After The Match 


Liverpool-Arsenal 1-2 (1-0)         13.12.09                           PL
Goals: Kuyt (41)        Johnson (50 og), Arshavin (58)
Team: Reina, Aurelio, Agger, Carragher, Johnson, Mascherano, Leiva, Kuyt, Benayoun, Gerrard, Torres
Subs: Degen (Johnson 82), Aquilani (Mascherano 65),
Ngog (Benayoun 79)
Not used: Cavalieri, Insua, Skrtel, Dossena
Yellow: Aurelio (44), Mascherano (55), Lucas (85)
Denilson (24), Arshavin (81), Fabregas (82)
Red: None
Referee: Howard Webb
Attendance: 43,853
Shots on target: 3-4
Shots off target: 2-3
Blocked shots: 4-2
Fouls conceded: 19-16
Corners: 3-4
Offsides: 4-2
Possession: 48.5-51.5
Yellow: 3-3

a question of quality, just confidence."
Rafael Benitez
1412: Reds suffering from God delusion
1412: Benitez walks alone and directionless
          in the sad shadow of Shankly

1412: Sound of silence
          symptomatic of Reds demise

1312: Wenger salutes Gunners comeback
1312: Rafa's reaction to defeat
1312: Cesc: Wenger outburst inspired us
1312: Arshavin seals Anfield affair

Reds suffering from God delusion


TEAMtalk believes Liverpool players should be more down to earth instead of seeking divine intervention to help their faltering cause.

Liverpool have tried countless formations. Tried playing Steven Gerrard in tandem with Fernando Torres. Discovered playing two holding midfielders in Lucas and Javier Mascherano is not conducive to creating chances.

Now, just to prove how moribund of ideas Anfield under Rafael Benitez is right now, Jamie Carragher has revealed the latest tactic.

"We have got to stick together, get through it and, as I am doing every night, pray to God that at the end of the season there will be something worth what we have gone through.

"I pray to God we win the FA Cup or the Europa League and we get in the top four."

Just a thought, but with Afghanistan, the world recession, global warming, child poverty, terrorism, political corruption and the obsession with the X Factor, it would be fair to say the man upstairs had enough on His plate right now, wouldn't you, without worrying about Liverpool's zonal marking?

It is the desperation of Carragher, however, which is so alarming for Anfield fans.

As if FA Cups and European trophies can be wished for like a six-year-old child writing out letters for Santa and posting them up the chimney.

'If I'm a really good boy and do all my homework and wash up for mummy can I hold the FA Cup in May?'

On the 50th anniversary of Bill Shankly's arrival at Anfield to build a dynasty which went on to dominate Europe it suggests one thing.

The core players in the Anfield changing room have lost faith in Benitez.

Lost faith in the man who has spent getting on for £250million only to produce a squad which contains individuals of genuine quality such as Gerrard and Torres and Jose Reina but is sprinkled far too liberally with every-day Joes such as Lucas and Aurelio.

It is like putting ketchup on caviare.

It is not just Carragher, you suspect, who is seeking divine intervention.

The body language of Gerrard this past month has also told of a man questioning the direction he took when he stuck by his home town club after the 2005 Champions League final triumph rather than join the Chelsea revolution.

Arguably, Gerrard is the finest midfielder ever to have graced the Premier League. His cleaner's fingers should be raw with rubbing the silverware in his trophy cabinet.

Yet two FA Cups, two League Cups, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League medal is his lot. Better than many but not even close to the Premier League medal which all English footballers crave.

You can see it in his downcast expression as the Liverpool captain explains defeat after defeat, six in 16 Premier League matches. Another two at Anfield against Lyon and Fiorentina in the Champions League.

Gerrard appears to be tired of making excuses. Exasperated with the weekly grind of carrying the hopes of a club which is so close to his heart but which has made so many wrong turns in board room and changing room.

Not least, as was obvious in the latest 2-1 defeat by Arsenal, the acquisition of a fullback in Glen Johnson who excites when surging forward but who cannot defend and yet cost £18million.

