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Wenger wins in madcap weekend

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Phil McNulty | 08:20 UK time, Monday, 14 December 2009

Arsene Wenger's decoration of Arsenal's Anfield dressing room with verbal invective was long forgotten as he celebrated edging out Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill as the big winner of the Premier League's madcap, coupon-busting weekend.

In two remarkable days, Wenger shouting "you're not fit to wear the shirt" at the Arsenal players he usually defends with such fervour, and occasionally against all logic, was perhaps the most remarkable incident of them all.

Wenger delighted in an ability to still surprise his Arsenal charges after 13 years with a blast of vocal caustic soda in response to a miserable first 45 minutes at Liverpool - but not as much as he revelled in an eventual win that he declared puts them back in this maverick Premier League title race, both "mathematically and mentally."

For Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez this was meant to be another fresh start after the conclusion of a wretched Champions League campaign. Instead, to misquote The Who's Pete Townshend, this was a case of "meet the new season - same as the old season."

Liverpool manager Rafa BenitezLiverpool boss Benitez has plenty to think about ahead of the festive programme

For those who fancied a little spice with their Premier League season after growing accustomed to the same old taste in recent campaigns, this weekend provided enough ingredients to whet the appetite for the months ahead.

Aston Villa went to Manchester United and won for the first time in 26 years, confirming that the champions are giving renewed hope to opponents and missing, understandably, the magic Cristiano Ronaldo used to provide with regularity.

Chelsea, who looked like the title was theirs for the losing after sweeping Arsenal aside at the Emirates last month, saw sudden defensive vulnerability, in particular the flaws of fading keeper Petr Cech, further exposed at Stamford Bridge in a draw against a wonderfully gallant Everton decimated by serious injuries.

Wolves went to White Hart Lane and scratched some of the sheen off Spurs' top four pretensions with the sort of victory that could keep the great old club in the Premier League.

And Bolton, almost holed below the waterline recently and with manager Gary Megson's popularity dipping even further, played out a six-goal extravaganza with Manchester City, who saw flowing attack undermined by a leaking defence.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal think they can win the title. Aston Villa, Spurs and Manchester City believe they can get that fourth spot - and Liverpool hope they will.

So that is at least the top seven places up for grabs even before we get to the relegation struggle. Interesting enough for you?

Liverpool and Arsenal concluded events - with Benitez hoping his side would back his bold public claim that they would definitely finish in the top four and Wenger wanting proof that his insistence that the Gunners are right in the title race would not end up resembling a desperate exercise in straw-clutching.

For Benitez, all that was left at the end was a grim finale to a game that started with promise and brought a deserved half-time lead courtesy of Dirk Kuyt.

In the end his cast-iron guarantee of Champions League football sounded as convincing as the assertion from Anfield's tannoy announcer that Frankie Goes To Hollywood's witless savaging of one of popular music's most majestic moments, Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run", was indeed "the best version." It sounds like the pressure is affecting everyone's judgement at Anfield.

Arsenal did not leave the stamp of potential champions behind them at Anfield, despite the win. For 45 minutes they were, to put it at its most charitable, abysmal - poor in possession, lacking in conviction and a perfectly suitable case for the half-time mauling Wenger delivered.

Wenger's words of fury were given flesh and bones by Glen Johnson's own goal and what is becoming a regular piece of Anfield artistry from Andrey Arshavin. The Russian swooped on a moment of miscontrol from Johnson before lashing a finish high past the startled Pepe Reina.

At that precise second, Arshavin had the perfect strike rate of five shots and five goals at Anfield following on from his quartet in the 4-4 draw last season. It should be reported as a matter of fact that it all went downhill from there - one shot saved by Reina and another off target hitting his previously perfect average. Get your act together Andrey!

Arsene Wenger, Andrey Arshavin and Armand TraoreWenger congratulates Arshavin after the Russian;s winning goal at Anfield

Wenger's clenched fist salute at the final whistle, and his jaunty demeanour later, illustrated the importance of this victory, especially after the opportunity presented to Arsenal by the failure of their close rivals.

It must not blind Wenger to the fact that Arsenal were unremarkable for large portions of a low-quality game, especially when Javier Mascherano was dogging Cesc Fabregas' every move.

To come to Anfield and win, even with Liverpool in their current parlous state, is not to be sniffed at, but this current Anfield model is prone to implosion when the slightest pressure is applied and this proved their undoing once more.

Arsenal would do well not to get carried away. The need for a powerful additional midfield presence remains and Arsenal's striking resources look wafer-thin, but this was three priceless points.

The result enabled Wenger to remind those who questioned Arsenal after their sobering brush with Chelsea that he had forecast, to a measure of mockery, that Carlo Ancelotti's side would drop points.

He did. And they have. Arsenal, however, will need to show more than they did here if Wenger is to have the last word.

For Liverpool, this season of unremitting misery continues - and it was all watched, with cruel irony, by the player whose absence has been touted as a major factor in their demise.

Xabi Alonso, who was spotted stifling yawns during the first half, was watching from the stands as Liverpool cried out for some of his class and creativity in central midfield. Alonso's stature has grown with every game he hasn't played for Liverpool - sometimes out of proportion with what he actually achieved at Anfield.

As he left one young fan pleaded for him to return, a ploy as hopeless and misguided as the succession of long, aimless balls Liverpool banged towards a tiring Fernando Torres in the closing stages - a failing Alonso would have at least tried to remedy.

When questioned on Liverpool's continuing slide, Benitez - who must be running out of brave faces now - said: "It is a question of confidence not quality." If only this was true, because Liverpool's response to going behind lacked both confidence and quality.

Even The Kop looked and sounded like it had given up long before the end. No late Liverpool surge, no glimmer of hope, not even in another brief run-out for Alberto Aquilani.

Liverpool can point, with some justifcation, to Howard Webb's mystifying refusal to award a penalty when Steven Gerrard was fouled by William Gallas, but there has been enough papering over of the cracks recently and this would have been another example.

The next new start comes against Wigan at Anfield on Wednesday, but there have been so many at Liverpool this season that Benitez should keep a pair of jump leads handy in the dug-out.

So Wenger was in sprightly form as he leaped aboard the Arsenal coach for the journey back to the capital after a weekend in which almost all the cards fell nicely in his favour.

Arsenal were unconvincing, even in victory, but the joy for Wenger comes in the knowledge his team still had enough about them to get three points - which is more than can be said for Chelsea and Manchester United.

Wenger insisted on Friday that the bar had been lowered on what will be needed to win the title. This weekend proved him right.

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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    IRWT! You will here that cried from all the parts of the Grounds at Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United, and particularly the top4 wannabes (Villa, Spurs, Citey) but its being shouted there for a different reason.

    Long may Rafa Reign at Anfield, he is the worst thing to happen to them in years and long may it continue!

  • Comment number 2.

    So Arsenal play great football and lose and "they can't win ugly" - Arsenal "play ugly" and win and they need to up their game!!!

    Confusion.

    Well done to Arsene for providing a rocket up the lads backside they needed it and they responded (Arshavin = Class)

    It's going to be a great second half of the season with many more twists and turns to come. Bring it on.

  • Comment number 3.

    Alan Hansen was a disgrace yesterday evening. Arsenal and Liverpool where pretty evenly matched over the whole game. Liverpool had one bad decision against them, for once. Yet he alluded to Arsenal stealing a victory from a mighty and dominating team by horrible cheating. Which was just being a sore loser. You noticed Lee Dixon trying to stop him or just downplay it a bit, but Hansen was on the warpath. Arsenal are the better side, Liverpool played their full strenght 11, Arsenal missed Clichy or Gibbs, Bendtner and Robin van Persie (one of the in-form players of the planet) and to win, at Anfield, is quite an achievement. To have it al pissed away by Hansen at MOTD was painful.

    Phil, good blog. Wenger knew this would happen, he said it two weeks ago: this will not be a simple two horse race. In my opinion Arsenal seem better than Man Utd but that may be biase.
    Phil: Do you feel it is a one-horse, two-horse or three-horse race?

  • Comment number 4.

    No excuses. Liverpool were poor and very short on confidence and Arsenal took their chance with no little help from our right back!

    Great blog, Phil. I'm sure you enjoyed writing it.
    :D

  • Comment number 5.

    Truth is the season is wide open. Chelsea despite this blip is still favourites but Arsenal is well in the reckoning...

  • Comment number 6.

    Horror show is the only words you can use to describe Liverpools season.

    Our [Chelsea] defending is comical. We need to get in a new young centreback or play Branislav as centreback. Cech is a good goalkeeper. 7 hours (rougly) he went without conceding this season - but like all goalkeepers he makes mistakes. We just need to train on defending set pieces and it will all be fine.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think Iain St John made a good point on Sky (great to see him, BTW) when he said that this was Liverpool's best team while, obviously - striker free - it was far from Arsenal's. You wonder if Liverpool can challenge for that fourth spot when their best team fails to win having gone a goal up against a notoriously fragile Arsenal team who have succumbed to Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea this season already.

