Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Match Report: LiverpooL 4 - 4 Arsenal

Four goals from Andrey Arshavin put a huge dent in Liverpool's Premier League title hopes as Arsenal drew 4-4 at Anfield.

The hosts went ahead of Manchester United on goal difference having come from behind three times, starting with Arshavin's first in the 36th minute.

Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun scored soon after the interval but three further goals from the Russian piled the pressure back on Rafael Benitez's side and even a second from Torres and an injury-time equaliser from Benayoun were not enough to force victory.

The result hands a huge advantage to United, who have two matches in hand with the first on Wednesday at home to Portsmouth.

Liverpool were architects of their own downfall as the first three Arsenal goals came from mistakes.

It was almost a carbon copy of their Champions League exit against Chelsea a week ago when a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge saw them miss out on the semi-finals.

It was also not the first time Arsenal had done serious damage to a Liverpool title challenge, it being 20 years since Michael Thomas scored on this ground with the last kick of the season to deny the Reds the championship.

Torres and Albert Riera should have done better with their early efforts to test the fragile confidence of Lucasz Fabianski but both fired straight at the goalkeeper.

Javier Mascherano fired wide after 15 minutes as Arsenal were content to soak up what Liverpool had to offer and swiftly counter-attack when the chance arose.

Those occasions were few and far between and Fabianski, who had looked shaky on a couple of occasions, had to be at his best to tip over Torres' shot from the right angle of the penalty area.

Referee Howard Webb waved away Liverpool appeals in the 26th minute when Mikael Silvestre appeared to catch Dirk Kuyt on the edge of the area.

Arsenal's first chance came when they broke quickly from a Liverpool corner and Cesc Fabregas volleyed wide after Daniel Agger, making his 50th league appearance, had got in Jose Reina's way as he tried to punch clear.

A smart turn by Torres on Kolo Toure saw the Spain striker fire in a 25-yard shot which Fabianski could only parry but Silvestre cleared the danger.

Samir Nasri then had to clear off the line at the far post after Agger flicked on Xabi Alonso's right-wing corner before the Gunners hit their hosts with a sucker punch in the 36th minute.

Mascherano lost the ball on the edge of the penalty area and Fabregas exchanged passes with Nasri before crossing for Arshavin to fire home off the underside of the crossbar.

Benayoun immediately brought a diving save from Fabianski and then headed over as Liverpool piled on the pressure leading up to the interval without reward.

Liverpool realistically had 45 minutes to keep their season alive and that realisation brought the equaliser within four minutes of the restart.

Alvaro Arbeloa's cross was poorly dealt with by Bacary Sagna and Kuyt collected the ball, got to the byline and crossed for Torres to head low into the left corner of Fabianski's goal.

Seven minutes later they were ahead. Fabianski and Kieren Gibbs both messed up their clearances and Kuyt crossed to the far post where Benayoun headed in.

The goalkeeper claimed to have clawed the ball out but it was clearly over the line.

In the 65th minute Arsene Wenger brought on Theo Walcott for Denilson to try to get back in the game but it was another mistake which brought their equaliser.

Arbeloa could not control Jamie Carragher's downward defensive header and Arshavin nipped in to fire past Reina's outstretched left hand.

Incredibly for a team which had conceded just eight goals in 16 home league matches a third error handed Arsenal the lead again.

Fabio Aurelio played a left-wing cross straight to Arshavin 10 yards out and he drilled a shot under Reina for his hat-trick in the 70th minute.

Amazingly Liverpool were level again two minutes later when Torres controlled Riera's cross, turned Silvestre and fired past Fabianski.

Torres had a header cleared off the line by Gibbs from Alonso's corner with nine minutes to go and Carragher fired over from Aurelio's cross as Liverpool desperately pushed for the winner.

And that cost them as Walcott broke from a corner and played in Arshavin to score his fourth in injury time.

Benayoun bundled home an equaliser even later on but it was too late to force a victory.

Realistic Rafa Admits United Have One Hand On The Title After Liverpool's Draw With Arsenal

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has admitted Manchester United are almost home and dry in the race for the Premier League title.

The Reds climbed to the top of the table on goal difference last night after the thrilling 4-4 draw with Arsenal but with United having two games in hand Benitez knows his side are long shots to be crowned champions.

Andrey Arshavin scored all four of the Gunners' goals in a remarkable night at Anfield in which the hosts came from behind three times, the last goal coming two minutes into added time.

Benitez, who has five games left, believes there are still plenty of twists to come with Sir Alex Ferguson's side facing Portsmouth tonight and Wigan in their other extra fixture.

But the Spaniard said: 'United are in the driving seat and we will see what happens.

'If they win it will be more difficult but they have to win and they also have to play against Arsenal so we will see.

'We have a point against a good team and we are top. We have to keep pushing until the last game. It's football, you never know.'

We Can Still Win The League, Insists Liverpool Skipper Gerrard

Steven Gerrard claims Liverpool can still win the Barclays Premier League despite watching his side drop a vital two points at Anfield in last night's 4-4 thriller against Arsenal.