That is not just Liverpool's problem. It is England's, too. World Cups are decided by the tightest of margins and Johnson is an accident waiting to happen in South Africa, one which must even now be giving Fabio Capello the odd sleepless night.

Yet you would hardly know it as Capello won the Coach of the Year trophy at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

Coach of the Year for safely negotiating England through the World Cup qualifying rounds in one of the easiest groups? Lots of promise, it's true, but no trophies yet. Nothing won. In a year when Sir Alex Ferguson once more dealt in football's hard currency, adding an 11th Premier League title and a third League Cup to his trophy haul at Manchester United.

Such rewards are not down to chance. They are down to hard work, clear thought, tactical acumen, powers of motivation and man-management. Earthly virtues, which Carragher and Liverpool should heed.

After all, doesn't the Lord helps those who help themselves?

Benitez walks alone and directionless
in the sad shadow of Shankly

The Independent

The situation with Aquilani is becoming less a puzzle and more a scandal.

The worrying thing for Liverpool, if we can put it so mildly in these most desperate of circumstances, is that at last they found at least some of the best of themselves.

They had Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard streaming on goal; they found for a little while much of the bite that has been so elusive for so long.

But there is yet again a withering question to ask Rafa Benitez.

This one has a potentially terminal ring to it. It wants to know, if this was indeed the best of Liverpool, if he was able to field his strongest team, give or take the mysterious continuing bench-warming of £20m Alberto Aquilani, where does it leave a club drifting remorselessly away from its old place among the elite of English and European football?

Not long into the second half of a match which Arsenal, despite lacking their front-line strikers Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, were able to transform with almost contemptuous ease, there was a cruel answer indeed.

It was that Liverpool are running close to bankruptcy. They had no response of consequence to the superb reanimation of Arsenal, after a half-time in which Arsène Wenger's men must also have been at least glimpsing the possibility that they were locked into a futility only underlined by the weekend frailties of Manchester United and Chelsea. Liverpool were leaden, even surly in their frustration, and if there was any need to underline the sense of a team which had utterly lost its way it was provided by the sight of Xabi Alonso sitting in the stand, and Aquilani sitting on the bench.

Whether or not the Italian will ever provide the kind of force, the sheer game-gripping panache of Alonso is a question far too premature, based on the evidence he has been allowed to provide since we were told he had become medically fit to play so long after his arrival at Anfield.

But there is a deeper point and it is one that was currently hovering over the Liverpool manager like a bird of prey.

If you decide to part with Alonso or, to be generous, refuse to strive publicly and passionately to prevent his departure, how can the leadership the player provided be allowed to slide into a kind of vacuum ever since he swopped the shirt of Liverpool for Real Madrid?

Maybe in time Aquilani will fill something of the need to give Liverpool some shape and rhythm, especially after they achieve something of an advantage over a playmaking team like Arsenal, as they did when the troubling uncertainties of Manuel Almunia spilt the ball at the feet of Dirk Kuyt. But football, if you see yourselves as contenders, is not about tomorrow but today and the situation with Aquilani is becoming less a puzzle and more a scandal.

Certainly, he has confirmed the reputation he enjoys back home in Italy. He is neat and sharp with skill and, with something of a run in the first team, who knows, he may also be influential. But then, by the time it happens Liverpool may well have a whole set of new priorities, chiefly the one of filling holes left by such disenchanted superstars as Gerrard and Torres.

In the first half, particularly, they played both with splendid application and much of their old élan. But long before the end their body language was doing rather more than murmur the possibility that they were part of a lost cause.

That this was becoming their certain fate no doubt had much to do with the spectacular upgrading of Arsenal's performance, especially in the way Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri suddenly saw the need to become much more relevant and Andrei Arshavin, who spent almost the entire first half bouncing off the likes of Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher, reminded us there is no sweeter finishing touch in all of football.

