I'm proud of the lads, and I'm proud to be an Arsenal fan, they all worked their cotton socks off tonight and gave it all for the team. They displayed immaculate discipline, there was no play acting or diving from our boys, all eleven men tried to stay on their feet at all times, rather than taking the easy option of a dramatic dive to the turf. While the same could certainly not be said about Liverpool.
Arsene started with the much maligned Eboue on the right of a midfield five, Diaby on the left, while Liverpool lined up with a standard 4-4-2 with Crouch and Torres up front. We started on song at a quick tempo, Liverpool look like a pub team, the ball was zipped around at pace, the passing was crisp and precise, this was the Arsenal we all wanted to see. Diaby thumped in a low rocket at the near post to put us one nil up, the dominance continued but Liverpool held firm. Hyppia scored with a bullet header as he was left in far too much space 12 yards out from a corner. As the half went on Liverpool continued to grind and came into the game a little more, although creating nothing clear cut they menaced with some dangerous runs in behind our full backs.
Kuuyt tried to con the referee with an embarrassing dive in the penalty box when Diaby had not touched him, but the referee saw through his tricks. Mascherano had earlier tried a dive himself and had been lucky to to go into the book for a very bad late tackle on the Flamster, who unfortunately had to go off just before half time with an ankle sprain. It has not been our season for injuries at key moments.
The second half was more evenly balanced, as the referee decided to ignore Liverpool's rather over physical pressing tactics, quite how blatant kicks from behind were not seen as fouls is only known by the referee. Liverpool pressured but didn't create much clear cut. Eboue made a neat run to be fed in on the right hand side of the box, he beat his man and was clipped, but stayed on his feet having lost his balance and sliced the cross out.
Another seemingly harmless long ball got through to Torres, who was given far too much time and space to turn when only ten yards out, he then crashed the ball into the top corner, his only meaningful contribution to the game other than several pathetic acts of gamesmanship that bordered on cheating; I really have lost all respect that I ever had for him having seen his play acting in the last few games. Moments later Adebayor missed a great chance when one on one with Reina, electing to shoot first time when he surely had time to take a touch.
Then the moment of the game for me, Walcott broke through at high speed, avoiding two cynical attempts at rubgy tackles from Arbeloa and Mascherano. He broke clear on the right and squared expertly for Adebayor to slot home into the empty net. We were going through at this point, 2-2 things stood, the away goals were going to be vital.
Then the penalty, or the penalty that should not have been. Seconds after our brilliant equaliser, Babel cut inside Toure, Toure clipped Babel as he attempted to get around Babel, only the most minimal of contact was made; Babel stayed on his feet but thought about going down, there was no further contact, he then slowed and fell down. The referee pointed to the spot despite not being in the greatest position to see the nature of any contact made, a 'dodgy' penalty according to Arsene, Gerrard dispatched it, 3-2 Liverpool.
Liverpool got another on the break to make it an extremely flattering 4-2, but the game was decided by yet another poor refereeing deicsion. At best it was a very soft penalty, at worst it was a dive from Babel, but in the context of the two matches it was a travesty. Only one side tried to play football in both legs, and only one side tried to stay on their feet when the challenges rained in. Mascherano summed up Liverpool for me, he did three appalling tackles tonight and escaped a booking on each occassion, he tried to rugby tackle Theo but was too slow, he tried a shocking dive right in front of the referee but was told to get up, he is Mr Liverpool under Benitez's charge.
There were many causal factors in our defeat, some of our players certainly have their faults, however I cannot fault the effort or ethic of any of our boys tonight. I would like to be more congratulatory towards Liverpool's victory, but I cannot given the manner of it. They were second best on a footballing level, they were simply fortunate that the big decisions went their way, while some of their players did the very opposite of covering themselves in glory. I can tell you if it was Eboue that had gone down as Babel did for the penatly, the scouse chorus would not be that of 'clear penalty', it would something far less complementary. If Adebayor had thrown himself around as Torres did tonight, I am sure the experts would be keen pass their judgement, as it was it was simply ignored. It was a tale of two penalties, and a tale of rank inconsistency and double standards. As Arsene says there is a sense of injustice in the air.