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Full-Time Thoughts–Arsenal vs. Liverpool

It’s all over in North London and after the first leg, Arsenal and Liverpool are level 1-1 on aggregate and will settle things at Anfield in six nights’ time. Briefly, here’s what I thought of today’s game:

  • First of all, it should be said, and I know I’m stating the obvious, that this was a proper game of soccer. Both teams laid it all on the line and we saw a little bit of everything, from goal-line clearances, good, clean challenges, two well-crafted goals, and solid refereeing.
  • Liverpool were extremely fortunate to get out of the Emirates with a 1-1 draw, and now they’ll head home in command of the tie. Arsenal had more chances and dominated possession in the second half, but couldn’t capitalize. They huffed and huffed, but couldn’t blow the Liverpool house down.
  • William Gallas and Dirk Kuyt were terrific for their respective sides. Gallas compeletely neutralized the world’s most in-form striker at the moment, Fernando Torres, and was everywhere in the back for Arsenal. You’ll never hear anyone say Kuyt has a lot of natural talent and skill, but he’s the hardest worker on the field whenever he plays and Liverpool needed every ounce of his determination and energy today. Oh yeah, and he scored the Reds’ goal. Not too shabby.
  • The Dutch referee, Pieter Vink, made the correct decision in not awarding a penalty for the Kuyt/Hleb incident in the second half. Sure, Kuyt had his arms on Hleb, but the Belorussian went down pretty easily and to be honest, wasn’t looking to score as much as he was looking for a penalty. I will guarantee you that there are Premiership referees who would’ve given a PK, because I’ve certainly seen them give penalties for less, but more so because they tend to give in to home crowds on questionable calls. Vink was looking right at the situation and had a clear view of it; he made the decision, and that’s it, end of story. It’s a talking point, but that’s all it is.
  • Bringing Yossi Benayoun on for Ryan Babel was a complete waste of a substitution. Benayoun is a central midfielder; I don’t care that he’s played on the wing this season for Liverpool, he’s a natural central midfielder. He doesn’t offer you pace and two-footed ability like Babel does, and Kolo Toure’s job on the right side became that much easier when Benayoun was brought into the game.
  • Other than his run to set up Kuyt’s goal, Steven Gerrard really didn’t have much of an impact on the game. He made a couple of nice passes and won a couple of corner kicks, but I just didn’t see the same player who’s made his reputation off thriving on European nights. He’ll have to come up big for Liverpool next Tuesday night.
  • On the other hand, Arsenal’s talisman, Cesc Fabregas, didn’t have a particularly good game either. Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso really limited the amount of time Fabregas had on the ball and closed him down very well. His long balls, which he’s known for, were constantly being hit 4-5 yards past where they needed to be to give Adebayor, van Persie, and Bendtner a chance to do what they do best: score goals.
  • I don’t want to hear any more plugs from ESPN to take part in Derek Rae’s chat session on ESPN Soccernet; I like the guy and think he’s a great play-by-play man, but I have no interest. Thanks anyway.
  • As I said, Liverpool now controls their own destiny. A 0-0 draw next week will suit them just fine, and the 12th man that is the crowd at Anfield will be roaring. Can Arsenal’s inexperienced (not young) team, at least on the European stage, cope with it? We’ll see.

It will be very interesting to see the lineups that Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez field for their league game this weekend. Arsenal needs every single point that they can get as they’re trying to hunt down Manchester United for the league title, while Liverpool are seemingly secure in 4th place. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Benitez opts to rest Torres, and possibly Carragher and Mascherano, to have them all 100% for the second leg, but Wenger has to go with a full-strength team because Arsenal likely needs to win the rest of their Premiership games.

In today’s other Champions League game, Turkish side Fenerbahçe made me look good on my prediction yesterday by beating Chelsea at home 2-1. I don’t think they’ll be able to hold that lead at Stamford Bridge next week, but I’ve been very impressed with Fenerbahçe’s run in this competition and they’ve given their fans a lot to cheer about. They’ve put Turkish soccer on the map, and in the southeastern Europe/Balkan region, that league is clearly tops.

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  1. The Gaffer

    April 4, 2008 at 6:54 am


    If links to me, I’ll link to them. That’s the deal.

    “Premier League Talk” instead of “EPL Talk” is OK, but the big problem is that is already taken.

    We’ve been since November, 2005 – so we’ve already built a pretty good brand and name recognition since then. To change now would be fruitless.