Arsenal needed the win quite as much as Liverpool but for different reasons. They had to persuade themselves that they could indeed exploit the lost ground of Chelsea and United, and that the talk of their one day winning a major prize, rather than merely providing the most dazzling beautification in English football, had some basis in reality.

This they did, surely, with the assurance that came in the second half. Arsenal, having looked disconcerted, almost cowed by the force of Liverpool's opening assault, found a composure that marks the best of their work. They ran, they took up space intelligently, and Liverpool could do nothing but bluster their way into deeper crisis.

That such a denouement should come on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Shankly tradition is just one of the sadder aspects of what is happening at Anfield.

Mostly it is about a breakdown not just in confidence but in a way of playing. There is no true point of focus, no sense of a team with options beyond the individual brilliance of their two leading players. The rest, we have to say again, is mediocrity. Some of it is worthy and driven, but it is still mediocre. It was a worry guaranteed to appal Shankly and plainly it is beginning to have the same effect on many of the Liverpool fans who sing "You'll Never Walk Alone", then drift away to the turnstiles before the end in another statement of dismay and disillusion.

For the greatest winners in the history of English football it is increasingly hard not to believe that time has already run out.

Sound of silence
symptomatic of Reds demise

Comment by Dominic King - Liverpool Echo

Andre Marriner, the fourth official, strode to the touchline and hoisted aloft the electronic board which shows how much injury time must be played.

Usually, when Liverpool are trailing in games at such moments, Anfield’s crowd will fill its lungs, stand together and scream collectively for one final, desperate push to salvage what appears a hopeless situation.

On many occasions down the years, it is a tactic that has worked a treat. Liverpool, you see, were never beaten until the last whistle and the club’s history is littered with contests that looked to have slipped from their grasp but were somehow turned into victories.

How we yearn for a return to those days.

Yesterday, when Marriner indicated there would be a minimum of four added minutes, the only soundtrack that accompanied the declaration was that of empty seats clattering back into place.

No fight, no anger, no bellowing, no bawling, nothing. Anfield was dead, shocked into silence by a wretched second half display which enabled the Reds to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against an Arsenal side that could scarcely believe its luck.

How utterly demoralising. Just when you thought that, maybe, Liverpool had found the perfect point to relaunch a campaign which has lurched and lumbered from one low to another, along comes quite possibly the biggest disappointment of all.

Infuriating, exasperating, call it what you will, Liverpool had the perfect opportunity to revive their flagging fortunes but, somehow, contrived to find themselves stuck in an even bigger hole than they were before.

They could not have wished for a greater incentive to make a statement; practically every result went their way on Saturday and victory against Arsene Wenger’s men would have catapulted them into fifth.

Instead, they remain in seventh but, most significantly, have suffered another crushing blow to their brittle belief.

They may be just five points off fourth place, but the fact that numerically they are closer to the relegation zone than to a title fight speaks volumes.

Now this is not suggesting for one moment that Liverpool are in the midst of a battle to keep their heads above water in the Premier League.

But the longer they keep slipping up, the more these weekends pass with their rivals accruing points and the Reds frittering them away, the harder it is going to become to rouse themselves to secure the kind of position that is imperative for the club’s future.

What puzzles most of all about this latest offering is that it should have been so, so different; following a thoroughly encouraging first 45 minutes, everything suggested they were ready to start moving through the gears again.

With the exception of Alberto Aquilani, who dropped down to the bench after making his first start against Fiorentina, the team Rafa Benitez sent into battle was ultimately the strongest he is able to name at this present moment.

Fitting Aquilani into his first XI is clearly going to be a head-scratching conundrum for the manager and, now the Italian is up and running, it is one he is going to have to solve sooner rather than later.

If he sticks with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation who misses out? Does Dirk Kuyt drop out with Steven Gerrard moving to the right flank to accommodate Aquilani in a central position in front of Lucas and Javier Mascherano?

