Thursday, February 11, 2010

Match Report: Arsenal 1 - 0 Liverpool

Arsenal breathed new life into their diminishing Barclays Premier League title hopes with a narrow win over Liverpool at Emirates Stadium.

Abou Diaby finally got the breakthrough on 72 minutes, when he headed in Tomas Rosicky's cross as the Gunners bounced back from successive defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea.

Liverpool, who are just ahead of Manchester City in fourth place, almost grabbed a late equaliser when substitute Ryan Babel saw his shot tipped onto the bar.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger made changes from the side beaten by Chelsea at the weekend, which left them some nine points off the leaders, However, the Blues' subsequent defeat by Everton means that deficit was quickly reduced.

Theo Walcott dropped to the bench, as Nicklas Bendtner, who had been out following groin surgery, made a welcome first start since October.

While Arsenal had been faltering, Liverpool slowly moved themselves back up into the top four.

The Gunners' frailty at the back was exposed again on five minutes when a free-kick bobbled alarmingly around the six-yard box before Manuel Almunia gathered.

At the other end, William Gallas - yet to confirm whether he will be staying with Arsenal - headed over.

Liverpool remained patient, although David Ngog snatched at his shot after working some space at the edge of the Arsenal area.

Much like at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the Gunners had plenty of possession, but without looking dangerous in the final third.

Samir Nasri's low ball in from the right was cut out by Martin Skrtel, as Bendtner arrived behind him through the six-yard box.

The Dane was then played in by Andrey Arshavin, but shot over.

Arsenal were finally having a decent spell, with Nasri's shot charged down by Emiliano Insua.

The Argentina defender then saw his goalbound effort deflect off Thomas Vermaelen.

On 34 minutes, Nasri, who earlier appeared to take a blow to the side of his face, was replaced by Rosicky.

Neither side were able to make the most of some promising build-up play as the first half drew to a close.

Arsenal, though, had more urgency following the restart, as Arshavin drilled the ball into the side-netting.

At the other end, Lucas Leiva drilled his angled shot over after being played into the right side of the Arsenal penalty area by Dirk Kuyt.

Steven Gerrard's determination released Ngog down the middle, but Gallas recovered to make a brilliant saving tackle just inside the 18-yard box.

Rosicky's touch was then too heavy after the Czech Republic winger was put clear down the left channel by Arshavin.

Arsenal were in the ascendancy now.

Bendtner's deft chip almost crept over the line after Jose Reina could only make a partial save, but Daniel Agger cleared.

However, on 63 minutes, referee Howard Webb showed Bendtner a yellow card for diving under a challenge by Agger, although replays suggested there may have been minimum contact.

Arshavin missed his kick when arriving at pace in the penalty area to meet Gael Clichy's cross, with Rosicky blasting the loose ball over.

Arsenal made the breakthrough after 72 minutes, when Diaby arrived on cue at the far post to head in Rosicky's right-wing cross.

Liverpool felt they had a strong penalty claim when Gerrard went down under a mass of red shirts, appearing to be blocked by Diaby, but the referee waved play on.

The visitors almost snatched an equaliser with four minutes left, but Almunia tipped a dipping drive from substitute Babel onto the crossbar.

In stoppage time, there was more controversy when a dubious free-kick from Gerrard appeared to strike Cesc Fabregas on the hand, but referee Webb was not interested.

Roy Steps Up Liverpool Takeover Bid

Subrata Roy is ready to increase the pace of his bid for Liverpool. A spokesman for Sahara, the Indian tycoon’s company, declined to comment on the takeover attempt yesterday, but sources in India confirmed the interest while saying that discussions were at an early stage.

Roy’s bid was revealed in these pages yesterday, along with a rival offer from Mukesh Ambani. Reliance Industries, Ambani’s company, issued a denial yesterday, but The Times understands that India’s wealthiest man remains in the background as a potential investor. Both bids offered to take on Liverpool’s £237 million debt in exchange for 51 per cent of the club.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr are unlikely to accept such terms, although pressure on the co-owners from Royal Bank of Scotland to pay off £100 million of the debt by July is growing. The bank has become increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Americans to bring new investment to Anfield.

Merrill Lynch and Rothschild have been charged with finding an injection of fresh cash, but the Americans have approached other merchant banks over the past month as they cast their net ever wider in search of investment.