    The Gaffer

  2. Cristiano Ronaldo

    April 4, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Why does Hleb get such terrible treatment from refs? Not only in this game but also against AC Milan. He should have gotten a penalty against Nesta.

  3. Alex Hleb

    April 4, 2008 at 1:35 am

    the point of that article i copied and pasted was really the final few lines, the quoting of Mario van der Ende

  4. Alex Hleb

    April 4, 2008 at 1:33 am

    i hope i dont get attacked upon by the sometimes lovely people that choose to hold comment debates on this epltalk site.

    and whats with acronyms? epl. can we just call it the league? isnt it obvious enough what we’re all talking about. call it premier league talk. sounds much better. and gaffer, on the links, please add
    you have some rather stingey picks for arsenal blogs. kind of dodgy. some of them arent even updated everyday, while others just dont seem to be entertaining enough to read.

  5. Alex Hleb

    April 4, 2008 at 1:26 am

    please. sometimes looking at the evidence again and again, one may get a cerebral hemmorage, but atleast may change their mind 50 trillion times.

  6. Alex Hleb

    April 4, 2008 at 1:26 am

    But here’s a story from The Sun,

    Published: Today

    THE ref at the centre of the Champions League row between Arsenal and Liverpool has hit back at suggestions he was doing a favour to a countryman.

    Dutch official Pieter Vink denied the Gunners a clear penalty after Holland striker Dirk Kuyt felled Alex Hleb.

    But Vink insisted: “It’s ridiculous to say I made the decision because I’m Dutch.

    “There are many nationalities playing in every team nowadays — Spanish, French, Italians, Brazilians — and it’s not an issue. It’s a completely ludicrous suggestion.”

    Arsenal were even more suspicious when it emerged that Vink and Kuyt come from the same neighbourhood and have known each other for years.

    Yet Kuyt said: “I know the ref. When I played for Feyenoord, he was ref for a lot of our games.

    Van Persie knows ref too
    “But you could say the same thing about Robin van Persie.

    “He also used to play for Feyenoord before joining Arsenal and he’ll know Pieter Vink just as well.

    “So it is wrong to say the ref did me a favour on Wednesday night just because he knows me.

    “I think the penalty decision was right.

    “It was a close call because I did touch Hleb. But I never pulled his shirt and I don’t think he deserved a penalty.”

    Kuyt’s goal — his sixth of this Champions League campaign — cancelled out Emmanuel Adebayor’s opener for Arsenal in a 1-1 draw.

    It leaves Liverpool in pole position going into Tuesday’s quarter-final second leg.

    Vink, 41, is regarded as Holland’s top official and will represent his country at Euro 2008.

    Under UEFA rules he is not allowed to comment on the penalty incident but he did admit: “I haven’t seen it again but I will look at it on DVD.

    “If it was a game in Holland then I would admit it if I made a mistake.

    “All I will say is that it was a great atmosphere with two good teams and I didn’t have any problem handling this match.”

    FIFA refereeing advisor Mario van der Ende reckons Vink got it badly wrong.

    He said: “When you are an official at this level you know you have to get it right — and he didn’t.

    “My colleagues, journalists and Guus Hiddink, who saw it numerous times, all said that it was a 100 per cent penalty.

    “Being a referee is the same as someone walking the high wire without a safety net — and in that environment only the best will survive.”

  7. Phil McThomas

    April 3, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    If that’s not a penalty, then I’ve never seen one. There’s no way to fall like that – unlike Ronaldo’s mid-air twists – when running, unless you’re being dragged back.

  8. Darren

    April 3, 2008 at 11:24 am

    ok guys seriously… I am an Arsenal fan, and it is bloody annoying how everytime someone makes an opinion that doesn’t favour Arsenal, you all come out of the wood-work with your anti-Arsenal/ “you hate us!’ comments. Just give it up already and talk objectively about the game, stop being such whiners!
    About the game, to me it was a penalty, I was shocked that it wasn’t called, and watching the replays confirmed my opinion. Kuyt was beat to the ball, reached around him and pulled. Fine, Hleb didn’t necessarily try to stay on his feet, but honestly, what player wouldn’t have gone down in that position. Clear foul to me.
    Eboue is shit, I have no idea how he still starts over Walcott. I hope we sell him this summer

  9. Ivan

    April 3, 2008 at 6:05 am

    In my books its a clear penalty. “The Gunners had a clear penalty appeal turned down after the break when Kuyt hauled back Alexander Hleb in the area.” from the bbc who are usually very accurate. Everyone i have spoke to today said it was a clear penalty including folks from a few forums involving both liverpool and arsenal fans.