    I think City and Villa are both stronger candidates for that all important fourth spot (I'm a Spurs fan, but you don't deserve Champions League football if you lose at home to Stoke and Wolves). Without CL football, I think Liverpool will decline. The fan base is there, but the finance isn't and players like Mascherano and Torres would be likely to go. As they are struggling now, how will they keep a place at the top table without guys like that? We've currently got the striking options benitez should have; Crouch and Keane.

  • Comment number 8.

    Good win for Arsenal, although our first half performance was dreadful. However, when we turned it around Liverpool had no answer at all. No shot on target in the second half from the home side. Very disappointing.

    I would just like to point out that Gerrard's performance yesterday was the most disgraceful I have ever seen. Consistent diving, overreacting and complaining. It was a penalty, but I have to say that with that behaviour you simply don't earn a penalty.

    I do think Arsenal are in with a decent shout. They will compete with United and Chelsea, because Arsenal actually are the most consistent. Sweeping aside the lower teams and struggling against better teams (away from home).

  • Comment number 9.

    Good blog Phil. Still very one sided but more balanced than usual.

    I feel Villa were more deserving of a simple mention considering the size of their achievement this weekend. On top of that, they have beaten 3 of the usual big 4 home and away already, as well as drawn with their two closest rivals for that fourth spot. When will we see a blog on them?

  • Comment number 10.

    And Phil, a question for you. Why should Arsenal add power to their midfield. Surely Song offers enough on that dimension. I thought yesterday we were not lacking power, but our usually excellent technical ability let us down. I would like to see a Flamini type player in the side, a real engine. I don't think Wenger will be looking for a midfielder though, just a striker if one comes available. Who would you recommend? Is Carlton Cole up to it? Or an international player like Dzeko or even Huntelaar (both cup-tied)?

  • Comment number 11.

    I cannot believe you are still touting that United miss Ronaldo. Not a one nil game in sight this site, the team playing as team, despite a multitude of chances to win, and they are in second place. If that is missing someone, then I would love to see your version of them not missing him. Go check the goals scored this season as to last season. I think you will see I am right. Uniteds problem this season is they have not been invincible in defence. Villa were fortunate not to conceed. As for Liverpool, I don't know why you bother, they won't finish in the top 10. You are in danger of making them a Newcastle, lots of column inches but no performances or trophies to show for it. I would have thought the result by Wolves or Bolton merited a closer look than a rubbish match between Arsenal and a mid table team.

  • Comment number 12.

    Aston Villa have their first win at Old Trafford since 1983, yet you think a lucky Arsenal win at Anfield playing the worst Liverpool team in ten years is a bigger victory?

    You know I'm glad that Villa are keeping out of the headlines as we haven't coped very well with the pressure that comes from it in recent seasons. However I struggle to understand your logic, it seems to be a simple case of pandering to the big four supporters.

  • Comment number 13.

    I've had enough of Benitez and the Yanks. We are not going to achieve anything with them in charge. Half the team needs getting rid of as well. And if Gerrard hadn't have dived the other week we may have got that penalty. That game should have been over by half time. Gutted!!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Songs is quickly and quietly becoming one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. He does not have the stamina or pace of Essien and is not quite as good a tackler as Mascherano, but he has power, amazing technique (seriously, his dribbles and passes are very good. If he has a less heavy and cumbersome body, he would be one of the most technical players in the League) and great tenacity. He will be fantastic, he is only 22! And better at the moment than Essien was when Chelsea payed 20 million for him.
    Denilson has the stamina of Essien, has a great pass, some Brazilian technique and is very disciplined. He has good vision and pushes the play the way he wants. He was outstanding in the second half. Not powerfull at all, but clever, and a very good cog for connecting Song with Cesc and indeed defense with attack.
    Vermaelen has got to be the signing of the season (right?) He had Torres in his pocket, like he did with Rooney. Who else can do that, or has done that, this season? Drogba was so clinical against Arsenal it did not show that Vermaelen still had him covered nine out of ten times. He has to be in the Team of the Year, so far, and has amazed me. Not sure Wenger knew he would be this good, but defo one of the best in the PL.

    I rate Arsenal above Man Utd. I feel United are flimsy, and far too reliant on Rooney and/or the refs (which can be the same thing) Against Pompey they where not better, yet two pens got them ahead, and then Pompey collapsed. They should have lost to Sunderland and grabbed a point. That is their strenght: creating luck. But that may cost them.

    Phil: who is the strongest of the three title-chasers in you eyes?

  • Comment number 15.

    Andrei Arshavin Strikes Again!!!
    It's Arsenal's now to capitalize on the game in hand and close down on Chelsea and Man Utd.

    I can understand the Liverpool fans arguing the case of Gerrard penalty, but what can one do when the rub of luck is going against the team which has enjoyed it aplenty in last 2 seasons.

    Well played Arsenal. Now the time is to look out for that striker who is good and hasnt yet played C'League this year. A few names that come to mind immediately are David Villa, Jose Antonio Reyes, Julio Baptista???

  • Comment number 16.

    Torres' shot in the first half was poor. Expected that to break the net. The penalty claim was fair although Gerrard's reputation preceeds him now. Wigan up next? a true measure of where Liverpool are in terms of ability.

    Fair play to Arsenal. Right back in the race. Lets hope they keep up the pressure.

  • Comment number 17.

    Everyone is entitled to (Big?)Phil's opinion. However the collapse of LFC and the consequent victory for AFC cannot be attributed to a Wenger tirade at half time.

    If you have forgotten LFC has lost to the likes of Aston Villa, Totenham, Sunderland, and were saved by a dubious penalty from a defeat even by Birmingham.

    On current form any team can beat LFC if they try hard enough. The english have a saying that goes "LFC are there for the taking" so Wenger did not have to go ballistic.

    Wenger may be a good manager, but just the other day Phil rejoiced at how the men of Chelsea brushed aside (contemptously?) the boys from the emirates at the emirates.

  • Comment number 18.

    Here we go again.
    Again another defeat and again a long chain of write ups about how bad the liverpool coach is
    i guess the English press wouldnt get tired of criticizing this spanish man
    We Liverpudians are strongly behind Rafa and "In Rafa we trust"
    Cos a coach is having a bad season doesnt neccessarily make him a bad coach.
    the tide would change and we shall see what will still be written about this gentle spaniard.

    last season it was the rant, not the way the team plays, not the fact that the team was brilliant even with all the criticizm, I for one was expecting this sudden step backwards cos just like with Houllier Liverpool were close the season b4 the sack.

    I hope the fans would be patient and back the team to winning ways

    i for one still believe the season is open and i dont see a chelsea winning the league. I still believe the guys from the emirates will carry the day with this significant victory at anfield, provided they get some luck as regards injuries and maybe 1 or 2 quality signings in Janurary.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great to see Arsenal back on track again, I really hope they can put together a serious title challenge in the second half of the season and maybe win it if Utd don't but please anyone but Chelsea.

    Liverpool's season only looks bad because of how lucky they were last season with all kinds of decisions, sendings off and late goals that went their way combined with Chelsea and Arsenal being off the pace. It was just pure luck.

    The midweek game away to Burnley will be very indicative of how serious Arsenals title challenge will be. Unfortunately it's just the type of game they go and lose after a good result. I really hope they can get a win because Utd and Chelsea will most likely pick up 3 points.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm not a Villa fan but actually agree with their supporters' comments here. Pretty momentous victory for them and hardly get a mention. I also think Tottenham's performance (or lack of it) also deserved more attention rather than an article that just confirms everything we already knew.... Arsenal are a top 4 team but not really title contenders, and Liverpool are a very mediocre team this year

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    Pardon the pun but we are still short! I think a move for Carlton Cole could be good as he has impressed me this season. I think Diaby coming on late is great for us purely because he adds size in both boxes. Also until Bentner gets fit I wonder what you think about Diaby doing a stint up front at the centre of our 3 man forward system???? he would give the centre backs alot more to think about and with Arshavin on his left and Walcott on his right could be goals goals goals, Diaby defo has the technical ability.
    Final word Asenal can be in the shake up but need a few more ugly wins to get the confidence back and some of our long list of injurys to clear up.

  • Comment number 23.

    Not a bad blog Phil, but I think saying..

    "Liverpool can point, with some justifcation, to Howard Webb's mystifying refusal to award a penalty when Steven Gerrard was fouled by William Gallas"

    ...Is completely unjustified. It was obviously not a penalty and the ball had been kicked out of play before Gerrard went down.
    I think it's only fair that you mention how many times Gerrard does this in a match. Seriously. It seems that everytime Liverpool are behind they're throwing themselves all over the place in the penalty area and Gerrard does it more than anyone. In that particular case it wasn't a dive but Gerrard went in with the intention of a penalty, kicking the ball away and throwing himself over the incoming Gallas. Very good decision.

    Out of interest, if you have the stats there, could you bring them up of how many times Gerrard has been the one fouled in liverpool's penalty decisions. I rate pool as my second favorite top 4 team, and really am not just saying this out of bias, but everytime I have seen a Pool game, they end up with a penalty or at least have several shouts for one turned down.
    The build up to Liverpool's goal was a free kick too, awarded yet again from Gerrard being a bit too light on his feet.

