Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal: The Battle of Helm's Deep

We have all lived through an endless number of Arsenal matches in which we absolutely batter the other lot, only to see their keeper play a blinder to keep us out long enough for them to score on their only shot of the game to beat us.

Isn't it nice to return the favor for once?

Also, isn't it nice that the head-scratching team selection was picked by the other mob's manager? Arsene correctly named an unchanged XI from the evisceration of our nearest and dearest, while Kenny Dalglish inexplicably left Andy Carroll on the bench. Sure, he's massively struggled this season - but given our troubles with tall, strong center forwards, why on earth he didn't come on until the 5th minute of injury time or so, I'll never know.

Still, Liverpool dominated this match for impossibly-long stretches at a time, the opening ones no exception. They couldn't fashion any chances though, and could easily have been down a goal after an excellent counter-attack in the 8th minute. A long ball was played down the right wing, onto the onrushing Theo Walcott. Walcott was at a drastically acute angle, but he still found the target with a rasping low shot. Jose Reina was equal to it though, getting down low to palm it away.

Route One is in Liverpool's DNA though, and they countered with a chance of their own from a long ball. This time it was right through the middle of the park, from I believe a goal kick from Reina. Luis Suarez shimmied around his marker and would have been in alone, were it not for a kamikaze header outside of his area by Wojceich Szczesny. The ball came out to Stewart Downing with the goal gaping, but he swung and missed like a park-league 7v7 player. This man cost TWENTY MILLION POUNDS, ladies and gentlemen.

Liverpool pressed on from there, their collection of orcs and goblins in red storming the Arsenal gates with abandon (seriously, that lot has to be the ugliest team in professional sports). However, it has to be said that our back four defended very well on the day, with countless last-second interventions preventing the Scousers from getting much joy in our penalty area.

Well, that is, until Suarez dived and poor old Mark Halsey bought it.

A lot of people are going to throw vitriol at Halsey for his performance today, and I do understand where they're coming from. My feeling though is that if a task is assigned to someone incapable of performing it, it's not the fault of the assignee - whoever delegated it to him is the real root cause of the problem. The fact of the matter is that Halsey is a 1st or 2nd-division level referee (I saw him ref Brentford vs. Carlisle United at Griffin Park in 1998, and that was about his level) and he was clearly overwhelmed by the occasion today.

As for the play itself, the Arsenal defense was badly stretched for almost the only time on the day, with Kieran Gibbs nowhere to be found as Liverpool rampaged down our left-hand side. Dirk Kuyt sprung Suarez with a nice pass, but the ball bobbled a bit in front of the Uruguayan. Szczesny rushed out, but pulled his leg away at the last. While there was a bit of leg-on-leg contact, it occurred after Suarez was already in mid-air from his dive. The only thing I'll say in Halsey's defense is that in real time having just looked up at the screen from taking a drink, I thought it was a penalty. No professional referee should have bought that dive, though.

Kuyt was selected to take the penalty, and I think he second-guessed himself once Szczesny faked to his left. Kuyt hit it the other way, but there wasn't much on it and Szczesny was able to get a strong hand to it. The rebound went back the other way though, which is usually the kind of rotten luck that results in the penalty taker easily tucking away the rebound before a defender could get there. Kuyt indeed got a shot away, but Szczesny was back up in a flash and despite having stumbled on the way, still was able to claw the second effort away to safety.

I mean, are you kidding me? What a save! What a fucking save!

Sadly though, Liverpool would be on the board a minute or two later. Jay Spearing's pass released Jordan Henderson, who sent a cross into the area. Perhaps 99 times out of 100, it's cleared out for a corner. This one time, the otherwise-excellent Laurent Koscielny mis-kicked the ball and ended up tucking it away inside the post for an own-goal.

This was not what we needed after the adrenaline shot of Szczesny's double-save. To his credit though, our keeper immediately went to Koscielny and from the looks of it told him to get up and get on with things.

That we did, but the Scousers could easily have doubled their lead nanoseconds later. This time, Henderson's effort was brilliantly parried out by Szczesny, but only as far as Suarez. In truth, he should have scored. But, his follow-up hit the foot of the post (deflected by the kind hand of karma, no doubt) and bounced out of play. The home side looked a bit stunned that they weren't home and dry by now, and their problems only compounded as they conceded an equalizer right after.