    And to those saying it was “clearly” not a penalty, you are wrong…

    Arsenal need RVP fit and running. Never been a fan of Bendtner and he managed to not only not score but cost his team a goal which might have been called offside (as the assistant appeared to flag) despite carragher and Hypia both behind the ball. Couldn’t believe Flamini didn’t get booked in the first half or maybe he did that i missed, i counted almost five bookable offences from him… Masherano was quality like usual. Skrtel had an exceptional game and for once i was impressed by Aurelio. Clichy, Hleb and Adebayor had good games for Arsenal. Eboue, your shit, you are simply not good enough to play midfield and not better than Sagna to be first choice right back, either sit him on the bench and play Walcott or play him at RB in the absence of Sagna.

  10. kgalema

    April 3, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Arsenal needs another striker, Van Persie is just not up to full speed.

  11. Titi

    April 3, 2008 at 3:11 am

    About the penalty, you must be DUTCH as well…
    Cheater! I am so angry that I just decide to not add more comments… Blind!

  12. cooliotheYANK

    April 2, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Not a penalty? I’m afraid my English cousins have lost the plot with the sport they invented. Good luck at the Euros, btw 😛 I’m sure they’ll let you watch.

    Who’re you going to fire when we beat you at Wembley this summer? Capello hasn’t been on the job that long. He may be in jail before then anyways. I can’t believe you look to Italy for salvation – real bastion of integrity the Serie A is.

    Kuyt flat out rugby tackled Hleb. Outrageous no-call. Hleb had beaten Kuyt and Kuyt pulled him down – end of story. I also saw Kuyt give the ref a look and thumbs up for his no-call Kuyt knew he was never getting a penalty. Dutch Policeman? You should check Kuyt’s locker for Hleb’s wallet and ID – he got mugged.

  13. Sanjay

    April 2, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Gaffer please stop ur anti-Arsenal tirade. Not a penalty, are u kidding me..
    Inexperienced but not young.. Well young enough to have the youngest average age in the Prem.. Also dont give me this Remove VanDerSar from Man U and theyre younger.. I’m talking about the starting XI, so dont ask me to remove player and then check the ages..
    I love the blog n what ur doing but the Anti-Arsenal nonsense is becoming too much!

  14. BillE Shears

    April 2, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    First, I agree. I thought that was one of the best matches of the CL so far this season. They are a perfect match because both are the exact type of club that causes the other club problems.

    That said, that Hleb penalty should clearly have been given. He didn’t “touch” Hleb’s arm. He grabbed his arm and pulled him off his run. That’s clearly a penalty. He looked at the referee because he had clearly been fouled. The Boy who cried wolf?

  15. Nevitt

    April 2, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I pulled this off a video I downloaded so it is not the best quality, but how is this not a penalty???

  16. Mike

    April 2, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    **slimmest sorry

  17. Mike

    April 2, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I’m an Arsenal fan, and even though i disagree with Michael sometimes, I have to agree on this one. The slimest of touches are being called for penalties and if they’re being rewarded more and more it will only make players more likely to dive. I know true supporters want to see less diving as its been a huge issue the past few years.

    And some people need to be more subjective. Every time I read an article even slightly critizing our club I see some people going on and on about why the person who posted something negative was wrong. It’s their opinion – deal with it. Im not trying to call you out “Alex Hleb” but as a fellow gooner – just cool down. I’m sorry if you disagree with me but I feel like you’re giving some Arsenal fans a bad reputation.

  18. The Gaffer

    April 2, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I’m with Michael on this one. I thought it was clearly not a penalty. If you watch the replay, you see Hleb looking into the eyes of the referee as he falls and turns around on the field.

    It reminded me of Ronaldo’s dives from last season where he managed to dive through the air while looking into the ref’s eyes asking for the call to be made.

    Hleb was touched on his arm by Kuyt, but for the ref to call that a penalty would have been a cheap call.

    The Gaffer

  19. Nevitt

    April 2, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Hleb was not looking to go down, Eboue and I’d agree. Hleb may have not been “going for goal,” only because there was a defender between him and the goal. Did you expect him to go straight through Kuyt? Instead, Hleb was driving to the line in an attempt to get around Kuyt to cut the ball back. While running at high speed, Kuyt yanked on his arm, near the elbow, not shoulder. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I am moving at speed my balance is a little off and I tend to fall under less contact than it would take if I had both my feet planted securely under me. It was a penalty. Kuyt made contact with Hleb inside the box in an illegal manner and brought Hleb down. End of story.