    Just because he is English, and considered one of our best players, he seems to escape Media criticism. I have some die hard Lpool fans who agree with me on this one, they love Stevie G but they can't deny he tries to win penalties way too much.



  • Comment number 24.

    If the truth be known, Birmingham City now have a better chance of making a "Top 4" finish than Liverpool do! Their defense is much more solid - in fact, it's probably the best defense in the EPL right now - and their form is way more consistent than Liverpool's has ever been this season.

  • Comment number 25.

    "Gerrard received a measure of criticism for going to ground too easily in the area at Blackburn last Saturday, but he had a clear case here." Phil McNulty.

    The measure should have been bucket loads. As far as "too easily", that is an incredibly generous understatement. There was no contact, he fell as though shot. At least Rooney got a yellow for his tumble.

    You can understand players wanting to avoid injury when they see a challenge coming. But if they do, or they dive, they should expect to be penalised - Rooney gets his just deserts, and Gerrard gets away with it every time. Was his solicitor refereeing the game?

  • Comment number 26.

    So was there an agenda by referees to clamp down on the serial divers this weekend? Rooney and Bellamy getting booked for simulation and Gerrard getting short shrift for a stonewall penalty shout?

  • Comment number 27.

    Surely one of the hottest topics of conversation to come out of this weekend's football was Wayne Rooney's booking for diving/simulation and yet there is no mention of it above?

    I'd be very interested to get the thoughts of the Chief Football Writer for BBC Sport on this topic considering it appears no other media outlet I have tried seemed to want to discuss this. Here's hoping my comment is not conveniently ignored.

    Your thoughts please Phil.....

  • Comment number 28.

    I find it incredible that there has been little mention of both Gerrard's and Rooney's diving this weekend. If they had been foreign players I am sure there would have been uproar.

    Anyway a great win for Arsenal that gets us right back in the mix and hopefully will give us the confidence to win the league. Also, there is no mention here that Arsenal ground out a win while not playing well, something we have been accused of not doing in the past. All this with several first team players missing, I for one am very confident we can win something this season.

  • Comment number 29.

    Phil, you forgot to mention Michael Owen, he didn't do much, did he?

  • Comment number 30.


    Other than the winning goal it was generally an awful game that fully sums up the quality at the top of the Premier League of late. A disorganised mess, aimless hoofing backwards and forwards, shocking defensive and passing errors, persistent niggly fouling or diving, and complete inability by anyone and everyone to keep posession for more than a few seconds or create a single attacking move of note.

    Oh and I also thought that Gerrard's second half performance was abysmal.


  • Comment number 31.

    Let's go through a few points.

    To LABSAB9...Arsenal did not "win ugly", they "won not playing very well", which in itself is actually a good sign. I just feel they will be punished more heavily than they were by Liverpool if they play as poorly, and I have to say with as little commitment, as they did in the first half.

    Alex Song is getting plenty of praise, but he was as poor as all the others in the first half and I remain to be fully convinced. I have rarely seen Arsenal give the ball away so often and look so half-hearted in the physical challenges as they did in the first 45 minutes. They were second to almost every ball.

    Are Arsenal fans suggesting that because of this victory, this second half in effect, you do not need strengthening? I would suggest that is getting carried away.

    To The_Dark_Blue_King and NorthfieldVillain...agree Villa's performance and result could turn out to be a real landmark for them, but have they got the squad strength and consistency to go for the whole season? It will be interesting to see how they fare later in the season after they disintegrated last season. Will not being in the Europa League actually help them? Maybe so.

    To gunstolze...I'm giving up on the predictions (see this season't title tip!)

    And I have to disagree with those who feel Steven Gerrard should not have been awarded a penalty. The claim that the ball had gone out of play is meaningless for a start because it was still in play when William Gallas clattered him anyway. It was a clear foul and referee Howard Webb was perfectly positioned to see it.

    I do agree his reputation may have cost him because there is no doubt he went to ground too easily at Blackburn last Saturday and received subsequent criticism for it.

    We had more protests at Anfield yesterday aimed at Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but surely they cannot be called to account every time Liverpool lose a couple of games? The manager has to take ultimate responsibility and it is up to Rafael Benitez to navigate a way out of the slump. Pointing the finger at Hicks and Gillett every time something goes wrong is too easy.

    And finally for now to Tell it how it is...I'll be able to assess Birmingham's top four hopes (he said it not me!) tomorrow when I go to their game against Blackburn.

  • Comment number 32.

    Another masterstroke from AW - we came out and took Liverpool apart for 20mins and they couldnt come up with a response.

    Arshavin has shown we can use him as a striker - idealy we need Bendtner or someone with a bit of size to play up there with him.

    Gerrard and Torres werent fit - they did nothing in the 2nd half - also recently i have never seen a player whinge / bitch / moan to the ref as much as Gerrard these days.

    The goal you scored came from a free kick where Gerrard took a tumble when he was barely touched - i would compare him to Bellamy in the way he harrases the ref - also Torres blatantly tried to dive to win a pen - desperate times for desparate measures?

    Also on the diving theme - is it only Arsenal players that get slated by the media for this? 'honest' English players like Gerrard and Rooney seem to get let off very litely when they are the worst culprits!

  • Comment number 33.

    Phil, Arsenal definately need to strengthen. In goal. Almunia would have cost us again yesterday if it weren't for our second half comeback.

    As I already mentioned. The foul by Gallas was a stonewall penalty in my opinion. However, with Gerrard's terrible behaviour, he didn't deserve a penalty. Diving all around (just watch the freekick for the Liverpool goal). And apart from that, Arsenal were due some luck in the major fixtures after the fiascos in Manchester. I was more suprised by Torres' terrible miss after 10 minutes. Out of character.

    And full credit to Villa. A win at the toughest place of all to go. Getting great results against the top sides. But are they good enough against the lower sides, when their effective counter attacking strategy will not work? I have my doubts.

  • Comment number 34.

    "Wenger insisted on Friday that the bar had been lowered on what will be needed to win the title. This weekend proved him right."

    And it's been a real rollar coaster of a Premier League thanks to that, a lot more fun than many a year.

    Fun off the pitch as well, as experienced pundits and managers alike write off teams chances completely then spring, Lazarus like, back to life with a win the following week.

  • Comment number 35.

    Let’s get real people and give credit where credit is due. Arsenal produced a hearty and well deserved performance against a team who have lost their mojo. Liverpool were at FULL strength and Arsenal far from however still had a strong 11 on view with a healthy looking bench.

    I think this is the problem for Liverpool – their full team isn’t up for the challenge and they just compete. Don’t get me wrong, in Gerrard, Torres and the little Argentine you have 3 players that walk into every line up in the league but that’s it.

    Arsenal are lacking something too, and albeit the Russian Assassin produced a stunning shot Arsenal miss having that killer instinct in the final third. RVP was providing that for the Gunners and brining the midfield into plat which saw the Gunners produce a healthy return pre RVP injury. Arsenal MUST buy a striker Jan if they are going to mount any type of challenge against the run away leaders in Man U and Chelsea. They need a proven, seasoned WORLD CLASS striker, Vela and Eduardo are just not cutting the mustard. Carlton Cole has instinct, aerial power, big, strong and young and more importantly he is not CL Cup tied. However being English he will carry an over inflated price tag which is why Arsenal will end with a 19-22 year old who is excellent in training and the reserves, probably 5 foot 8-10inches tall with “potential”. Been here before?? Frustrating as it may be, Arsene did defy all odds last Jan by bringing the Russian Assassin.

    Watch this space…..

  • Comment number 36.

    I am glad to hear people like Klinsman and Souness commenting on the possible demise of Liverpool. It might make something happen. Birmingham Fulham Stoke and Sunderland could easily over take them if their form continues. In a season where the top 4, Chelsea, United Arsenal and Villa are all dropping points it could be anyones league. This is not a bad season for liverpool. This is the final nail in the coffin. How bad a season could they have if they don't turn it around? What happens next season to Torres and Mascherano if they finish outside the top 10. Will those players stay? Will Gerrard do a shearer and stay with a club where he wins nothing? Whoever is in Europe next year, it won't be liverpool unless they manage to win the Europa league..

  • Comment number 37.

    Good blog Phil, so after the turn around this weekend who is your tip to win the E.P.L. this season?or don't you have one given what's happened?are you still sticking with your original selection,or don't you intend putting your head on the block again at this stage of the season?Good defences and consistency win E.P.L. titles and it would'nt appear that any of the contenders have that at the moment apart from Villa.İ was'nt surprised Utd lost at all, when you have the sort of record they have had against Villa it's going to go at some time and should have done last season.İf S.A.F. buys in the transfer window they won't be far away,Chelsea have gone into another of their erractic spells how long is that going to last?anybody's guess.Arsenal just do not have the strength
    or steel to collect the title which was plainly evident in the first half yesterday and as for Liverpool how do you leave a 20mil signing on the bench when the rest have failed or not been good enough up to now, very strange,all Torres is short of now is fitness and sharpness because he would normally have taken the easy chance he missed and it would have been game over, Liverpool are very short on confidence,Villa have succeeded in doing what Liverpool did last season beating the top sides but that won't last till the end of the season,and lets not forget Man City a very poor 40mil central defensive partnership which was a shambles at Bolton,why did Hughes ever sell Dunne he's far better than either of them,as for Spurs can't beat the poorer teams like Liverpool last season.Great season and entertainment up to now my tip have'nt a clue.All the best for the festive season to everybody.