Does he slot Aquilani alongside Mascherano, in the role Xabi Alonso – an interested spectator yesterday –used to fill with such elegance? On current form, the answer would have to be ‘no’ as the young Brazilian, whether you like it or not, has been a real positive.

Decisions, decisions. Until Benitez has to cross that particular bridge, though, this particular group should be good enough to start collecting points at a rapid pace – their first half performance alone would have been good enough to win most matches.

From the moment Mascherano thundered into Cesc Fabregas with just seven seconds on the clock, it was clear to see Liverpool meant business, the energy and tempo much better than it has been in recent weeks.

Everywhere you looked across the pitch, you could see Red shirts swarming all over Blue ones.

It was all designed to knock Arsenal out of their stride and it worked a treat, the first sense this could be Liverpool’s day coming when Gerrard skipped down the right and fed his partner in crime but, inexplicably, Torres shot straight at Manuel Almunia. No matter. Continuing to prod and probe, even Howard Webb’s failure to award a clear penalty when Williams Gallas felled Gerrard never rocked them and Benitez’s players got the reward their efforts deserved just before half-time when Kuyt poked in.

After so much negativity and frustration, the explosion of joy that greeted the goal was almost tangible, the elation on Kuyt’s face clear to see as he slid on his knees in front of the Main Stand – then it all went so desperately wrong.

Glen Johnson’s own goal five minutes after the re-start was symptomatic of the way things are going for Liverpool, the full-back unable to get his feet out of the way as Samir Nasri’s cross from the right sped across the box. And just as you could sense the relief that Kuyt’s strike brought, so you could feel the fear and apprehension swirl around the stadium.

Yet this was not a vintage Arsenal side they were facing; Wenger may have some fine technicians but, with the exception of Andrey Arshavin and Fabregas, none are in the class of, say, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp or Robert Pires.

All the more startling, then, that Liverpool could not summon a riposte after Arshavin – as big a menace as he was when scoring four times at Anfield in April – crashed a snap shot past the helpless Pepe Reina.

There were only 58 minutes on the clock at that point but, effectively, it was game over; Liverpool died a slow death, one that shocked the hordes to the core, as the final whistle was greeted with almost near silence.

Only time will tell if the situation can be retrieved but if it is one thing is absolutely imperative – 50 years ago today, Bill Shankly marched into Melwood and gave Liverpool their fight. Now they need his spirit like never before.

Wenger salutes Gunners comeback

By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports

Arsene Wenger was delighted with Arsenal's second-half response as they came back from behind to beat Liverpool after the Gunners manager's half-time fury provoked the perfect result.

The Gunners climbed to third after Andrey Arshavin's second-half strike sealed the game at Anfield after Glen Johnson put the ball into his own net.

Wenger leaves Merseyside very much the happier of the two managers, but he was the complete opposite at half-time as his side trailed to a Dirk Kuyt opener.

And the Arsenal boss refused to reveal what he said at half-time interval which provoked his side to comeback and clinch maximum points.

"I don't like to talk about that," Wenger told Sky Sports. "It was in the dressing room what I said and I want to keep it in the dressing room."

Wenger did admit Arsenal were completely outplayed in the opening period, but insists his side ran out deserved winners on the day.

"I think the first-half was all Liverpool and we were quite happy with the 1-0 - it could have been two and the game may been over," the Frenchman added.

"We needed a second-half performance and we had a great response - the first half was Liverpool the second half was Arsenal.

Cesc Fabregas revealed that Arsene Wenger was the angriest he'd ever been in the dressing room and it provoked a winning response, but Wenger was coy on giving insight into what was said during the interval.

Wenger did say: "We know it was absolutely needed to win this game today when you lose all the 50-50s in the big games you don't win the games and I wanted to make the players conscious that the commitment of Liverpool was stronger than ours."

Rafa's reaction to defeat

By Paul Hassall - LFC Official Website

The result means the Reds have slipped five points behind the current occupants of the final Champions League berth, Aston Villa, but the boss is adamant his side will bounce back, beginning with Wigan on Wednesday.