The point lifted Rafa Benitez's side above defending champions Manchester United and into top place on goal difference.

But United have two games in hand on Liverpool and will return to the summit tonight if they beat Portsmouth.

The England midfielder said: 'United have a fantastic team and you look at their run-in, look to see where they are going to drop points - it would have been very difficult if we'd lost the game.

'But that point could be big. We'll have to wait and see how big it could be for us.

'Performance-wise, at times we were very good. Torres and Benayoun were frightening going forward. It's not like us to concede that many goals like we have tonight. We're normally sound defensively, especially at home.'

Now Gerrard is hoping Portsmouth can do Liverpool a favour by beating United at Old Trafford tonight.

The Liverpool captain said: 'Now we need United to get beaten which is difficult to do because they're a good team. But I still believe there will be twists and turns in this title race.'

Benayoun, who netted twice including the equaliser in added time, was in agreement with Gerrard.

'United are a strong side but we won't give up and we will continue to try and do our best,' he said. 'We will keep trying, look to win our remaining matches, and hopefully we can still do it.'

However the Israel striker says Liverpool must improve at the back after conceding eight goals in two goals and winning neither following the 4-4 draw against Chelsea in the Champions League last week.

The 28-year-old said: 'It was great game for the supporters to watch but not for us because we made too many mistakes. We should have won the game.

'We have the best defence in the league and the best goalkeeper too, but we didn't defend well as a team against Arsenal.

'We scored four goals and still didn't manage to pick up the three points so I think that shows we should have done better."

Lotito - Zarate Going Nowhere

Lazio president Claudio Lotito says Liverpool have "zero chance" of signing Mauro Zarate this summer.

The Argentine forward is thought to be interesting a whole host of clubs - including both Liverpool and Manchester City - after scoring 12 league goals this term.

But Lotito says the former Birmingham City striker - who is on a season-long loan at Lazio from Qatari side Al Sadd - will stay in Rome.

Lazio have until the end of this month to finalise a permanent deal for the player and Lotito says the club intend to do just this.

Speaking about the possibility of Liverpool signing the player, Lotito said: "There is zero chance. Lazio will exercise their option to buy Zarate and they will not sell Zarate to Liverpool, full stop."

His comments come after Sergio Zarate, who works as one of the agents for his brother, confirmed a number of clubs are asking about the Argentine.

"I cannot say which clubs, I can only say that two Italians, two Spaniards, two British and one German," he told Calciomercato.

Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson Uninterested In Liverpool's Results

Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United take on Portsmouth this evening with the comfort of knowing that they still remain tied on points with Liverpool, despite the latter taking control of the head of the table due to their favourable goal difference.

Rafael Benitez's side battled out a thrilling 4-4 draw with Arsenal at Anfield on Tuesday evening, but because they failed to win, they effectively gave United a further advantage. The Red Devils now have two games in hand in order re-establish themselves in pole position for the domestic crown.

Ferguson, though, is adamant that he will only be worrying about the form of his own side, as opposed to what goes on at his north west rivals' patch.

"It doesn't matter when Liverpool play," Ferguson recently told the press. "We are focused enough on what we have got to do."

A reserve-looking Manchester United side were knocked out of the FA Cup at the weekend by virtue of an Evertonian penalty shoot-out triumph, but Sir Alex will be welcoming Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and veterans Edwin van der Sar and Ryan Giggs back to the fold for tonight’s encounter. He is confident his side will dispose of Paul Hart's Portsmouth.

"You have to overcome defeats at some points in a season," reflected Ferguson. "In most cases we do all right. We lost two in a row against Liverpool and Fulham but since then we have beaten Aston Villa, Porto and Sunderland.

"We only lost the semi-final on penalties and that can happen to anyone. There is enough motivation to ensure we will be OK against Portsmouth."

The Pompey fixture will be a momentous occasion for pass-master Paul Scholes, who will mark his 600th appearance for the club, should he is lined-up against the south coast club.

Ferguson had words of praise for his midfielder, who he has schooled since youth level.

"At United, you can go back to the [George] Best, [Denis] Law and [Bobby] Charlton era," said Ferguson. "Before that you have Duncan Edwards. You are talking a wide panorama of players. But in my time, he would be in the top six or seven without a doubt.

"His contribution and quality have been great, even without the fantastic goals he has scored.

"When he came on against Everton on Sunday, his first touch was better than anyone else's had been in the whole previous hour.

"He has that wonderful velvet touch on the ball. When he gets it, it goes stone dead.

"It is wonderful to see that amidst all the mayhem that can happen in a football match.”

Is Roque Santa Cruz The Best Answer For Liverpool's Striker Question?

Fernando Torres and Roque Santa Cruz a match made in heaven?

Put it this way, baked beans and custard would be a better combination.

Santa Cruz is just too similar in style to work alongside Torres for Liverpool.

Like Torres, he is tall and lithe. Like Torres, he is good in the air. And like Torres, he is best leading the line.