  • Comment number 38.

    31. At 10:03am on 14 Dec 2009, philmcnultybbcsport wrote:
    Let's go through a few points.

    To LABSAB9...Arsenal did not "win ugly", they "won not playing very well",


    Thanks for the response Phil but is the above comment not one and the same? isn't "winning when not playing well - winning ugly??"

    Anyway thats by the by the point i was making is that alot of "experts" had written Arsenal off after the Chelsea defeat because for all the possession we enjoy and beautiful football we play we still falter when "up against it"

    Yesterday was a brilliant result because as you pointed out the 1st half was as bad as they have been all season but after Wengers tirade to the players at half time the players showed guts & fighting spirit to win the game (and put themsleves back into the title race which they had annoyingly been written off for by the "experts")

    Well done Arsenal onwards and upwards.

  • Comment number 39.

    Oh and I dont think Gerard dived, I've seen them given for less. He did lose control but he was definately challenged. The ref didnt give it as he didnt think Gerard had control not because he thought he dived, by the way Webb was brandishing yellow cards, he would have booked him for simulation. Torres dived though....frustrated probably with his weak shot after 10minutes.

    Credit to Dirk as he is a true professional. Playing out of position, always running and notching up goals and this coming from a travelling fan to Anfield.

  • Comment number 40.

    "And finally for now to Tell it how it is...I'll be able to assess Birmingham's top four hopes (he said it not me!) tomorrow when I go to their game against Blackburn." (Post #31 by Phil McNulty)

    BTW, I'm not a Birmingham City fan. I was just doing my Arsene Wenger imitation. Do Brum have a shot at the "Top 4"? "Matematikly, yes ... and mentally, certainly!"

    You don't really need to confuse yourself by watching Birmingham actually play, Phil. You can discern the validity of my statement just by looking at Birmingham's last half dozen or so results and at their "Goals Against" stats.

    Knowing you, Phil, if you watch them play, next thing you know, you'll be predicting them to win the title this season! :)

  • Comment number 41.

    I think Gerrard is getting a lot of unfair critisism today. OK, sometimes he has gone to ground far too eaily. But he's certainly not the only one, and he's certainly not the one who does it the most! I would say 80%+ of professional footballers dive. It's a horrible thing to do and is so annoying, but can any of your really hold your hands up and chastise your own player for it? What if Rooney or Gerrard did a blatant dive in the World Cup final, won us a penalty, which we scored to win the trophy? Would any of you be moaning then? Doubt it.
    Look, Gerrard sometimes dives. I can admit that. But i think it's unfair to say he's got a reputation for it. Drogba and Klinsmann have/had reputations for it, and they are well and truly justified. Until someone introduces majorly harsh punishments for diving, or technology to counter it at the time, then it's still going to happen.

    But going back to the game yesterday, i thought we deserved to lose. I hate saying that as i obviously love the 'Pool, but i can be honest about things. If Torres had scored, and if we had won and scored that penalty, then things would have been different and we probably would have won easily. But you don't win anything on "what if's".
    I thought we were easily the best team in the first half and Arsenal were poor. But the 2nd half was a completely different story. Arsenal were by far the better team and were more hungry for the win. We were completely useless in the 2nd half. No drive, no determination, no creativity, nothing. Can't take anything away from Arsenal though as they played some great stuff and were by far the more imaginitive and determined team. Well done.

    A couple of extra points though.....

    I actually thought Lucas had a decent game. Well, certainly in the first half he was very good indeed.

    Mascherano had a good first half, but seemed to lose his head after he got booked. Rightly subbed.

    Carra had a good game other than the first goal.

    Torres looked so frustrated by the lack of service. I wish Rafa would play Aquilani from the start, as the lack of creativity in midfield is killing us. What is his fixation with 2 defensive midfielders? Especially at home?!?!? Last season we were battering teams into submission, but it seems as though Rafa is happy to cross his fingers and hope for a 1-0 win. As soon as we concede a goal and the other team are on top, we're clueless at the moment.

    Gerrard had another bad game. I'm sure he hadn't, but it looked as though he had given up on about 70mins. The frustration was clear for all to see. I don't think it's a frustration with the team or the manager, just the situation they find themselves in. But they only have themselves to blame.

    And Anfield. Where the hell was all the noise?!?!? It was like they were playing behind closed doors. The only fans i could hear were the Arsenal ones, so all credit to you for getting behind your team. Reds fans should be ashamed of ourselves. I'm surprised the players didn't hear me shouting at the telly!!

    Well done on the win Arsenal. You deserved it a hell of a lot more than we did. I hope you win the title instead of Utd or Chelsea.

  • Comment number 42.

    The result counted more than the performance yesterday as it gives a massive 3 point, confidence and mental toughness. But it is only one result. Arsenal did not play well yesterday and have a lot of football to play on a very thin squad ravaged through injuries compared to ManU and Chelsea. Consistency is key now going forward.

    I don't think that Arsenal are the finished article but they have the potential to be. Wenger is impatiently trying to get that out and it is unpredictable when it will happen. My gut feeling is that it won't be this season...but would be delighted to be proven wrong. I don't agree with the usual kneejerk reaction of a hulk in midfield. They need less injuries and some more experience/mentaltoughness - whichever comes quicker.

    Squad size and quality and the rub of the green on injuries is what dictates the top two in the Premier league and Chelsea and ManU win on both counts currently. So I for one am not getting too excited. I have not and don't expect the Premiership this season but if it happens then great.

  • Comment number 43.

    I like the PL. And this is an interesting season.

    BUT is THIS really what our football is all about?

    "Who will finish 4th".

    Wow.

    Fact is, you can talk it up all you like, but the CL is as dull as dishwater and the most overrated competition in football.

    I couldn't give a rats about Milan or Madrid or Barcelona.

    Nor do I want to watch ManU and Chelsea, year in and year out, play in the finals against those teams.

    Let's go back to making it 1st place qualifies. Full stop. And then it's a knockout cup competition.

    Of course that wont happen because the big money boys will sulk. Then they'll take their ball and go away.

    Good!













  • Comment number 44.

    Phil if you must only write about the top teams, could you possibly keep it to teams in the top 6? Either that or one week do the top of the table, next week the bottom and the week after the middle.

  • Comment number 45.

    Yet another weekend showing how poor the Premier League is this season. An average Villa side getting an unexpected win at OT, and an extremely poor Everton side managing a draw at the supposed title favourites. Liverpool having to put off 'kick-starting their season' for yet another week, Wenger finally losing the plot at his players rather than the ref, the press, the opposition manager or the statistician, Spurs proving that their current lofty position is a lie by losing to nxt years FL Championship contenders Wolves, whatever next? Birmingham for the UEFA?

    I know last season the top four were poor but this year they've excelled themselves (or rather haven't). They seem to have finally lost their air of invincibility and anyone thinks they can get a result against Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool and many have. Is there a reason for this sudden shift? Having seen a few of the 'contenders' for fourth place, it's certainly not because they've upped their game..

  • Comment number 46.

    I think we got the rub of the green on the penalty as it normally would have been given against us. There was a softer one given at Anfield in teh CL the year before last.

    I would say though that it was the correct decision in the spirit of the game in that it was never a goal scoring opportunity as the ball was going out anyway. I also though that Gerrard went to ground too easily throughout the game.

    I feel for the Liverpool fans though as I have felt bad when things have gone against us which has been often.

    I think that Liverpool's demise is overstated. They are a good team and need a few results to get them back on track.
    against us.

    Phil, re strengthening. I think that Arsene will only go for a striker. There appear to be no world class midfielders available and anyway we do not have the money (watch my lips) No money to compete with Chelsea (Signing Aguerro?) or ManU.

  • Comment number 47.

    This was the first time i have seen Aquilani in action, and generally i was not that impressed. He seems to be an ok buy, but does not seem to be the replacement to Xabi Alonso that the Liverpool fans are crying out for. Granted, that it is still early days and he has not really had time to bed in to the Premier league, but you would expect him to show some signs of the great player he is in the time he was on.

    However, I think if I were a Liverpool fan, i would be worried about Stevie G. To me it seems that this season he has lost a bit of the spark that he had last season, like he has become tired of constantly trying to lift the team onto greater glory (almost singlehandedly). This is a worry for England too, as he is one of those players we need fully fired up and ready to take on the world in South Africa, not burned out by the end of the season.

    As for people commenting on "why didn't Phil blog this match" etc. I think it has been fairly well established that Phil only comments on matches he has been to. Understandably, the biggest match of the weekend was the Liverpool-Arsenal game, and so rightly the Chief football writer was sent to cover that game.

    My tip is that the Big Four will still be the Big Four come the end of the season. I am fairly certain people were saying this is looking like the most open league in years last season, only for the Big Four to pull away in December/January, when squad depth is all important. It is worth noting that while Liverpool have had a shocker, they are still in touching distance of the CL places. As for who will win the league, i think it will be between Man Utd and Chelsea.