"The target is still the same," he told his post match press conference. "Look at the next game and aim for the top four. It is the same situation. We have to keep going, try to improve and win our games. If we play at the same level that we did in the first-half, I am sure we will win more games."

Liverpool had looked on course to take all three points against the Gunners after Dirk Kuyt capped an impressive first-half team performance with opener.

However, the visitors produced a stunning second-half fightback to claim a 2-1 victory, leaving Benitez to rue a Glen Johnson own goal that sparked the turnaround.

"It is difficult to explain when you play so well in first half," he said. "We were on top of them. We had the chance for Torres, the goal and the penalty that was not given.

"Then we started the second half with an own goal and then a second goal went in and everything changed. You could see that the confidence went down. We gave the ball away in the second half which was the opposite to the first when we were controlling the game.

"We've had too many problems this year and when you have another one sometimes it is hard to keep the confidence high. We have to be ready and start training tomorrow. We need to show character and play at the same level we played at in the first half, against Wigan.

"The fans and the players are disappointed. We have to start working with them and do things in the right way. Some players are coming back and they need to improve their match fitness. The positive is the first-half, the negative is the lack of confidence we showed in the second half."

During a one-sided first-half the Reds were denied what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty when Steven Gerrard was brought down by William Gallas, and Benitez felt the referee's decision could have had a big impact on the outcome of the game.

"It was a penalty. 100 per cent," he said. " A foul is a foul, it is a penalty. These decisions can make a massive difference."

He added: "We were talking before and we knew that only way to reduce the gap was to win our games. If you cannot do that you cannot get closer to the other teams.

Asked if the result meant Liverpool's hopes of winning the title were over, the boss said: "You always ask me the same, but for me it is just one game at a time. I cannot say anything because you never know what can happen in football. But to be realistic is Wigan and nothing else.

"Today, after the first-half everyone was convinced it was a different team and one with a winning mentality. Maybe we need to score the second goal and have this advantage for some games, then we will see the confidence go higher.

"There was clearly a loss of confidence in the second half .After the own goal, everything was different. We had no confidence passing the ball. It's not a question of quality, just confidence."

The clash with the Gunners also marked the return to the starting line-up for Fernando Torres, and Benitez felt the striker gave a good account of himself.

"It was a difficult game at the end because we were not playing good passes for him," he said. "He had a chance first-half and he was a threat. We need to play better to provide the strikers and it will be easier for them."

Quizzed about the fitness of Javier Mascherano, after the Argentina skipper was seen nursing his knee prior to his substitution, the boss added: "He is okay. He got a knock on his knee. He was limping a bit and he also had a yellow card so I replaced him. I think he will be okay for Wednesday."

Cesc: Wenger outburst inspired us


Cesc Fabregas said a furious tirade by Arsene Wenger at half-time had inspired Arsenal to come from behind and beat Liverpool 2-1 on Sunday.

The Reds took the lead through Dirk Kuyt close to half-time but the north Gunners turned the game around in the second half with an own goal by Glen Johnson and a stunning shot by Andrey Arshavin guiding Arsenal to victory.

The victory moved Arsenal up to third place in the Premier League - within three points of Manchester United with a game in hand.

Fabregas revealed he had never seen Wenger so angry as he was at half-time.

The Spaniard told Sky Sports 1: "The boss screamed. I've never seen him like that before.

"He was really disappointed in the first half and said we didn't deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt if we played like that.

"And I think he was right.

"In the second half we turned it round."

The Gunners are now six points behind Chelsea with both the Blues and United faltering on Saturday, but Fabregas was cautious.

"There is still a long way to go," he added. "The Premier League is more open than ever, you can beat any team and I like it that way."

Defender Thomas Vermaelen explained the turnaround, saying: "We just reacted very well. The first half was really bad but in the second we put pressure on them and saw the result.

"We closed the gap a little bit now and we are back in the race."