He's even good looking like Torres and while female Liverpool fans are probably going weak at the knees at the thought of the two pin-ups leading the line for the Reds, that would be just about the only plus he would bring.

The pair would find each other standing on each other's toes more often than Ian Rush and John Aldridge did when those two arch penalty-box predators were at Anfield.

Santa Cruz could not fit into Rafa Benitez's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation behind Torres because he would be of little use in the hole or out wide.

He would only be a back-up to the Spaniard - and considering Blackburn have put a £20million buy-out clause in his contract - he would be a pretty expensive one.

There's also the Paraguayan's injury record and he has been crocked more times than Jonny Wilkinson.

While there is no doubting his talent, he has been plagued by injuries his whole career and may not kick a ball again this season after having surgery on his knee last week.

Anyway, Benitez already has the ideal partner to play in the free role behind Torres in Steven Gerrard.

Together they destroyed Real Madrid at Anfield and Manchester United at Old Trafford (poor old Nemanja Vidic is only now recovering from his tormenting).

Benitez tried Robbie Keane, but the Irishman found himself being pushed out wide or dropping deep and that affected his confidence in front of goal.

Ryan Babel is perhaps the other natural forward to play in the role, but he is dogged by inconsistency and Benitez seems to doubt him.

Dirk Kuyt is too much of a targetman to operate beside Torres and Benitez prefers his unstinting work rate on the right.

Yossi Benayoun has had his moments, popping up with a late winner at Fulham, but again Benitez sees him more as a winger.

Benitez also has the emerging David Ngog and Nabil El Zahr and French Under-21 star Ngog has shown signs this season that he is progressing.

Rather than wasting another £20million on Santa Cruz, Benitez would be better off pursuing either - or both - David Silva or David Villa at his old club Valencia.

BBC Issues Apology After Radio 1 Blames Liverpool Fans For Hillsborough

Station heads admitted an inaccurate report had been broadcast on its Newsbeat programme on Monday.

In a bulletin the journalist wrongly said an official report had blamed Liverpool supporters for too many fans getting into one part of the stadium that day.

But on Tuesday the BBC issued an official apology and said it had made an embarrassing mistake.

"Yesterday on Newsbeat at 12.45 we broadcast an item on the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people were killed," it said.

"We said an official report blamed Liverpool supporters for too many fans getting into one part of the stadium that day.

"This was wrong and we would like to apologise to listeners offended by our report and for this error."

A total of 96 football supporters were killed in the Hillsborough disaster on April 15, 1989.

They were crushed to death at the stadium in Shefield during the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.

The crush is said to have resulted from too many Liverpool fans being allowed in to the back of an already full stand at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

More than 2,000 Liverpool fans had still not got into the stadium when the match started.

But as fans rushed in, those already there were pushed forward and crushed against the safety fences.

After a public inquiry, new safety measures were introduced at football grounds around Britain.

Over the past couple of years the BBC has been at the centre of a number of scandals.

Earlier this year it was forced to apologise after Doctor Who actor John Barrowman exposed himself during a live Radio 1 broadcast, with pictures relayed to online listeners via a webcam.

In October presenter Jonathan Ross and comedian Russell Brand were suspended after thousands of Radio 2 listeners complained about their prank calls to actor Andrew Sachs.

Last year the BBC admitted faking the winners of phone-ins and interactive competitions on six shows including Blue Peter and Children in Need.

Liverpool Owners Bank Meeting

Liverpool’s American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks were sitting together in the directors’ box at Anfield last night having earlier met officials from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The tycoons are due to repay a £350million loan by July 25 unless they can negotiate a new refinancing package. RBS are likely to insist on both men putting more equity into any fresh agreement at a time when the recession is biting.

Stuart Pearce was also in the directors’ box on England scouting duty. The long journey was eventually made worthwhile as the only current England player on show, Theo Walcott, came off the bench to perfectly set up Andrey Arshavin’s fourth goal.

Steven Gerrard Likely To Miss Hull Game

Rafael Benítez has said that Steven Gerrard, his Liverpool captain, is unlikely to have recovered from a strained adductor muscle in time for Saturday's Premier League trip to Hull City.

Gerrard has missed Liverpool's last two matches, the 4–0 league victory over Blackburn and the Champions League quarter-final second leg at Chelsea, and was also out of last night’s Anfield game against Arsenal having aggravated the strain in training at Stamford Bridge last Monday evening.

The England international was told he would be out for between "seven and 10 days" after undergoing a scan on his return from Stamford Bridge, putting his chances of playing at the KC Stadium in immediate doubt.

Liverpool will give their captain every opportunity to feature this weekend and Gerrard is continuing to receive intensive treatment at the club's Melwood training ground.

Benítez, however, believes it will be difficult for the midfielder to start on Saturday.

"It's always disappointing when Stevie isn't in the team but we have won games without him and played well without him at times this season," said the Liverpool manager.

"We have quality in the squad and I am sure we can still play nice football, score goals and win games, whoever is in the team."