  • Comment number 48.

    If liverpool don't get 7 points from their next 9 I think Benetez better start sending out his CV

  • Comment number 49.

    There seems to be a discrepancy between the vitriol given to Eduardo da Silva for diving, when the ref and subsequent video evidence proved otherwise, and that given to English proven divers Rooney & Gerrard

  • Comment number 50.

    Liverpool were unlucky yesterday of that there can be no doubt. It was a penalty but refs have now cottoned on to the likes of Gerrard and Rooney which in itself is a good thing.
    Mascherano is great at what he does, the slightly late tackle and going through the back of a player is now an art form, the fact that the rubs the head of the player he has just went through makes it okay for the Webbs of this world.
    As for Arsenal this was a good fillip and wins over Burnley and Hull will keep them right in there until the African Nations comes around. They then face Villa and it will be interesting to see how Wenger manages that game. Villa are an O'neill tema through and through. Dour to the point of boring and willing to pack their own half in the hope of a quick break or set play. If Arsenal were to kick off at the start and not move at all then both teams would stand and stare at each other for 90 minutes.

  • Comment number 51.

    #41- The reason people criticise Gerrard for diving is because he publicly states he hates diving, yet does it every second game. He receives far less criticism than someone like Drogba or even Ronaldo used to whilst at United. Even Torres is seen as more of a diver than Gerrard, which is not the case.

    Gerrard being English is what seperates those fellows, and so with it any deserved criticism. Same applies to Rooney.

    Hardly fair to label certain players as serial divers yet turn a blind eye to others simply because they are English?

  • Comment number 52.

    The Midland 20

    You are sounding very bitter!

    I dont think any of the top 4 places are cemented - you say it is an interesting season and then complain about teams wanting to be in the top 4

    You dont like watching the CL? You obviously either know nothing or dont like football - the CL has the best players and best teams in the world so how is it overrated?

    And you 'dont gaive a rats about barca' - they play the best / most entertaining football in the world

    If this is the case then i bet you are NOT looking forward to the world cup - a footballing feast (i dont think the standard is as good as the CL)

  • Comment number 53.

    "... alot of 'experts' had written Arsenal off after the Chelsea defeat because for all the possession we enjoy and beautiful football we play we still falter when 'up against it' " (Post #38 by LABSAB9)

    What beautiful football? In the recent Carling Cup tie the only team playing beautiful football was Manchester City. Arsenal spent most of the game just accumulating yellow cards. Long before Wenger demonstrated his own poor sportmanship at the end of the game by refusing to shake hands, his team had already demonstrated on the field how to play with poor sportsmanship in the manner that Wenger has coached them.

  • Comment number 54.

    31. At 10:03am on 14 Dec 2009, philmcnultybbcsport wrote:

    To The_Dark_Blue_King and NorthfieldVillain...agree Villa's performance and result could turn out to be a real landmark for them, but have they got the squad strength and consistency to go for the whole season? It will be interesting to see how they fare later in the season after they disintegrated last season. Will not being in the Europa League actually help them? Maybe so.
    _______________________________________________________________________________

    Thanks for the reponse Phil.

    But your response alone suggests that therein lies a much better topic for debate and discussion compared to the "Wenger was right article" above.

    As you said- a landmark victory. Hardly something Arsenal achieved over the weekend. Would have been more deserved press IMO... And I'm a Chelsea fan.

  • Comment number 55.

    Liverpool v Wigan,
    Portsmouth v Liverpool,
    Liverpool v Wolverhampton,

    I can see them getting 9 points. Also, I can see them getting 3.

  • Comment number 56.

    49. At 10:59am on 14 Dec 2009, roger griffiths wrote:
    There seems to be a discrepancy between the vitriol given to Eduardo da Silva for diving, when the ref and subsequent video evidence proved otherwise, and that given to English proven divers Rooney & Gerrard
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    eduardo got away with it at the time (though i agree the frenzy that came after was frankly ridiculous). Rooney dived, got caught and was rightly booked. system worked, no real story.

  • Comment number 57.

    Its surprisingly to see how away teams are winning with easy this season at Anfield when last season no away team won at Anfield in the league. Even Birmingham City would have won as well if it wasn't for Ngog's theatrics.

    I think this win was crucial for Arsenal especially after Man U and Spurs both lost and Chelsea drew. But I don't think the Gunners will challenge for the title from here.

    Full time analysis






  • Comment number 58.

    Hi Phil,

    Another defeat for Liverpool, and here we are talking again about Benitez and confidence.

    First, my congratulations go to Arsenal for their excellent win. We can debate all day long how deserved that win was, but what Arsenal did at Anfield was win ugly, which they never used to do before, and which is a trait of Champions of the past. I honestly think that if Arsenal buy a decent striker (not that there is anything wrong with Arshavin), and manage to be there, or there abouts come March, they will have a serious say on who will win the title.

    Now, turning my attention to Liverpool. We all know that the team are suffering from lack of confidence. When a team is low on confidence, isn't it the managers job to raise their spirits and believe in themselves? Rafa is undoubtedly a very good tactician and his knowledge of the game is brilliant, but I believe that he cannot motivate and galvanise players. I can put my house on the fact that today, Rafa and the team will watch the video of the game yesterday, with Rafa pointing out mistakes that were made in the second half, asking for improvement instead of galvanising his players.
    I have seen countless times in the past, Manchester United teams suffer from a similar confidence crisis, but theirs seems to last for a couple of games only. When they come back, they come back with a BANG, beat the opposition by 3-4 goals, and suddenly the confidence is back and they go on a run of wins. The merit for that does not go to the players, but to Sir Alex Ferguson. He is the one that makes them understand that they are maybe EVEN BETTER than they really are.

    Rafa simply doesn't posses this quality. This is the first time he is managing a team that is in CRISIS. He is magnificent when things are going well. He doesn't seem to be coping now that things aren't. I don't know anymore if he has the power of turning this around, but I was in the KOP yesterday, and for the first time in years, I was watching the team KNOWING that we were going to lose again (after Arsenal scored the second). One thing I was hoping for was a Torres or Gerrard miracle, which never materialised.

    One thing is for sure, Liverpool are going nowhere in a hurry, and unless the players find that bit of confidence in themselves (because it certainsly will not be instilled by Benitez), then LFC are in BIG BIG trouble.

  • Comment number 59.

    "This was the first time i have seen Aquilani in action, and generally i was not that impressed." (Post #47 by SirMouseburger)

    And you were very privileged indeed to be able to see Aquilani in action. Because Benitez only ever plays him on the 13th day of the month following a blue moon. It's a "good luck" thing that Rafa has going on. Rafa feels that if he played him more frequently bad things might happen at Anfield ...

  • Comment number 60.

    Roger Griffiths wrote

    There seems to be a discrepancy between the vitriol given to Eduardo da Silva for diving, when the ref and subsequent video evidence proved otherwise, and that given to English proven divers Rooney & Gerrard
    ........................

    I think the difference is Eduardo got the penalty so was vilified, whereas Rooney was booked and Gerrard didn't get the decision. Hence no fuss made.

    I hate diving from anyone, doesn't matter whether they are British or foreign and I did think that Gerrard threw himself about quite a bit yesterday. He seems to do it a lot when Liverpool aren't winning in the hope of getting either a free kick or a penalty. Torres isn't opposed to falling over quite easily either and trips himself up to make it look as though one of the opposition fouled him.

  • Comment number 61.

    I really dont get this piece. Man U lost as home, chelsea drew at home against a depleted everton side and arsenal won away at liverpool despite not fielding there first team and the wtiter still believes, arsenal need to show they are up for the title. I dont know about the writer but i would rather they played rubbish and won than play fanciful and lose. We may not have played to our best but we won and for me that was beautiful. What i find sad is the fact that Rooney so obviously dove on Saturday against Villa and Gerard constantly dove throughout the match on sunday and despite both their postulations earlier on in the season regarding Eduardo's exploits, no one has written anything about this. I wonder what would have happened if they had beed non English

  • Comment number 62.

    To DutchParr...agree about Arsenal needing a more reliable keeper. I have never been sold on Manuel Almunia and he was poor for Liverpool's goal yesterday. He strikes me as good back-up but not a first-choice.

    Arsenal are not alone here though, because Chelsea and Manchester United also suffer in this area. I do not think Petr Cech is the keeper he was, and has been very indecisive both at Manchester City and again at home to Everton.

    Edwin van der Sar's injuries have also exposed Manchester United in this position. And what a worry for England that Ben Foster is now third pick behind Tomasz Kuszczak, who is not top class.

    All these clubs would love to have Pepe Reina, Brad Friedel or Shay Given.

    To collie21...Jurgen Klinsmann's comments about Liverpool may be easily dismissed, but he was only giving an honest opinion, as was Graeme Souness, who is a little closer to the action.

    I must admit I felt a little uneasy about Benitez belittling Souness, who again was simply giving an honest opinion. For all his faults as a manager, if the history of Liverpool Football Club was written tomorrow, Souness's part in it would be bigger and more glorious than that of Benitez, having won three European Cups as a player, one as captain, and five title medals.

