We could see the goal coming. Rosicky tore down the right side while our defense struggled to get back into position. His cross was going nowhere but to Diaby’s head which had no one marking it. Diaby knocked the ball past Pepe and the Gunners were up. Liverpool had done so well to absorb Arsenal attacks for 70-plus minutes, but we rarely looked to have any finishing with Dirk playing wide and Gerrard playing deep and Maxi still learning the hard lesson of “You don’t have time on the ball here like you did in Spain”. So with twenty minutes to go, 1-0 down felt a bit insurmountable. If Torres was fit he would have gotten on one of the many tasty balls directed toward N’Gog (who either got out-muscled by his defender or lacked the deftness to turn him), or he would have eaten up Gerrard’s perfect pass to Degen (who, despite a universe of space and opportunity, gifted Arsenal a goal kick). A little Torres would have turned the match around. I even would have taken Robbie Keane back for just one day. Last season he secured a point with his brilliant goal against his once and future North London rivals. We could have used one more of those. But we sold him, never really replaced him and here we are: Torres is injured and the unripened N’Gog is in charge of leading the attack against one of our biggest rivals.
In the pub where I watched, we screamed for Riera to come on to help find the equalizer. Something. We even took spiritual amnesty in the sight of Babel warming up (I was certain he’d be sold in the last window). More attack with somebody who’s scored for Liverpool. But I was puzzled by Lucas coming off. It should have been N’Gog or Maxi. Normally I’d be relieved to see Lucas subbed off, but the young Brazilian midfielder had a solid day out. He played at a higher level as he is prone to do against tougher opposition. Now we would inevitably pull Gerrard further back when he should move forward and pose more of a threat on goal. Babel did have a great shot on target (reminiscent of his Champions League blast against Chelsea a couple of seasons ago) but Almunia managed to get a hand to it. We just couldn’t create enough chances until the end when an 11th hour whistle for a free kick made our pub burst into The Steve Gerrard Gerrard (tune of Que Sera Sera) Song. And soon the ball was curling around the edge of the wall. Only Fabregas’ outstretched arm could stop it. But Howard Webb chose to end the game rather than award the obvious penalty.
An Arsenal supporting friend who watches in our pub came over to discuss the match and confessed our side deserved a point from the outing. I agree. Yet I am far less upset by this than by the loss to Arsenal at Anfield in December. This was losing to the Gunners on their turf where we haven’t beaten them in a decade. I can accept that especially in a season so rife with problems. But at Anfield we should have gotten the penalty call when Gallas took down Gerrard in the first half. At Anfield we shouldn’t have let the own goal put out our fire. At Anfield we needed a big win against a big side to help turn the season around. At Emirates, we nearly held off a powerful opponent after our seven match unbeaten streak. We can deal with this. We can get back to results like those against Spurs, Bolton and Everton. (Oh, was there a Wolves match in there too? I must have mentally blocked it. I’ll bring it up with my therapist.) Liverpool are still in good shape considering how the season started.
Thursday we face Unirea at Anfield. Between limited Stateside broadcasting and my day job I’m not sure I’ll get to see this one. I may cruise down to the pub and hope they’ve got the DirectTV going. Anyway, here’s a chance to take control of a campaign. It’s not a campaign we had our sights on in August, but it’s what we have now.
And I think I’m looking forward to it.