  20. jm

    April 2, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    I’m not totally clear what it means for the PK decision to be a mere “talking point.” Well, of course it is a talking point in that people will talk about it, it was a critical decision in the match either way.

    Yet, it clearly is more than that. Your support of the no-call is itself a criticism of the way the EPL officials would have called it. You aren’t just alleging that it was not a penalty, but that the standards of what counts as a penalty ought to be made more stringent in the English game. Fair enough, but that’s a substantive claim! The decision was substantive, and deserves attention, whether critical or of the substantive sort of critique you offered.

  21. Michael

    April 2, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Guys, my point regarding the penalty shout is this:

    When I saw it live, I was sure that the referee was going to award a PK. As I said, I’ve seen less than that been called, so it wouldn’t have surprised me. Kuyt had his arms up on Hleb’s shoulder, they got their feet tangled up a little bit, and Hleb went down.

    But listen. Hleb wasn’t even going for goal, he was always looking for an excuse to fall down. I could see that being called a foul at any other place on the field, but to me, that’s too soft to give a penalty, it just is.

    Would I have had a problem with it if it was called? Not really, because those kind of things have been called before. I just don’t think it was a penalty and for Vink to not point to the spot in Arsenal’s stadium is impressive to me. He was looking right at it and had a good angle. The majority of people criticizing me for saying that are Arsenal fans, and I obviously understand why that’s the case. I’ve said numerous times that I don’t support one club and had no vested interest in the result of today’s game. I’m not biased towards or against any team, I just say what I feel and in this case, I don’t believe it was a PK.

    Alex, I criticized and praised Arsenal and Liverpool alike in my analysis of the game. How you persist in trying to call me out as an Arsenal-hater is ludicrous and inaccurate. If I didn’t believe my opinions were right, I wouldn’t put them in a public forum like I do. What’s the point of having an opinion if you don’t believe it? You’re an Arsenal fan, and your opinion likely is that Arsenal are the best team in England. You believe that, don’t you? That’s what an opinion is, having a view on something and believing you’re right.

  22. Django

    April 2, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    How profound Alex, what poignant commentary you always make, any Arsenal detractor is obviously self-centered, delusional, some sort of government conspirator, or simply idiotic. And how silly I was, thinking that I would actually say it looked like a penalty, until I see the pathetic whining and bitching that comes out here.

  23. basix

    April 2, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    How you can say that wasn’t a penalty is beyond me.

  24. Michael

    April 2, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Good point Adam, I’d forgotten about his red card, thanks for the reminder. My mistake.

  25. Alex Hleb

    April 2, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    he’s not a liverpool fan.
    michael is a fan of the boy he sees in the mirror or when he looks down at a puddle of water. and also a fan of his own thoughts. michael is a fan of michael.

  26. Antonio

    April 2, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Wasn’t a penalty? You’re a joke man! I understand that you’re a Liverpool fan, but a bit more realistic approach wouldn’t hurt!

  27. adam

    April 2, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Rest Mascherano on the weekend? Great analysis. His red card against ManU already assures that. As for the penalty, it was a FOUL in the BOX. I thought that’s all that’s required but apparently Hleb also has to stop himself from going down?

  28. harry

    April 2, 2008 at 5:07 pm


  29. Alex Hleb

    April 2, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    why do you all even try reasoning with michael? he’s not a journalist with much integrity. reason being he has no reason. its his opinions that make him right and everyone else wrong, well relative to him and his world.


  30. arobba

    April 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Wasn’t a penalty? The only way it could have been more of a penalty was if Kuyt stabbed Hleb after he’d pulled him down.

  31. Michael

    April 2, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Yes, because it wasn’t a penalty. It’s certainly a talking point, and I will go back and put it in my post, but it wasn’t a penalty. The referee had a clear look at it and made the correct decision, in my opinion. Some Premiership referees would’ve given in to the home crowd and awarded a PK, but this one showed the cahones to not fall into that trap.

  32. IIB

    April 2, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Michael, your remark on “solid refereeing” was wide off the mark, rather funny actually. No surprise, however, that your post game commentary did not include any reference to the dubious (at best) non-decision when Hleb was pulled down in the box by your MOTM. The outcome of the entire tie may rest with that dodgy call from the Dutch (!) referee.

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