    It is sad that Souness's rightful status as one of the greatest players ever to play for the club is marred in the eyes of some because of his stint as manager. A magnificent captain and wonderful player, as any Liverpool fan who saw him would testify.

    And do not forget, like Benitez, he won the FA Cup at Liverpool.

    Here is an interesting piece on that very subject.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-1235602/Martin-Samuel-Rafael-Benitez--lucky-won-Graeme-Souness-Liverpool.html


    To The Midland 20...this season (and this blog) isn't just about who will finish fourth, it is about who will finish first, second and third as well as even fifth, sixth and seventh. This is what is making this season so interesting.

    And to collie21...I have written about teams outside the top six this season and will do so again. I am off to see the Birmingham revival tomorrow and at Turf Moor on Wednesday.

  • Comment number 63.

    Re - 43. At 10:44am on 14 Dec 2009, The Midland 20 wrote:

    bitter indeed and / or long suffering Celtic and Rangers fan, although the name suggests otherwise.

  • Comment number 64.

    53. At 11:05am on 14 Dec 2009, Tell it how it is wrote:
    "... alot of 'experts' had written Arsenal off after the Chelsea defeat because for all the possession we enjoy and beautiful football we play we still falter when 'up against it' " (Post #38 by LABSAB9)

    What beautiful football? In the recent Carling Cup tie the only team playing beautiful football was Manchester City. Arsenal spent most of the game just accumulating yellow cards. Long before Wenger demonstrated his own poor sportmanship at the end of the game by refusing to shake hands, his team had already demonstrated on the field how to play with poor sportsmanship in the manner that Wenger has coached them.


    Eh????

    So Arsenals 1st team don't play beautiful football then???
    That was Arsenals reserves in the Carling Cup!!!
    Wengers poor sportmanship?? what about hughes acting like a rotweiler on speed??

    Your comments confuse me, take a look at the fair play league this season and see where Arsenal stand.

    Also talk to any neutral football fan and ask who they prefer to watch playing football i am sure the majority would plump for Arsenal.

  • Comment number 65.

    Interesting times ahead indeed. The top end of the Premiership has been predictable for too many years so nice to see some variety.

    The top 2 in my opinion still pick themselves 3-7 and beyond is a different matter.

    Before the year is out Villa tackle Arsenal and then Liverpool which will give clearer indication of their intent. The squad is bigger and better this year than it has been for many many years.

    I agree yesterday's was a penalty. However Gerrard is the most blatant English cheat and gets away with so many dives. I am sure fans of Blackburn, Villa, Shefield United and Athletico Madrid to name a few would aggree. Rooney is a close second and Owen an close 3rd.

    Phil - do you concur with that assessment?

    Make diving a straight red card and it will stop overnight.

  • Comment number 66.

    I love the way that Arsenal's performance "didn't have the stamp of potential champions" when they went there and won.

    And yet the media keep telling us how genuine title challengers United actually are after getting played off the park at Anfield.

    United and Aresenal are basically level on points. And there is nothing between the squads.

    If the media actually had the nerve to risk upsetting their major audience, (United fans), then they'd probably admit that United aren't any better than Aresnal these days

  • Comment number 67.

    Greetings to All.

    Lots of interesting things to muse over.

    Firstly well done to all the teams that on saterday produced performances to once again blow the title race wide open yet again.

    My thoughts on Arsenal.

    The own goal turned the game in our favour, a timely piece of luck for Arsenal were utter rubbish in the 1st half. Alumini in particular had a shocking game and gifted pool the goal with his flapping about. How can the back four at Arsenal have confidence in a keeper who it seems is very prone to mommentry lapse's of reason on a regular basis.

    Alas a few of pools talented stars went to ground far to easy which marred thier overall performance which was very good indeed until the theatrics started. Justice i'm afraid was done.

    Song was immense for Arsenal, however he dwells on the ball and was often caught out but the guy will get better he certainly played well and looked assured most of the time.

    Arshavin: as was said he did'nt do that much but the role he is being asked to fill would not have been easy but the guy scores a peach of a goal. without him it would have been hard to see who in the colours of Arsenal would score or get anywhere near scoring. Walcott went missing, yet again and perhaps he should concentrate fully on his new venture as a novelist as he is proving to be a dissapointment.

    Even if Arsenal had lost i would still have said we were still in the hunt for the title as the other teams lower down have improved and they will all have a big say on who eventually lifts the title and also who out of the top four finishes where.

    Congrats to Arsenal, hard cheese to liverpool but its a long long season and anything can happen.

  • Comment number 68.

    Phil. you are just like the so called British football analysts that are always biased toward anything Arsenal or Arsene Wenger. your article is still knocking Arsenal after the win yesterdayI just can't you people, because the opinion would have been different if it had been a Manchester United win. It would have been that they grinded out the result.
    You lots are just anti-Arsenal or should I say anti-Wenger

  • Comment number 69.

    66. At 11:41am on 14 Dec 2009, Mike wrote:
    I love the way that Arsenal's performance "didn't have the stamp of potential champions" when they went there and won.

    And yet the media keep telling us how genuine title challengers United actually are after getting played off the park at Anfield.

    United and Aresenal are basically level on points. And there is nothing between the squads.

    If the media actually had the nerve to risk upsetting their major audience, (United fans), then they'd probably admit that United aren't any better than Aresnal these days
    _________________________________________________


    Whilst you make good points here, I find it difficult to understand this media "pandering towards Utd fans" mentality just because they hold the majority fans. Surely the media are smart enough to know that purely provoking any reaction from fans is enough for them to read the article. Thus, if they wanted more coverage then they would equally chastise Utd when the opportunity arose. So your logic is flawed. As the old expression goes - "there's no such thing as bad publicity"

  • Comment number 70.

    We are being hard on Walcott. His mere presence opened up Liverpool. People are still scared of his pace. For the own goal, he caused the frantic defending. For the second, his run allowed Arshavin to collect, pass to Sagna, who passed to Cesc, who crossed, Walcott held Carra of the ball and Arshavin scored. Walcott was not good but his runs off the ball are like Anelka's: very dangerous and using space a lot... He is rusty and profligate for sure but he is still a menace.

  • Comment number 71.

    Decent and balanced blog Phil. Think you're spot on. It was a poor game, but Liverpool simply had no reply after they conceded. Lucky or not, Liverpool should've had more about them regardless of the penalty not being awarded. Arsenal do look frail, but if they can squeeze out results like this even when they look weak they'll finish right up there.
    I cannot understand Benitez. He's always got an excuse, no matter how bad his team are doing. Blaming the owners is completely unfair as well. Benitez has had money to spend, and has spent it on average players. He bought a world-class striker in Torres, but that's not exactly a master signing when Torres had already shown his class - anyone could've told you he'd be an awesome signing. The buck stops with the manager; he picks the team, the tactics and the players he wants to sign. If Liverpool have a bad season, it's his fault.
    I also agree with Phil that his belittling of Souness must be looked at with some scrutiny. Souness may not be a great manager, but I imagine his heart is in the right place and he cares enough about the club that he wants to express his concerns about Liverpool honestly and openly. Benitez is basically saying that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks (fans, former players etc.), he's there and he's going to keep doing what he's doing even if it isn't working. Sounds a bit like Houllier to me when he had his little outburst about it not being the good old days of LFC. I don't like SAF, but at least he's got the record to back up his arrogance. Benitez, I'm afraid, does not.

  • Comment number 72.

    Arsenal have a great chance of winning the league; has anyone looked at their fixture schedule? They have a horrible two weeks in late January, early February but after that it's clear sailing.

    http://thoughtsonfootball.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 73.


    Defending was comical. I was there, and put my head undercover right before each of Everton's goals went in, knowing we'll somehow mess it up! and we did. diabolical and unacceptable given the standard we'd set ourselves.

    Quote from someone on here "Liverpool's season only looks bad because of how lucky they were last season with all kinds of decisions, sendings off and late goals"

    TOO RIGHT!

  • Comment number 74.

    65. At 11:36am on 14 Dec 2009, RobVilla wrote
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    What a useless post you have offered. Englands biggest cheat award. Pathetic, Gerrard like any other player running at pace will draw in the challenge and yes...look to be fouled if the defender is stupid enough to go flying in. It is not a case of cheating, it is a case of weighing up your best options.

    How often do you see a player in midfield hold up the ball, turn and draw in a foul. A lot of the time they even grab the ball as they fall...proving that they had played for this foul because they could see it coming.

    If the player dives, yes book him. But you have to realise the difference between diving, and drawing a player into a foul

  • Comment number 75.

    well done arsenal. you have now proved them (doubters) wrong on your ability to win the premiership. You played badly, at least in the first half, but at the end of the day you had the last laugh.

  • Comment number 76.

    A massive win for the Gunners no doubt. A crushing defeat for Liverpool, who are incredibly fortunate that the teams who will compete with them for the 4th and final champions league place keep dropping points. City's 8th draw in 9 games and Spurs losing at home to Wolves means they have dodged another bullet. Liverpool could quite easily be ten points behind the champions league places with the number of defeats they have suffered.