Christian Purslow was enlisted at Anfield last summer with a brief to bring in new investment. Purslow’s background is in private equity, but so far the managing director has been unsuccessful in his efforts, despite repeated assurances that the arrival of funds is imminent.

Sources inside the club have claimed that up to £125 million is about to be pumped into Anfield, but few potential investors have found the prospect of taking a minority share to prop up the dysfunctional reign of Gillett and Hicks palatable.

Roy is the son of a sugar mill worker. He founded Sahara in 1978 with £5 and a scooter used to zip between clients in the poor northern state of Uttar Pradesh. It is now one of India’s largest savings groups and forms the bedrock of a sprawling conglomerate worth more than £5 billion.

The entrepreneur styles himself “chairman and Managing Worker” and Sahara sponsors the India cricket team. It also backs the national hockey side and has made an “emotional commitment towards betterment of sports in India”, in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October. The group was rumoured to be looking at replacing AIG as Manchester United’s shirt sponsor.

A consummate networker, Roy’s ties to senior politicians, businessmen and celebrities are legendary. His business, which spans real estate, satellite television and film, remains based on an army of door-to-door agents who collect deposits from their customers and reinvest them on their behalf.

He has not been immune to criticism, most strikingly that Sahara resembles a cult more than a business. Its 700,000 workers are told that they are members of a “family” and greet each other by putting their right arm across their chest and saying “Sahara pranam” (greetings Sahara).

As head of the family, Roy likes to play his cards close to his chest. Sahara is privately owned and its accounts are not fully accessible, traits that critics say has made it overly opaque. He seldom grants interviews.

Jovanovic To Join Liverpool In Summer

Standard Liege forward Milan Jovanovic will join Liverpool on a free transfer in the summer, the Belgian club have confirmed to BBC Sport.

The 28-year-old had been linked with AC Milan, Juventus and Valencia.

But he told Belgian newspaper Sporza: "We have reached an agreement for three years, with the option to extend with another season."

"I opted to sign for Liverpool because they're one of the biggest teams in Europe - definitely in the top 10."

Jovanovic joined Standard in 2006 and helped them win back-to-back titles in 2007-08 and 2008-09, while he has scored 12 goals in 23 games to date this season.

The striker, who rejected a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid last year fearing he would not be a regular first-team choice, added: "I'm absolutely delighted that the deal is completed.

"From now on, I can focus on Standard Liege again. I want to leave the club in a good way."

Jovanovic, who has also played for Shakhtar Donetsk and Lokomotiv Moscow, made his international debut for Serbia in a 2-0 win over Finland in June 2007.

Milan Jovanovic Over The Moon With Liverpool Move

Serbian international Milan Jovanovic initially appeared to be on his way to Serie A giants Milan, then Valencia seemed to be his next destination, but the Standard Liege forward has now agreed terms with Liverpool instead.

The player's agent Zoran Stojadinovic revealed on Monday that the Merseysiders have beaten a number of clubs to seal a deal for Jovanovic, who will join in the summer on a free transfer, and the forward has now confirmed the move.

"We have reached an agreement for three years, with the option to extend with another season. I have yet to undergo a medical exam, but that shouldn't be a problem," said Jovanovic to Sporza.

"I don't have any physical problems and I'm feeling perfectly fit. I opted to sign for Liverpool because they're one of the biggest teams around in Europe. They're definitely among the 10 biggest sides.

"I'm absolutely delighted that the deal is completed. From now on, I can focus on Standard Liege again. I want to leave the club in a good way."

Second Italian Club Eye Benitez Capture

According to reports in the Italian press AC Milan are ready to sack manager Leonardo at the end of the season and will challenge Juventus for the signing of Rafael Benitez from Liverpool.

The Spanish coach has not seen his reputation harmed on the continent this season, despite the Anfield side’s troubles, and appears to be an early favourite to take over the tactical duties at the San Siro.

It is believed that former Tottenham Hotspur boss Juande Ramos is another possible candidate to take over, should Benitez commit his long-term future to Liverpool.

The Rossoneri have improved recently under Leonardo’s stewardship pushing up to third place in Serie A, but with a ten point gap on leaders Inter and having lost twice to their neighbours the pressure is building on vice-president Adriano Galliani to wield the axe.

Milan face Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League in the coming weeks with voices off the pitch hinting that defeat could spell a premature end for the current coaching regime.

Benitez famously engineered the Liverpool win against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final when his side fought back from a 3-0 half-time deficit to steal victory on penalties.

