall. I imagine this match was enjoyed by neutrals everywhere but don't really care if it wasn't, because for me this was a classic F A Cup tie and I was lucky enough to be there and see us win it.