Bacary Sagna rampaged down the right wing, with no red shirt anywhere in the vicinity. He had an impossibly-long time to pick out his cross, and sent in a curving effort that laser-scoped right to the head of Robin van Persie. OK, you tell me, was he ever going to miss from there? Like hell he was...he planted his header past the stranded Reina and in, to the great delight of us all. Frankly, Arsenal had no business being level here, but that's football.

To give the devil their due, Liverpool didn't give up and continued to send waves of misshapen mutants at the Arsenal ramparts. Suarez in particular stayed on his feet long enough to slalom around several men in terrible blue shirts and get a good shot away. Szczesny once again would not let him pass, getting down to save once again.

Halftime was badly needed at this point, and the side did indeed hang on until then. We were all hoping that some adjustments would be made and that the second half would find a more equitable distribution of the ball.

Sadly, a key cog of our midfield was stretchered off just a few minutes after the restart. Here's the thing - even after a few replays, I couldn't tell exactly what happened. In real time, I thought Henderson slyly elbowed Arteta in the head behind Halsey's back. Considering how wrong I was with the penalty incident though, I'll stop short of saying that's definitely what happened. There was a collision though, and our man got the worst of it by far. Off he went on a stretcher after several minutes, no doubt concussed badly. Abou Diaby came on in his place.

That killed any flow the match had, with little of note happening until the 70th minute. A teasing low cross into our area from Kuyt found Martin Kelly all alone on the back post. Thankfully, he displayed all the usual finishing ability of a right back. Up the other end, Reina showed his quality by flashing out a leg to keep out a deflected effort from Walcott.

If you put a gun to my head at that moment in time, I would have said this match was always finishing 1-1. Further, I would have bit your hand off for it.

Changes were made as the half wound down, with Gervinho on for the ineffectual Yossi Benayoun and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain oddly replacing Diaby. I'm not sure if that was due to Diaby being crocked yet again, or if it was tactical. Speaking of tactical changes, it wasn't until the 87th minute that Craig Bellamy came on for the truly putrid Downing. What was Dalglish waiting for? I'm not complaining, but if I were him, Carroll would have started and Bellamy would have been on after an hour.

There were eight minutes of injury time due to Arteta's misadventure and the various substitutions. Two minutes into that span, Arsenal dug deep and somehow found a game-winning goal. It really was out of nothing - Alex Song (who had an iffy game otherwise) scooped a lovely parabola of a ball over the Liverpool defense. RVP ran onto it and volleyed sweetly. It was a wonderful play, but if we're being honest, Reina should save that all day. He has had a shaky history against us recently, this proving to be the latest example. Either way, Arsenal were ahead, however much against the run of play it was.

Again, it's nice to be on this side of it for bloody once.

Carroll finally came on, but never touched the ball. In fact, with their season on the line, the Scouse Uruk-Hai division managed exactly nothing. Their morale was gone, and in fact it was The Ox who had the best chance after our goal. Unfortunately, his surface-to-air missile of a shot had faulty targeting, but only just.

Halsey then proceeded to do something right for the only time on the day, blowing his whistle three times at almost exactly 98:00. Arsenal had stolen a massive, massive win...hopefully Szczesny, RVP and company got out of there before the Liverpool PD showed up.

We're now four points behind our nearest and dearest, and they entertain Manchester United this weekend. Hear those footsteps yet, chaps?

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 10, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 8, Rosicky 6, Benayoun 6 (Gervinho 7), Song 7, Arteta 7 (Diaby 7 [Oxlade-Chamberlain 7]), Walcott 7, van Persie 9

Man of the Match: On any other day, it would have been the captain. But in a period where the Scousers could have been over the hills and far away by 3 or 4 clear goals, one man prevented that from happening. Quite simply, Wojceich Szczesny refused to let us lose. Szczesny receives only the second perfect 10 in Modern Gooner history, and rightfully so - what a fucking player he is, and what a presence as well. He may be our best-ever custodian before all is said and done, I promise you that.