    Elsewhere, United are just not the team they were, this is an inescapable fact. I have watched nearly every game this season and they have played well only at Spurs, Wigan and the second half at Portsmouth. Defeats without scoring to Chelsea, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Burnley is not championship form. We know they improve post Christmas but it will need to be a dramatic improvement indeed. I think they are short at least two class players, particularly at Champions League level.
    ( Ronaldo and Tevez anyone ? )

  • Comment number 77.

    Nice to see you actually watched this game Phil

  • Comment number 78.

    congrats to Arsenal for your win yesterday - also congrats to the villa at least we beat manu in Old Trafford . I think Arsenal look the better side than man utd to be chasing for the title as their defence only had one change from it and that being carrick and we managed to pull that apart and plus berbatov is as helpful as heskey is to us

  • Comment number 79.

    It would appear my request for the Chief Football Writer's thoughts has, as predicted been ignored.

    Whilst I appreciate there are many many posts directed at Mr McNulty, making it nigh on impossible for him to respond to them all, there are not many that directly ask him for his thoughts.

    27. At 09:56am on 14 Dec 2009, you wrote:
    Surely one of the hottest topics of conversation to come out of this weekend's football was Wayne Rooney's booking for diving/simulation and yet there is no mention of it above?

    I'd be very interested to get the thoughts of the Chief Football Writer for BBC Sport on this topic considering it appears no other media outlet I have tried seemed to want to discuss this. Here's hoping my comment is not conveniently ignored.

    Your thoughts please Phil.....

  • Comment number 80.

    Phil, I’m astonished with the fact that your analysis has very much focused on Liverpool’s failure to win the game rather than Arsenal remarkable three points at Enfield.
    A fairness analyst would have at least touched on the followings points;-
    1. Arshavin’s performance of the day and his fantastic goal-despite not doing much in the most parts of the game;
    2. Mascherano’s lucky escape for not being red-carded;
    3. Gerrard’s body language that showed lack of motivation and aspiration.
    If you want to discuss more on Liverpool and take away the credits from the Gunners, then I suggest you to save your energy and wait until Liverpool comes back to the wining style.
    I having said that, i wish Liverpool will to finish in the top 4.

  • Comment number 81.

    @ #66 - Arsenal can be considered the same level as United and your injury list is bigger than ours?? I don't remember when United played with the same back 4 + keeper for more than 3 games in a row. I admit United have been mediocre in some games this season and need to sort out their defensive problems as soon as possible. But it makes for an interesting season to watch I for one am loving the unpredictability but the quality could and must improve.

  • Comment number 82.

    Gerrard's conduct on the football pitch has become an emmbarrasment. He is ALWAYS looking to dive, always looking to get a foul where none exists.

    All of which would be bad enough, but when you take into account his strong condemnation of what he does week in week out, of how it's the foreign lads who do it, and that he'd always go over, have a word in their ear and say "hey, we don't do that at Liverpool FC" well, you have to just marvel at his brass neck.

  • Comment number 83.

    So everytime united lose they are 'missing Ronaldo'. When we were outplayed in the champions league final who were we missing? i thought even with Ronaldo we lost games and still won the premiership 3 in a row.Please look for other tactical reasons to write about when Utd lose.Its getting boring

  • Comment number 84.

    50. At 11:00am on 14 Dec 2009, patto45 wrote:
    .......... If Arsenal were to kick off at the start and not move at all then both teams would stand and stare at each other for 90 minutes.
    -----------------
    That's so wrong,
    it would only be for 45 minutes and than Liverpool would have to kick off, then both teams would stand and stare at each other for 45 minutes.

  • Comment number 85.

    Well done Arsenal for winning
    Liverpool are one of the worst seasons in the 00s. Surely Rafa should have a players meeting and explain to them that they are letting the fans down.

    Man City for 2010 FA Cup? Possibly

  • Comment number 86.

    " City's 8th draw in 9 games and Spurs losing at home to Wolves means they have dodged another bullet. Liverpool could quite easily be ten points behind the champions league places with the number of defeats they have suffered. "

    very much agree same luck that gifted hull city another season in the PL results from others going in favour etc.

    I think it shows the others are now no longer just rolling over and the PL is it seems the most competitive at the momment.

    I think the most intriging plot is that which is happening to the chavs, they apparently brush aside Arsenal then opppppppppppppps down they crash again despite drogba scoring twice. the chavs are more vunerable than most thought and all those banging on about 6' + beefcakes in defence, just look at the chavs, leaking goals everywhere drogba is turning out to be thier saviour thats for sure.

    as a gooner i now wait anxiously to see just what sort of performance we get next time up, for so often in the past the gunners pull out the stops and battle for a win against on paper, a better side, then blow all that hard work away next game.

    Arsenal have a great opportunity to gain top spot i just hope they realise it and sieze the opportunity to gag many of thier critics.

    more of the same please Arsene and take every opportnity you can to remind the team what is expected from them when " wearing the shirt " we have no right to win anything however the surporters have a right to expect considerable effort plus it makes my spalshing the cash on Sky worth it.

  • Comment number 87.

    Hi Mr McNulty

    I am a regular reader of your blog, but had to be moved to contribute today. Simply because you have made no mention and still continue to shy away from reacting to those who pointed out THE WAYNE ROONEY DIVE!!. I havent heard the F.A or the scottish F.A or EUFA or skysports, bbc etc talk about it. Surely it is not because he is an Englishman, you would have thought eduardo killed someone the other day or Ngog had started the third world war,i must point out cheating is cheating whether your Japanese or Chinese.
    Arsenal were terrible first half, i do agree with that, but then i have seen Man U play worse this season and not read anything nearly as derisory as has been written here. Arshavin scores an excellent goal but the football world would rather attribute it to johnson's error...errr every goal ever scored is either defensive error or individual brilliance.

    Football is a results business and thats exactly what wins things, so why not congratulate them for coming away with a win at Anfield which is by no means an easy place to go ( No team has won having come from behind for 6 years). Seems to me whether Arsenal wins or losses you just have some negative sentiment to render, which i dont htink is fair. Alright chelsea won at the emirates without been brilliant, exceptional striker didier drogba made all the difference however, to all asundry chelsea are the favourites. Give the boys a break come on, they won the game thats what counts.

  • Comment number 88.

    Clearly you are not an Arsenal fan, but at least try and show due respect for the spirit and resilience we showed despite not being at our best or indeed, at full strength.
    We may not be as strong as either Chelsea or Manchester Utd, in more ways than one, but we do have the capacity to play the most rewarding football; we can win the league, it is a genuine possibility. Don't dismiss it as a 2 horse race. Our target remains to be Champions.
    Earlier this season, we played Man Utd off the park at OT but lost - we took the positives from the game, the performance - we have the belief. Against Liverpool, we were poor in the first half (poor, not abysmal) but turned things around - we took the positives from the game, 3 points - we have the belief!

  • Comment number 89.

    84... I think he was referring to the villa match coming up..though the liverpool game didnt seem that action packed ... but let's see... there'll be enough tough games to come...
    I hope city walk away with just the carling cup they so badly want... the FA Cup would be very flattering if they did somehow win it... but I doubt they'll get it, and I dont think they're quite deserving of it... its q pity ... I used to like man city when they had decent- work the grind players.

  • Comment number 90.

    To Frimpong from Tooting...happy to oblige. I was not convinced the evidence was totally conclusive that Rooney definitely dived. He went to ground, but a dive? I'm not sure.

    Before I am accused of defending the English players, I should also point out that I was one of the very few who defended Eduardo when he was accused of diving.

    Hope this helps.

  • Comment number 91.