Benitez Focuses On Football

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez would welcome any new investors into the club but remains to be convinced of their impending arrival.

Reports suggest two tycoons from the sub-continent are competing for bids to buy a significant stake in the club.

However, representatives of Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries and the wealthiest man in India and seventh richest in the world, denied claims he was interested in doing business with Liverpool's co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

And it is understood there has been no bid submitted from Subrata Roy, chairman of the Sahara Group in India.

There has been plenty of speculation surrounding a number of potential investors and Benitez has heard it all before.

"We can see a lot of rumours in the press but we have to concentrate on football," he said.

"Everyone knows we need a new stadium and investors if we want to go forward so it would be good for the club.

"Over the last two years everyone is talking about new investors and the new stadium and so all the fans are waiting for this good news and me too.

"I'll be really pleased if we can bring [in] people who can help to bring the new stadium closer.

"If I signed a new (five-year) contract last year it was because they (Hicks and Gillett) told me they would be going forward.

"I am waiting for a while. The only thing I can do now is just concentrate on football and do our best on the pitch."

Liverpool's co-owners are in talks with a number of parties about investing in the club and will consider any possible offer on its own merits rather than setting out a definitive investment package.

However, chief executive Christian Purslow is currently working on securing £100million of outside investment which will significantly reduce the club's £237million debt by the end of the season.

Liverpool And Manchester United Must Come Together For The Greater Good

On Sunday, March 21, a year and a week after Liverpool’s supporters crowed long and loud over Rafael Benitez’s side’s storming of Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson will have his chance for vengeance in front of a baying Stretford End. No doubt it will be a clash cast in the long tradition of this fixture: a pitched battle played out in an atmosphere brimming with poison.

Few rivalries in the world are as intense as Manchester United and Liverpool. The derbies in Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Glasgow and Belgrade, as well as Real Madrid and Barcelona, but to separate them is to rank gradations of spite. Manchester United and Liverpool hate each other. Both take almost as much pleasure in seeing the other lose as they do in watching their team win.

Perhaps it is so intense because the two sides have so much in common. They are the two most successful teams in English football, with the richest histories and the most fans. And now both find themselves ridden with doubts over what the future may hold. English football’s two greatest, grandest instituions are laden with debt, the property of owners whose primary concern is the balance sheet, not the trophy cabinet.

There is little point outlining the issues facing the Liverpool of Tom Hicks and George Gillett and United under the Glazer family. Both sets of supporters are all too well aware of the precarious financial situation they find themselves in, thanks in no small part to the unstinting work of their respective fans’ groups. Liverpool have Spirit of Shankly, of course, planners of countless marches and demonstrations and United IMUSA and MUST, initiators of the green-and-gold protests which grow in fervour by the week. Their methods are not flawless, but their intentions are honourable. Both aim to perpetuate the idea that football is not business. It is more than that.

And yet, in isolation, they find themselves on the fringes. SoS leaflets and flyers are binned by disinterested fans, IMUSA’s banners removed by over-zealous stewards. It is here where both may find strength in unity. By putting aside their mutual loathing at Old Trafford in six weeks’ time, both sets of fans could highlight just how worrying the plight of their clubs is.

The very idea of working with their eternal rivals has been laughed off by all concerned. Such narrow-mindedness is a shame. A joint march is clearly a bad idea. But shared chants, or mutually turning their backs on the game, or the swapping of banners less so. It would not detract from their support for their team, or their joy in seeing their on-pitch rivals beaten, but it would serve as a powerful depiction of the battle both are waging against a common enemy: the corporatisation of football, the mortgaging of institutions which are more heart and soul than profit and loss. Such things should supercede local hostility.

Liverpool FC's Selfless Striker Is Kuyt From A Different Cloth

For some it would have been the cue to self-indulge, a chance to play to the gallery and remind the world of their achievement.

Dirk Kuyt, though, is cut from a very different cloth. No matter that his header had settled the 213th Merseyside derby or brought up a half century of Liverpool goals, here was a man with no intention of milking the moment.

With a game to be won and a season to be saved, Kuyt was simply happy to join a huddle of celebrating team-mates and acknowledge the crowd with a pump of his fist before getting back down to the business of keeping an old foe quiet.

“It’s great to have scored 50 goals for the club and it’s even nicer that I managed to do it in such a special game,” said Kuyt.