Arshavin seals Anfield affair

By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports

Andrey Arshavin continued his Anfield scoring spree as Arsenal came from behind to cast Liverpool's top-four hopes into serious doubt.

Reds manager Rafael Benitez had insisted the season started again today after the midweek UEFA Champions League defeat to Fiorentina.

And the hosts approached the game with vigour and took a first-half lead into the break when Dirk Kuyt pounced on an unconvincing palm by Manuel Almunia after Steven Gerrard was denied a penalty from William Gallas' clumsy challenge.

But Benitez's side surrendered yet another lead when first Glen Johnson put the ball into his own net before Arshavin, who scored four goals in the corresponding fixture last term, smashed in the winner on 58 minutes to send the Gunners third.

Reds legend Bill Shankly's first official day behind the manager's desk at Liverpool was 50 years ago this Monday, and Benitez will sit uncomfortably in that same office after this as his team slumped to their sixth league defeat of the season.

Liverpool made six changes from the side dumped out of the Champions League in midweek, with Fernando Torres back in the starting line-up for the first time since early November. Fabio Aurelio was brought in at left-back against the pace of Theo Walcott.

Arsenal were unrecognisable from the side that lost to Olympiakos in Greece, only Walcott being retained by manager Arsene Wenger.

With Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs all dropping points 24 hours earlier, both sides were desperate to take advantage.

Pulsating start
And at last Anfield was treated to a pulsating clash after weeks of insipid displays as the tempo and passion came from both sides and Liverpool could have had two goals in the opening 13 minutes.

First Torres broke away, fed Gerrard to his right and then took the return before failing to lift the ball over Almunia when clear.

Two minutes later referee Howard Webb controversially denied Liverpool a penalty when Gallas felled Gerrard.

The Liverpool skipper may have pushed the ball too far, but Gallas clearly took Gerrard's legs.

Denilson was booked for a high tackle on Mascherano as Liverpool poured forward.

Arsenal survived, at times with difficulty, but still sought to play their intelligent, passing football out of defence.

Samir Nasri fired wide and Cesc Fabregas tested Jose Reina as the threat on the break from the Gunners became increasingly apparent.

Kuyt opener
But four minutes from the break Arsenal finally cracked.

Aurelio lifted a free-kick into the six-yard box, where Almunia, under intense pressure in the air, managed only a weak punch and Kuyt fired home from 10 yards.

Arsenal were furious with a supposed aerial assault on their goalkeeper, Wenger making the point angrily to fourth official Andre Marriner.

The Gunners' chief was even more upset two minutes later when it looked like Aurelio stopped Walcott's run with an arm across his face. Only a booking ensured.

Arsenal came out after the break fired up for the challenge and were level after 50 minutes.

Nasri tore down the right and fired in a low cross that Johnson turned past Reina for an own goal with Walcott lurking behind him.

Mascherano was soon booked for a foul on Fabregas and it was soon to get worse for Liverpool, and especially Johnson.

Fabregas' cross after 58 minutes eluded Johnson, who then failed to stop Arshavin turning to fire in off the post from 18 yards.

Benitez finally turned to Aquilani with 25 minutes left, Mascherano making way, and with the watching Xabi Alonso applauding from the directors' box as the man bought to replace him trotted on.

But Aquilani made little impact and finished the game limping.

As much as the first half had been so positive for an aggressive Liverpool, the second was becoming deeply frustrating.

Passes started going astray, the Reds were no longer in Arsenal's faces, rather chasing their heels.

The passion had gone from Liverpool and the accomplished young Gunners had a measure of control they were not going to lose.

Arshavin was booked for one too many late challenges on defenders clearing the ball, then Fabregas for kicking the ball away from a free-kick.

David Ngog coming on for Yossi Benayoun and then Philipp Degen for a flagging, disconsolate Johnson did little to change the flow of the match and Liverpool now have just three wins in their last 15 games.

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Thor Zakariassen ©