    Good lord - so much involvement guys - nice work and good reading.
    Firstly, well done to Villa - did not see that result coming but I'm frankly not surprised as they've acquiited themselves quietly and effectively - a touch of Arsenal's in the way they stay under the radar - always the best way. Also congrats to Wolves - good result against Spurs (albeit for near-superhuman goalie work).
    I do feel sorry for Liverpool. I would hope that they sort themselves out and strip away some of the deadwood in their squad and things haven't gone their way in many circumstances - but I have felt they're ridden their luck at times in past seasons (although certainly had little of that this year).
    I do believe Arsenal are firm contenders for the League. I didn't expect a result yesterday - normally such opportunities are wasted by us and only made up for by remarkable results here and there later on in the season albeit too little too late. It was nice to finally see a response to going behind late in the first half. Also pleased that Wenger gave them a proper piece of abuse because that was just about the worst first half I've seen for quite some time from us. We did win it ugly, but I can't deny that Liverpool's attacks were hardly searing - but we did withstand 30 mins of pressure and when you take the lead in games of that nature you need to be able to do that in order to win competitions!
    I thought Alex Song had a fantastic game. Soft early on but still broke up the play even at that point. Was wise to challenges and closing down, distributed well throughout and was a strong presence in the midfield. Denilson worked had, also aware of challenges and tried to use whatever physical edge he could to defend himself - needs to bulk up I think, but he's not a DM enforcer anyway so no major issue. Seemed to leave Kuyt alone for their goal - does still seem prone to ball watching/positioning himself for a breakaway rather than ensuring the ball is dealt with/cleared. Nice to see Diaby back but had little impact. Walcott back was good too but didn't go a great deal against the pace of Johnson. Nasri looked very positive going forward and I look forward to him getting more games. And for the second game running, as I have said all season, Arshavin is WASTED OUT WIDE. Put him in the middle, give him half a chance and BANG! He did it against Stoke last week and now Liverpool and he needs to stay there - in my opinion he needs to stay there after RVP gets back. I still don't like the 4-5-1 - it relies too much on Denilson and Fabregas pushing forward to support centally as you only have 1 man in/near the box. That is why we're leaking goals on the break it seems to me - plus also explains why we play well into the final third and then it suddenly dies and we pass across the box - there's only 1x man on the edge/in the box to pass to and he's crowded out. Put a second man in there and you can either pass between/like or make a run to force space for another to get a shot off. Arshavin's an excellent forward (not a natural striker) and you could see that we were just extremely clinical with our chances as frankly we didn't create many.
    I'm really hoping we get either Dzeko or Balotelli (I didn't realise that Balotelli, despite his age, is a 6ft3, 13st beast/battering ram of a man!). I like the idea of Chamakh, but am worried he's not a full frontal striker and could be another Arshavin type - please correct me Ligue 1 viewers if I'm seriously wide of the mark here? Dzeko in particular and Balotelli seem extremely dangerous players - I genuinely feared Dzeko would take United apart last week but he had chances and good saves/fluffs turned the game on its head it seemed.
    One point worth mention - do not be surprised if Fabianski starts getting League starts before the end of the season. I love Almunia to bit but he's quite inconsistent at the moment and often looks uncomfortable, even when making a good save! From what Fabianki's shown, he's raw but agile, alert and off his line quickly and hard - something that Almunia suffers from not doing all too often - and Sunday seemed to be another example of this. Let's see what happens on this front in January.
    Question for further debate - have PL goalkeeping standards amongst the top four slipped? All of the top four keepers and making mistakes, some repeatedly. It seems the older keepers lower down the league keep it consistent - I think Brad Friedel should be GK of the year based on his performances this season alone (alright a little hyperbole, but the man's sheer class) - and absolutely incredible keeper and a force behind Villa's run without a shadow of a doubt.

  • Comment number 92.

    Is this the worst liverpool team in my lifetime - possibly yes! Benitez had a blast at Souness and Klitzmann, Klinsmann a little harsh - I'd like to see benitez take a going nowhere team to the semis of the world cup Souness however would have easily taken that prize - worst liverpool team that is - from Benitez but now I'm not so sure.

    Those reds, at least on the west side of the East Lancs Road, must give up the game of pretending that benitez knows how to manage an english club.

    Benitez failings are many. Buying quality players at great expense and then offloading them as season or two latter when he no longer wishes to have them (crouch, bellamy, keane) not even playing them in some cases (babel) at the expense of those who are just not good enough (Lucas) and insisting on youth when surely this season has proved that you can't beat a bit of experience (Robbie Keane anyone?) when your leading goalscorer is injured (Ngog). Even the good players he's bought at well over inflated prices and I thought we were in a recession (Johnson)

    Benitez cleary can't do mind games as proved last season so what can he do? Well at least he's stopped playing tinkerbell every game as he was doing when he first started managing liverpool.

    He's also the last of the top four managers to finish outside the top four and looks like insisting on repeating the feat.

    Benitez is a laughing stock, surely liverpool fans must realise (finally!!!) that he just can't cut the mustard in the premiership and for his own reputation he's probably better off going back to Spain.

    As a United fan I'm rather shocked at the lack of backbone in liverpools team. The warning signs were there when they beat us and celebrated like they'd one the premier league - give me 0 points against liverpool and finished first I'll take it every time - I'm not sure livepool fans would take that - certainly the players seem to think that beating United is more important.

    There are only two things more laughable than benitez in the english game. The liverpool board, who are after in their wisdom offered such a huge contract that given their current financial situation makes it very costly to sack him. The award though surely has to go to the liverpool fans, who continue to insist he's the best thing since sliced bread

    The worst thing that has happened in recent years is wining the champions league, which they only managed to do after milan through it away. Apart from that and winning the fa cup, again on penalties after gerrard rescues them again, what has benitez actually done?!?

    I can cetainly see Bentiez staying, I can see them finishing lower than 4th and even 5th. I could also see given that scenario Gerrard and Torres having to be sold.

  • Comment number 93.

    Huh?? Rooney was not conclusive it was a dive!! come on Mr McNulty.

  • Comment number 94.

    RE: Diving... I think there are people that are quick to criticise players for going down from a light touch... but there are times when that little tap at the right time in your stride will upset your balance , especially if you're looking to side step or at a quick pace.. sometimes it can also be the players own foot thats the cause and he ankle taps himself and goes to ground... I can understand he probably thinks someone caught him... but he shouldn't be booked for that... I just hope the mentality changes that the players don't appeal to the ref for fouls. The ref should see it and judge it there and then.. even players that grab the ball on the way down I feel are taking a bit too much liberty with assuming when they deserve a foul..
    Its the stupid yellow cards that was the highlight for me really this week... Bellamy finally being told to shut up .. and the other player (forgotten who) who took his shirt off after scoring.. leading to a second yellow... surely its not worth it when you're already in the book??

  • Comment number 95.

    Phil,
    Benitez' dig at Graeme Souness was more than a little petty. Souness managed the club at a time when it required to reduce the number of foreigners due to UEFA rules. A time that the English national side was struggling for quality players. Benitez has had the whole world to choose from over the time he has been at the club, is the squad any stronger than it was when he took over?
    Souness observation, about LFC being on the edge of meltdown was brought a little closer by yesterday's capitulation. The fact there was no rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" near the end, seemed to indicate the Kop may be realising that LFC may follow Leeds into the wilderness.
    Well done, Arsenal. I hope that they can claim the title but I have a feeling that athletes will win out over footballers once again.
    BTW I am a Liverpool supporter.

  • Comment number 96.

    Phil another blog where you are against Arsenal. As people have stated before here. When we have outplayed teams and lost we play attractive football but it's boys against men and can't ground out a result! When we ground out a result it's the opposite and you slate us for not playing attractive football.

    When it's Chelsea or Man U it's how gritty their performance is not how much they struggled.

    On the diving front. Maybe it was a penalty for Gerrard but he lost control of the ball and I think he also fell into Gallas as well. The bloke normally dives and gets away with it too often. The same as Rooney who for once was booked deservedly so.

    I know most of the media are biased against the foreign players and managers but I would have thought you might have gotten over it by now.

  • Comment number 97.

    90, Phil Rooney dived. You are the only person on planet earth that is convinced that Rooney did not dive. United fans agree he dived. Sir Alex even agreed else he would have said something. Phil you did not say that Eduardo didn't dive. You just said he shouldn't be slated for what he did. How is that for support? You brushed aside Arsenal's penalty claim at Old Trafford to criticize them for being fragile. Now you are refering to Liverpools penalty as the decision that turned the game. Phil be consistent. Arsenal had a stonewall penalty against Sunderland not given yet no one mentioned it. The English press is biased towards Arsenal because they see Arsenal as a foreign team not considering the fact that Liverpool has only 2 English players. Chelsea 4 and ManUnited 4 Forget Neville in the first team.

  • Comment number 98.

    looking forward to the Birmingham blog Phil, thanks for the reply to my posts, it's much appreciated. I would point out that if you can dismiss Klinsmans comments or even those of Souness, you cant dismiss the reason they were made, and that is really what was behind my point. As you pointed out yourself about Souness, I reckon Rafa's bad judgement has got the better of him again. Souness is Mr Liverpool when put beside Rafa.
    I often wonder why people reply to your blog, or any blog. Is your job to generate page hits and therefore go for the most popular teams all the time? I like to reply because frankly I think a lot of what you put forward in argument is too easy. It's easy to say United miss Ronaldo. But there is no real evidence yet, they are not languishing like Liverpool. As a Man Utd follower, perhaps I don't have the right to call myself a fan as I have never been to OT, I have only seen them play in Dublin. Mind you that is the reason of their visits that followers like me could see them. I have followed them for about 38 years now. I have enjoyed the recent consistency, I hope we can keep ferguson for a while yet, but I genuinely miss the decent Liverpool. They were a club with class and respect always. Their managers never had a go at others, never spouted rubbish. I think Benetez has brought a new type of fan to the fore and it's the type that is blinkered, thinking they are in with a chance of something when clearly its gone. I may be wrong, given the weekends results, anything is possible. I think that given we watch a league, and a support a team in it, and that we can't all get to all the matches, more blogs on what is happening to others apart from the 3 or 4 usual suspects would be appreciated. From my point of view, Fulham, wolves and Hull merit a lot of column inches this year, less so than Liverpool, but then you get paid for this, I don't. I get paid for supposedly doing something else while I am doing this. Would genuinely love to have your job.

  • Comment number 99.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 100.

    The sterling quality of the Arshavin goal summed up the defensive inadequacy of Liverpool. Whither LFC?

 

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