“It means a lot that I have managed to do it but the main thing was for us to beat Everton.”

The irony, however, is that Kuyt is a player who deserves his place on centre stage; a model professional blessed with the happy knack of finding the net in crucial games, the Dutchman’s return to form could not have been more timely.

Having confessed to not being able to sleep after his diving header at Stoke City thudded against a post in the dying seconds last month, his insomnia stemming from the idea he had let Liverpool down, Kuyt has responded in fine style.

First came a double in the win over Tottenham Hotspur, then there was an opportunist strike as Bolton Wanderers were swatted aside before that crowning moment against Everton provided further evidence he is flourishing once more.

Yet, predictably, Kuyt has no desire to talk about why he has emerged from a pre-Christmas lull to prove himself an able deputy for Fernando Torres – what excites him more is the fact Liverpool’s revival suddenly has great momentum.

That revival will, of course, be sternly tested at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow night when Arsenal – smarting from back-to-back defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea – look to haul themselves off the canvas.

But similar sentiments apply to Liverpool and after becoming a derby hero for the third time – think back to clashes at Goodison Park in October 2007 and last November – Kuyt is anxious for their winning groove to continue.

“We (him, Tim Howard and Phil Neville) had a couple of fights while we were waiting for corners during the game,” reflected a man who left Anfield on Saturday clutching several bottles of champagne. “They tried to hold me and sometimes I had to give them a little push back.

“But then Stevie (Gerrard) put in such a great delivery.

“It was the perfect cross and all I had to do then was touch it a little bit to send it on its way into the goal. I’m just really happy I was in the position to do so.

“We showed again we have confidence. When we went down to 10 men, we had to believe that we could win the game. It was very difficult but we did well and it’s so encouraging that we have got 17 points from the last seven games.

“In that time we have kept six clean sheets and I think everyone can see we are playing better but we have to keep it going.

“The focus is now on Arsenal, another massive game. We enjoyed the three points on Saturday but since then it has been all about Arsenal.

“We have got a couple of very important games coming up and this will be the time when we really need to show everyone that we are capable of pushing for the top four. We need to keep the confidence going.”

Should they continue to show such fight and determination, there is reason for thinking that Liverpool might just have too much power for an Arsenal side that, for all its footballing qualities, is not known for its mental strength.

Rafa Benitez’s side have proven themselves well capable of winning wars of attrition since the turn of the year and never was that more evident than against Everton, particularly after Sotirios Kyrgiakos had been sent-off.

With two red cards and six bookings to go alongside any number of hefty tackles, some have since made the derby out to be nothing more than a glorified scrap but Kuyt, for one, is quick to point out it was anything but.

True, there were a few poor challenges but, in the main, it was an engrossing spectacle and for Liverpool to emerge from it with three points is just what Kuyt says was required ahead of further battles down the line.

“It was a mixture of relief and happiness to win,” said Kuyt.

“It is always hard when you have to play with 10 men, as we did for almost 60 minutes, but we stuck together and put a lot of effort into the game and, at the end, we deserved it.

“There were a couple of big challenges but that is what a derby game is all about.

“I’m happy to have the scars but tackles like that will always happen – that’s why they are derbies.

“Everyone was so committed but, at the end of the game, you shake hands and move on.”

Tommy Smith: Glen Johnson May Face Fight To Get His Place Back

The derby win was a heck of a boost for players and fans.

It might not have been pretty out there but who cares? It’s nothing new. And I for one loved it!

What mattered was that we never really allowed Everton to get close and threaten, even with 10 men.

So that’s 17 points out of 21. Everyone is lifted and some of Rafa Benitez’s over the top critics are heading back into their boxes.

But there’s one man at Anfield who might be getting a bit concerned. And that’s Glen Johnson.

Since he’s been injured we’ve had to re-jig at the back and we’ve started keeping clean sheets.

No disrespect to Johnson – he’s great going forward and I think his best position may be right midfield.

I know Jamie Carragher wouldn’t choose to play right-back but we’ve looked really solid with him there and Kyrgiakos in the middle. Ok, the Greek lad is out now for three games but I’d expect Rafa might keep Jamie at right-back and bring in Skrtel.

A word too for the terrific Javier Mascherano. He was my man of the match on Saturday and slotted into defence brilliantly.

Johnson may just have a fight on his hands winning his shirt back at right back. And competition for places is never a bad thing.